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Genetic Architectures/Arquitecturas geneticas

Arquitecturas Genéticas lll / Genetic Architectures lll: New Bio & Digital Techniques

by Alberto T. Estévez, Editor
Lumen Inc./Site Books, Santa Fe, New Mexico USA, 2009
Co-published ESARQ, Barcelona, Spain, 2009
204 pp., illus. Paper, $17 USD
ISBN: 978-0-930829-68-1.

Reviewed by Rob Harle (Australia)


As the title suggests, this book is the third publication concerning the research department, Master’s degree and PhD program in Genetic Architectures — founded by Alberto Estévez in 2000 at Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona).

I mentioned in my review of the first book, Arquitecturas Genéticas (http://www.leonardo.info/reviews/jan2004/genetic_harle.html), the ESARQ project represents one of the most advanced architectural research/teaching programs available. Since that first book ESARQ has gone from strength to strength and gained more acceptance as a leading, bona fide branch of sustainable architectural research and education. “These postgraduate studies are now official, under the title of a Biodigital Architecture Master. (Not without objections being raised by some architects, who, from their “position of power”, instead of encouraging and supporting, have failed to understand the importance of the proposed ideas). And the Genetic Architectures Consolidated Research Group has achieved also official recognition. All of this is ground for optimism” (p. 7).

The use of computer technology is an essential and indispensable component of the school’s approach. Various software programs such as Xfrog, Rhino, ParaCloud, Generative Components, 3D StudioMax (for rendering) and FormZ are used (and further developed with the software engineers) to extend and develop structures inspired by biology, botanics and genetics. Totally new forms are created, inspired by natural sequences, such as Fibonacci spiralling, these are then saved as STL files which may be “printed” using a 3D Thermojet Solid Object printer. The experimental architectural forms may also be realised as actual 3D objects using the technology known as Rapid Prototyping and recently by a CNC machine which produces 1:1 scale, real building components.

The book is lavishly illustrated with quality colour and black & white illustrations that show examples of the work of both the students and professors. The visual treat of these new forms is extraordinary, and even more so because with a little imagination it is not hard to see that these experimental, pioneering forms will be commonplace in our built environment in the not too distant future. There are nine main essays, relatively short in length, which discuss both the practical and theoretical issues involved in the overall research program.

1 - Genetic Architectures: New bio & digital techniques by Alberto Estévez
2 – After parametrics? by Bernard Cache
3 – Emergent properties of life by Joseph Corco
4 – The “bio-logical” and the paradigms of the digital age by Mauro Costa
5 – Digital nature, eTrees generative architecture by Dennis Dollens
6 – Genetics fundamentals by Agustí Fontarnau

7 – Performance-orientated design: Reflections on a biological paradigm for architecture by Michael Hensel
8 – Contour Crafting: A revolution in concrete construction by Neil Leach
9 – Gaudí-Dalí: Prolegomena of genetic architecture or else by Judith Urbano

The essays address quite disparate aspects of the overall research program and the important factors that need consideration in developing this radical new architecture. The beautifully grown forms belie the hidden difficulties in turning the theoretical concepts into real buildings. It is easy to get a little carried away with the STL models as ends within themselves. However these issues are discussed in the various essays, in a sense grounding the forms and asking some really hard questions. The essays by Cache, Costa and Hensel, are highly instructive in this regard. The practical applications of the technology described in Leach’s essay on Contour Crafting are literally revolutionary.

As with the two previous Genetic Architectures, this publication is an engaging and inspiring book and a real pleasure to review. Each image caption and the essays are written in both Spanish and English. I have one very minor criticism and that is there are a significant number of grammatical errors, possibly due to translation from Spanish to English; nevertheless, the book could have been improved with the keen eye of an English-speaking proofreader.

In the conclusion to the previous book review I posed a rhetorical question:  “Reflecting on the magnificence of Utzon’s masterpiece, the Sydney Opera House, I wonder if the real buildings which result from the research in the ESARQ school, with all their computer technology, will equal or surpass this building?” If the work presented in this latest publication is any indication I am sure it will.

Last Updated 1 May, 2010

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