Performative Wood: Integral Design Computation and Materialization

Today, thanks in part to the new theories of self-organization that have revealed the potential complexity of behaviour of even the humbler forms of matter-energy, we are beginning to recover a certain philosophical respect for the inherent morphogenetic potential of all materials. And we may now be in a position to think about the origin of form and structure, not as something imposed from the outside on an inert matter, not as a hierarchical command from above as in an assembly line, but as something that may come from within the materials, a form that we tease out of those materials as we allow them to have their say in the structures we create.Manuel De LandaIn recent years architecture has experienced an unprecedented increase of technological possibilities for advancing architectural design. However, the complex geometry, elaborate forms and articulated surfaces of contemporary architecture should not distract from the fact that the impact of information-technology has left some profound aspects of design largely unchallenged. Architecture as a material practice is still predominantly based on design approaches that are characterised by a hierarchical relationship that prioritises the generation of geometric information over its subsequent materialisation. Thus the material\’s innate characteristics and inherent capacities remain largely unexplored. This is particularly evident in the way wood constructions are designed today. In comparison to most construction materials that are industrially produced and thus relatively homogeneous and isotropic, wood is profoundly different in that it is a naturally grown biological tissue. Due to its highly differentiated material makeup and fibrous structure wood is anisotropic, featuring different material behaviour and characteristics relative to the fibre direction. Thus wood can be conceived of as a natural, high performance composite material that is extremely energy efficient, fully recyclable and naturally renewable. However, over the last 150 years, due to industrialisation and the related aim for standardised building products, the advantages of the inherent heterogeneity and differentiated material make-up of wood have become increasingly neglected. In addition, the primacy of representational design techniques in most CAD applications has made it difficult for architects to integrate material characteristics in a specific manner. This studio will investigate how the transition from currently predominant modes of representational Computer Aided Design (CAD) to algorithmic Computational Design allows for a significant change in employing the computer\’s capacity to instrumentalize wood\’s complex behavior. In this regard, one of the key differences lies in the fact that CAD internalizes the coexistence of form and information, whereas Computational Design externalizes the relation between procedural formation, driving information, ensuing form and resulting performance, and thus allows for the systematic integration of material characteristics and properties in the design process. In this way the complex behavior of wood resulting from its differentiated material makeup and anatomical structure can become a generative design driver. This enables an understanding of form, material, structure and environment not as separate elements, but rather as complex, co-evolving, reciprocal interrelations that can be embedded in and explored through integral computational design processes. The aim of the studio is to explore such an alternative, morphogenetic approach to architecture, which unfolds specific material gestalt and related performative capacities without differentiating between processes of computational form generation and physical materialisation.The studio will start with an in-depth investigation of wood\’s anatomy, behaviour and related fabrication techniques. Based on this research, specific material systems will be parametric