Genr8: Architects’ Experience with an Emergent Design Tool

Sense Editor
August 30, 2012


The human eye is intuitively drawn to the organic shapes of sand dunes, curling vines, rolling hills and other natural phenomena. Because of its strong aesthetic appeal, our particular interest is in generating biologically inspired form for architects. In the past, architectural form was constrained by material and structure and was able to re ect only a small degree of natural form in examples such as rounded pillars and domed roofs. In an exciting paradigm shift in architecture, contemporary computer aided design and manufacturing in interaction with integrated, human designed materials have largely unleashed today’s architects from these shackles. They can now move beyond simply appreciating the graceful form of an emerging ower that bends in response to the sun’s position or admiring the evolved shape of a natural shelter that responds to seasonal elements.

Beyond the aesthetic appeal delivered by natural form, conveniently such form is often very ecient in terms of structural capacity and economy of materials. Unlike most man-made designs, structures found in nature are often robust to a wide range of failures and they can ful l multiple functions. We present the computational design tool Genr8 and six di erent architectural projects making extensive use of Genr8. Genr8 is based on ideas from Evolutionary Computation (EC) and Arti cial Life and it produces surfaces using an organic growth algorithm inspired by how plants grow. These algorithms have been implemented as an architect’s design tool and the chapter provides an illustration of the possibilities that the tool provides

For achieving form akin to nature, our approach has been to have form follow process - the growth and evolutionary process that occurs in the living world. Essentially, this approach of mimicry allows designers to capitalize on Nature’s strategies which, arguably, are the most compelling means of achieving Nature’s outcome. The manifestation of this conceptual statement of our goals is a computational design tool named Genr8. Genr8 allows an architect or designer to both grow and evolve three dimensional digital forms or surfaces. At the core of Genr8 is a “growth engine” that executes and visualizes a set of growth instructions.

This informative material sets the stage for a discussion where the developers and architects collectively explore their impressions of Genr8′s e ectiveness, the sources of that eff ectiveness and its general implications for architectural form design.