Architecture as science. But architecture is not science.
Paolo Vincenzo Genovese
Many years ago, in one of the most remarkable magazine ever published in the area of architecture, a column appear. The magazine was «l’Architettura – Cronache e Storia», founded by Bruno Zevi. The column was «Scienza e Architettura» [English translation: «Science and Architecture»]. A young inexperienced scholar, me, wrote several papers trying to demonstrate that architecture could be a science. We personally consider that paper still actual and we are not regret of any single word that we elaborate at that time.
Today, it is necessary to add some considerations on the relationship between architecture and science, because we find something terribly wrong in the most recent trends in architecture.
The intention to open a column called «Science and Architecture» many years ago was provocative. In Italy, at that time, the discipline of architecture was mummified. The schools of though were rolled up on themselves. Few influential writers dominate the discipline in a vision which was deeply cultured but definitely a dinosaur compared with the international trends. The influence of classic study was the dominant perspective. The books that we students have to read date back to the 1950s or at most 1970s. In short, perched positions which were disconnected with the reality.
In the late 1980s and 2000s, the big revolution of the computer, CAD, 3D modelling begun. It was a radical change as the contemporary events demonstrate. Nowadays everyone talk about Parametric Design, Agent Based Modelling, Cellular Automata and even Artificial Intelligence applied in architecture. At that time «Science and Architecture» was simply a nonsense for the fact that the holiness of the creation was still considered exclusive of the Supreme Spirit (which one?). Some mediocre professors even consider the use of computer in architecture only limited in the management or in the simple calculation of the cost for the building process. And that was the problem! They were out of the time!
But the intention of that column was not related only on computer and architecture. It was clear since the beginning that computer and software were only toys and tools at the service of a though. And the question was: which thinking could innovate the discipline of architecture. The use of the computer in architecture date back in the 1950s with the pioneering work of Luigi Moretti, the real inventor in the late 1940s of Parametric Design. Hadid Studio in this case came too late! The intention, at that time, was to illustrate a process of thinking strongly based on science which could be influential in architecture. There, the architecture was not considered anymore — or at least not only — a classic discipline, an humanistic process of creation, drove by the Spirit of Something, but a rational process where the generation of the space and the forms obey to a strict logic. For this reason, our basis at that time were mathematics, physics, complex geometry, bionic, natural science and so on. And that research continue also today. Above all, there is a strict scientific process which justify the design in architecture and urban planning.
And this because we personally hate every capricious architect, the one who act fashionable, a dandy able to be an architect only in a cocktail party, the one who expresses nonsense like: «the architecture may be…» this or that. We do not intend to be polemic. We intend to accuse.
Science is not based on opinions, it is not democratic, it is not based on personal taste, it is not fashionable. It is, or it should be, based on rational considerations, it is an expression of its time, it is precise and exact, it is based on strict reasons. And this is much above the illusion of the Rationalism or Functionalism, typical approach of the Modernist architecture, all dead and buried.
What we intended at that time with «Science and Architecture» was an approach in architecture where the space was created based on complex geometry, better if non-euclidean. The concept and inspiration of architecture should be based on advanced scientific theories, on exactitude, on fractals and minimal surfaces, on advanced considerations about structure; especially our intentions were to create a method which was solid enough to become truly rational. A poetic surface is a caprice. A minimal surface is scientific.
Our idea was a winner. And even too much. We was so right that, finally, we become wrong. And this is not a paradox. Our intention at the beginning is to create a solid method of investigation and creation in the area of architecture and urban planning. Because architecture is space, then the consequent question is: what is space? To define space we discussed not about philosophy but about science. Finally a space have to be realized, physically or virtually, and there is no philosophy which is able to do that. This is why the only possible philosophy in architecture is epistemology and the only possible approach is mathematics in the speculation on this discipline.
From too few to too much, as usual in the history of human being. If the initial idea of «Science in Architecture» was correct and ultimately we still support this vision, at the same time we need to denounce a risk: an excess of science can kill the discipline of architecture. In order to be very clear, we have to propose an extreme example: Artificial Intelligence and architecture. This topic deserve a larger dissertation and definitely it is not an issue that it could be illustrated in these pages. An editorial is made in order to give a flash of important issues concerning culture in a large scenario, based on a critical approach. For this reason every form of analytical process is inconvenient here.
In short, what is Artificial Intelligence applied in architecture? It is a very advanced method to create automatic and intelligent system of design of architecture, space, cities, using computing. And a very advanced process of computing indeed. In this specific historical moment, Artificial Intelligent exists, but it is limited on some limited area of human knowledge, such as the Game of Go (in Chinese 围棋 [Wéiqí]), or Chess. In architecture and urban planning there are several experiments related on AI, but at the actual state can not be called precisely “intelligent”. Intelligent is something more complex and some of our online classes describe precisely what we intend.
Here we only want point out a question, which it may become a problem in the near future: what if the software is intelligent enough to surpass the human intelligence in the design of architecture, in urban planning and urban design? This step is not very far and we assume that in the next 10 years the computation become intelligent enough to work beside the human architect. And it is very possible that in the next 20 years the profession of architects will become mostly based on coding, more than “ink-and-color” activity. And this is fine. We can not see any specific problem on this process. Many works recently disappeared and other were created because of the progressive informatization of our life. The question that we want propose is more sensitive. If architecture become computational and if the Artificial Intelligence will be our future designer, the architecture become completely science and no more a discipline which is in between art and science. Is it a problem?
In our opinion it is. If the artistic creation (in architecture, but the same discussion could be made for the arts) will be cancelled in the direction of computational process, what is left in our nature as human being? Architecture (and arts) is only one small aspect of our nature as intellectual creature. If every intellectual process could be replicate by the machine, what is left in our humanity?
We have a possible answer: beside the creation, beside art, beside invention and mistakes and the use of human intelligence to solve the mistakes, beside the creation inherent even in science, what is left it is only fear. And fear lead to aggression. And aggression to violence. And violence is the beginning of the abyss…
Reference pictures: Frank Lloyd Wright at work. Source: Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. In: https://franklloydwright.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/hero_desktop-1.jpg
Dragos George, I Find a lot of Inspiration in Robotic Design Concepts, 2012-06-01. Source: https://www.smashingrobotics.com/. In: