THOUGHTS: The Topological Design Process

The architectural design process can no longer be viewed in isolation as a linear/repetitive process. Stagnation is a corollary of the generic format which leads designers from schematic design through construction (and on to the next project). This point is reiterated by Sanford Kwinter in ‘Landscapes of Change’ where he states that “A linear model is one in which the state of a system at a given moment can be expressed in the very same terms as any of its earlier or later states.”1 In other words, linear models are not simply reversible and repetitive, but predictable.

The design strategy employed by reform, llc in their project ‘The Diametric House’ exemplifies the paradigm shift from the linear process of design to a topological one. More accurately, it could be interpreted as a kind of psychogenetic fugue, in which the initial actions are deliberate and precise but remain flexible enough to morph into parallel modes of exploration. The design process becomes a repetitive feedback loop wherein form generates structure, which derives from assembly, which may then inform materiality. Meanwhile, infrastructural considerations, in combination with an in depth analysis of program, may lead to a revision of form and so on.

As architecture continues to expand in scope and complexity, we will need to use the tools and technologies available to us in order to understand the significance of our interventions. This feedback loop is possible through the use of advance computational software, collaborative practices, and an understanding of the physical resistances of materials. This loop, not only occurs virtually (in ones ability to navigate between several softwares at once) but is aided by the ability fabricate ideas physically. The input/output system of topological design eliminates the outdated concept of a strictly representational design process. A topological design process allows adaptation and continuity between projects leading to increased efficiency and effectiveness. In the end the new design model is not prescriptive or predictable like the old linear one, it opens door to a multitude of previously inconceivable futures.

Historically architecture has evolved at a much slower rate than any other design field. If one looks at parallel industries such as automotive engineering, aeronautical engineering, or product design, it becomes readily apparent how stagnant, uninspired, and uncreative architecture has become. Through an investigation of the innovations that have occurred in these other industries and through the use digital design and fabrication technologies, the time has come for the re-interpretation of ‘the architect’ and the entire field of architecture.

As suggested by the project “The Diametric House’, architecture is afforded immeasurable opportunity through employment of a topological design process and the use of digital design and fabrication technologies. This paper seeks to understand the necessary oscillation between the real and the imagined, between the natural and the artificial, and between existing paradigms and innovation, that will enable designers to move far beyond the preconceptions inherent in our current built environment. The result will be an inspirational architecture which is directly responsive to both current and projected modes of use, fabrication and assemblage.

1. Kwinter, Sanford, “Landscapes of change: Boccioni’s Stati d’amino as a general theory. Of models”, Assemblage 19, Cambridge MA, MIT Press, 1992.