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Algorithmic Architecture

Winter 2004


Tuesday 2:30 - 5:30 pm Perloff 1243A Kostas Terzidis tel. 310.825.8004


Office Hour:

Tuesday 1:30-2:30 Perloff 1224D or e-mail (anytime)

Class Notes:


At Course Reader Material, 1137 Westwood Blvd


Terzidis K., Expressive Form, London: Spon Press, 2003

Course Objectives

As architecture enters the new era of digital representation, geometrical theories and processes are being implemented, tested, and pushed to their limits. Recent theories of form in architecture have focused on computational methods of formal exploration and expression. From “topological geometry” and hypersurfaces to blobs and folds, there is a clear tendency to seek and explore formal properties as sources of ordering systems. For the last two decades, designers have been concerned with the use of computational mechanisms for the exploration of formal systems. These practices have attempted to readdress formal issues using new techniques and methods. Computational tools are central protagonists in this exploration. Through computational methods and algorithms, geometry, as we knew it, is being redefined and reconfigured.

This course is aimed at investigating and exploring the structures, processes, and theories of computational design. The purpose is to develop algorithms and computational methods that would encapsulate the processes that lead to the generation of meaningful architectural form.

While most algorithms are tailored to automate tedious manual methods, there is a certain category of algorithms that are not aimed at predictable results. Their inductive strategy is to explore generative processes or to simulate complex phenomena. In design, shape grammars, topological properties, mathematical models, genetic systems, mappings, and morphisms are algorithmic processes aimed at exploring uncommon, unpredictable, and uncharted formal properties and behaviors.

The dominant mode of utilizing computers in architecture today is that of computerization; entities or processes that are already conceptualized in the designer’s mind are entered, manipulated, or stored on a computer system. In contrast, computation (or computing), as a computer-based design tool, is generally limited. While research and development of software involves extensive computational techniques, mouse-based manipulations of 3D computer models are not necessarily acts of computation.

Presently, an alternative choice is being formulated: algorithmic design. It involves the designation of software programs to generate space and form from the rule-based logic inherent in architectural programs, typologies, building code, and language itself. Instead of direct programming, the codification of design intention using scripting languages available in 3D packages (i.e. Maya Embedded Language (MEL), 3dMaxScript, and FormZ 4.0) can build consistency, structure, coherency, traceability, and intelligence into computerized 3D form. By using scripting languages designers can go beyond the mouse, transcending the factory-set limitations of current 3D software.

Algorithmic logic does not intend to eliminate traditional “manual” methods but rather to incorporate both computational complexity and creative use of computers . For architects, algorithmic design enables the role of the designer to incorporate both the unique features of the human mind as well as those of the computational one. It is a synergy between two partners. For the first time perhaps, architectural design might be aligned with neither formalism nor rationalism but with intelligent form and traceable creativity.

Instructional Methodology

The course will engage both in theory and practice. Theoretical aspects of computational design will be

presented and discussed. research.

This will provide general information about theory, critical studies, and

The practical portion of the course will engage in scripting as it relates to architectural form: what are algorithms and how can they help us create architectural space; what is the role of the designer versus the software designer; what is “design consistency” and how can we build logic into form.

Course Requirements

The software that will be used in this course is Maya and/or FormZ (modeling and rendering) and MEL (scripting).

No previous knowledge of Maya or script programming is required.

Reading Material

1. Course Book:

Terzidis K., Expressive Form: A Conceptual Approach to Computational Design, London:

Spon Press, 2003

2. Course Reader. Contains:

Devlin Keith, Mathematics: The Science of Patterns, New York: Scientific American Library, 1994,


Di Cristina Giuseppa, “The Topological Tendency in Architecture”, in Architecture and Science, Di Cristina G. (ed.) Wiley Academy, 2001, pp.6-13

Eisenman Peter, Diagram Diaries, New York: Universe Publishing, 1999, pp.26-41.

Jones Wes, “Download distractions: New, Pneu, Gnu, and Newed”, 2001 Jones, Partners:

Architecture (from

Lonsway Bruce, “The Mistaken Dimensionality of CAD”, Journal of Architectural Education vol. 56 issue 2, November 2002, pp.22-5.

Lynn Greg, Animate Form, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999, pp.1-43

Mosterin J., “Kolmogorov Complexity” in Complexity and Emergence, Agazzi E. and L. Montecucco (eds.), New Jersey: World Scientific, 2002, pp.45-56

Novak Marcos, “Alien Space: The Shock of the View”, Article reproduced from Art + Technology Supplement of CIRCA 90, pp. 12-13

Novak Marcos, “Transarchitectures and Hypersurfaces”, in Architecture and Science, Di Cristina G. (ed.) Wiley Academy, 2001, pp.153-7

Saunders Peter, “Nonlinearity: What it is and why it matters”, in Architecture and Science, Di Cristina G. (ed.) Wiley Academy, 2001, pp.110-15

Spiegel Murray, Mathematical Handbook of Formulas and Tables, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968, pp. 5-15, 46-52, 116-19

Stewart Ian, Concepts of Modern Mathematics, New York: Dover Publications, 1975, pp.144-58

Yessios Chris, “A Fractal Studio”, Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), University of North Carolina, Nov. 1987, pp.


Schedule W04


Introduction + lecture: computers in architecture


Maya, Textpad, MEL

Read: MEL Manual Ch 3-7+9, Jones

Part I - Basics of programming


Variables, arithmetic/logical, loops, procedures


MEL Manual Ch 10-12, Stewart, Terzidis (Algorithmic),


Repetition [Grids] + circular behavior




Repetitive Form


Part II – Algorithmic Logic

W04[02.03] Randomness [disturbing objects and sub-object elements] Read: MEL Manual Ch 17, Saunders W05[02.10] Curves and surfaces Lect: Topology vs geometry Read: Di Cristina


W06[02.17] Midterm (20%)

Pro2: Pattern Recognition

Lect: Finite elements [particles] Read: Lynn, Mosterin Pro3: Structure: TBA


W07[02.24] Cellular automata [grammars] Read: Eisenman, Yessios

Part III - Architectural Logic


Hybridization [interpolation]

Lect: Hybrid form

Read: Terzidis (Hybrid)


Class presentations


Boolean + assemblage

Lect: (Un) Folding: Complexity and Intricacy Read: Read: Lonsway, Terzidis (warped) Pro4: Building: TBA (35%)


Discussion: The unknown and unpredictable

Lect: C stands for Creativity Read: Novak (both), Terzidis Kostas (Caricature)


Final review