Last edited 22 Jun 2021

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An algorithm in architecture

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[edit] Introduction

An algorithm is defined as a set of rules that is a limited series of correlated operations used in design and including a performance of numerical calculations. The algorithm contains an accurate list of instructions and steps specified in specific software, which is extremely important to perform the algorithm correctly. Many types of architecturally based software contain algorithms to create instructions that help in architectural design.

[edit] Algorithm origins

An algorithm is a word taken from the name of the mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi who invented the science of algorithms. Al-Khwarizmi was a mathematician, astronomer and geographer who lived between 780-850.

He wrote a thesis in Arabic about the system of Arabic numerals which was translated into Latin during the 12th century under the title Algoritmi de numero indorum, and he wrote another book about algebra science. Al-Khwarizmi’s books were among the most widely read in Europe in the late Middle Ages. By the 19th century, the term algorithm was increasingly used.

[edit] What do algorithms do?

Algorithms allow designers to define information input and the way of processing during design. This process creates forms that consist of one or thousands of components, depending on design requirements.

The process does not produce a default form but will set rules to arrange and organise an algorithm. Based on this process, the form of architecture is generated. The designer will be allowed to control and produce different options by changing different elements of the algorithm until an ideal option is chosen.

Designers have started to reconsider algorithms in the last few years to generate complicated forms but with more control to create parametric design and to fulfil needs rather than generating form only.

This has led to the development of computer software to create parametric forms. These types of software are distinguished by their ability and the simplicity of design, especially in creating smooth, digitally rendered surfaces, complex curvilinear forms, blob-like objects and shells and skins stretched over wireframe structures.

[edit] Using algorithms with computers

Today, most designers use computers in architectural design. This process may take place between the initial design making by manual design methods and then developed and expanded by computer software. Designers seek to use a mathematical method to allow them the possibility of creating their own creative concepts. It may lead to the addition of more dynamism to the design process. This produces repeatable mathematical equations that provide the possibility of interference to set up a complicated form which consists of a group of repeatable shapes.

An algorithm is a set of instructions which receives information as input, processes it and provides the answer as the output. This process helps to make parameters.

In addition, this contains a set of variables and a set of formulas. These formulas determine a form which can be manipulated by changing particular parameters and information that affects the physical shape of the building and provides the ability to change and reform during design stages.

This process of continuous analysis of a building helps to find problems that might occur. In addition, the power of that algorithm is to solve multiple problems (such as an operation associated with the information configuration) and to solve combinatorial and numerical problems (such as producing random numbers and measurable geometry). Algorithms allow designers to create the complicated geometric designs and provide methods to develop and solve the difficult and complicated geometric architectural masses.

[edit] Types of algorithms

There are many types of algorithms, such as genetic algorithms, L-System, triangulation, cellular automata and diagrams.

[edit] Genetic algorithms

This is one type of algorithm that is created using software. It is distinguished by its ability to create complex shapes and integrate them into mathematical equations that generate complex design shapes. This technique has the ability to evaluate problems, develop alternative solutions and obtain the required shape.

The basis of genetic algorithms is the codes that rely mainly on converting codes into geometric shapes and conducting the process of linking between them to create a number of similar shapes. This leads to the creation of a genetic pattern in order to obtain new, complex shapes because the genetic algorithms are working on motivating designers to freely develop designs.

[edit] L-System or Lindenmayer system

This is a method of reformulating complex elements by dispensing them as simple parts by using a set of rules and starting this system as a mathematical theory about the growth of multicellular organisms. It began to be used as a basis for mathematical science, but soon it was reformulated and developed to use in the design of architectural forms.

It is characterised by having no ending where the idea of formation is based on dividing the line into three equal parts, then creating an equilateral triangle without specifying which side is the base; this process is repeated without stopping. It can be used in different geometry forms (such as the square shape instead of a triangle) using the DOL system.

Software is used to produce an endless series of ideas that depends on dividing in this way.

Many designers use this system in their designs, such as the architect Karl Shaw and his method using the digital system based on the generation system of the Lindenmayer system.

[edit] Triangulation

This was produced by recent advances in software processing; it may allow triangulation to be computed efficiently. Furthermore, this implementation will allow for better performance and allow for fewer problems that serial designers can work with.

It is the development of an initial parallel algorithm using multi-processes. By implementing an approach based on the divide and conquer algorithm, the problem is set into a number of subsets equal to the number of processes to be used in an execution. The triangulation is then performed on each individual subset, where after all triangulations are combined to generate the final triangulation.

The algorithm is used to design some of the architecture types such as fluid architecture and topological architecture. Fluid architecture is a modern design concept that resulted from the merger of architecture with digital technologies used by architects such as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Marcos Novak. Through the use of modern technologies such as algorithms (and applied in their design) and the introduction of computer technologies (as a supporter in the design process), it has become a method that helps the designer come up with an idea. This helps to create fluid architecture inspired by nature and liberated from traditional design and construction constraints. It is seen as a way to link technology and dynamism.

Topological architecture relies on contemporary modelling with the help of new software design such as algorithm technology to provide freedom when designing complex shapes, and to provide more effective and dynamic internal space, instead of the traditional static space. The topological design is divided into engineering and natural.

Topological architecture is concerned with shapes that are not affected by changes in size and shape, remain constant during the process of continuous transformation such as tensile, torsional, change in size and pressure, the possibility of modifying the geometric shape through special equations using three-dimensional programmes such as 3D Max and Rhino whether it is a curved shape or straight shape.


This article originally appeared in the Architectural Technology Journal (at) issue 137 published by CIAT in spring 2021. It was written by Dr Omar Faeq ACIAT.

--CIAT

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