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D-BA 2  Digital-Botanic Architecture 11: eTrees, Digital Nature, & BioArchitecture

by Dennis Dollens
Lumen Inc./Sites Books, Santa Fe, New Mexico 2009
72 pp., illus. Paper, $24 USD
ISBN: 978-0-930829-70-4.

Reviewed by Rob Harle


Digital-Botanic Architecture 11 is a follow up volume to DBA-1, which I reviewed for Leonardo in June 2005 (http://www.leonardo.info/reviews/june2005/d_harle.html).  This book is similar in layout and subject matter, though it extends Dollens' work since 2005, showing the gradual development and increasing sophistication of the architectural appropriateness of the digital-botanic concept. It is simply a joy to browse through the colour illustrations and marvel at the complexity of the computer generated forms and 3D models.

Again the book is only a slim volume at 72 pages but lavishly illustrated with both black & white and colour plates of drawings, screen shots and photographs. Some of the screen shots are of the software applications that Dollens and his students use to produce the hybrid digital-botanic-architectural forms. Xfrog, Rhino, ParaCloud, Generative Components, and 3D StudioMax (for rendering) are the main applications. Each one does a specialist job, so to speak, the evolving forms are exported and imported to each appropriate application.

The illustrations are accompanied with short textual explanations and DIY footnote links, typical of Dollens' quirky graphical imagination (the DIY concept is explained in the Addendum), this follows Dollens' main essay, eTrees, Digital Nature, & BioArchitecture (pp. 56 -66). “So why not bio-architectural research from citizen scientists? Why not re-envisioning cities and the materials of cities? Why not DIY digital botanic architecture? I'm serious” (p. 68). Dollens is nothing if not serious; he is committed to creating the future, not wondering what it might be like! Being a psychopathological DIY person since I was four years of age, this concept really excites me. “We don't need to wait twenty years for Dupont to develop a stomata panel distributed through Home Depot – one should be DIY-started and tested now” (p. 63). Here! Here!

For those who have little familiarity with the digital-botanic concept, I will let Dollens explain in his own words:

“This series of experiments with simulated digital trees, hybridized into architectural elements, illustrates botanic forms and their morphological and mathematical attributes applied to design systems and structures. Using this generative process demonstrates how the transference of some biological properties, held in algorithmic notation, such as phyllotaxy, allometry, and phototropism, may be inherited by architectural and design elements derived from plant simulations and their corresponding biological maths.” (p. 5)

For me the most amazing building to come out of this research is the Self-Shading Tower for Los Angeles (p. 22-28). This project was started in 2007 and is ongoing; it develops the Monocoque concept, which results “...in a load-bearing facade supporting the building and held in compression and tension by the fifteen floor planes” (p. 23) as well as also taking on environmental performance duties these Monocoque panels are stunningly beautiful!

As I mentioned in last month's review of Dollens' BioDesign #3 iPhone App, and Comic Book, Dollens is not only an inspired researcher and experimental architect but a truly gifted pedagogue. He teaches both formally at the University in Barcelona, Spain (ESARQ - Universitat Internacional de Catalunya) and widely through his books and publications. He inspires radical “out-of-the-box” thinking in the best possible way. See also in this month’s reviews my review of ESARQ's latest publication Arquitecturas Genéticas 111/Genetic Architectures 111.

I cannot recommend Dollens' work highly enough. The books are suitable for most readers, highly enjoyable even if you don't want to design buildings, and especially relevant — essential reading I would suggest — for both architects, students, environmental science scholars and architecture historians. You may start writing the history of the future built environment because Dollens' work will surely be a part of it.

Last Updated 1 May, 2010

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