Unspecified Form

by Bojana Vuksanović


1. Introduction -
2. The cultural background
3. The perfect form
4. Mathematics of space, objects and relationships
5. “Unspecified form” – the ‘cubes’ project
6. Design given as a function
7. Neutral configuration – dealing with the complexity
8. Designing the ‘essence'

List of illustrations:

1. The cubes, the strength of the controller equals zero
2. The cubes, various numerical values applied as control parameters
3. The cubes, various numerical values applied – increased strength
4. Concept models – liquid cubes
5. The cube defined by 294 vertices
6. A single shape manipulated parametrically
7. The design updatable at any moment in time
8. Probabilistic ‘cubes’
9. The random forms, the two possible versions, derived by numerical change of the variables of the mathematical formula which was pre-set to control it

1. Introduction

Centuries ago Plato already had a notion that there seems to be an ideal, a
perfect form (idea=form, Greek), behind everything physical. The ideas that exist in some strange realm of the universe, where things are preconceived, and where their characteristics exist in their purest, conceptual form.

Whether this is true or false, an identical ‘essence’ is evident in a group of the same kind where every entity still remains different and individual, taking its final form only when fused with the conditions in which it exists. It is from this process of physical materialization that uniqueness and individuality are born.

If it were possible to design this ‘essence’, which would then form the basis for the creation of an unlimited number of possible end results, would that then free architecture from been fixed on one particular solution and bring it further up to date with the complexity and requirements of today’s times?

In the following project, the form of a cube has been manipulated with the aim of simultaneously obtaining an unlimited number of possible solutions. This approach, in turn, has removed the necessity for specifying any particular form as the end result, since all of the possible outcomes were analyzed at once. The characteristics or the ‘essence’ of the ‘cubes’ was still clearly defined, specified in terms of minimum and maximum values, as well as in terms of their overall aesthetic quality.

/click on the images to view in the right size/

1. The cubes, the strength of the controller
equals zero

2. The cubes, various numerical values applied
as control parameters

3. The cubes, various numerical values applied
– increased strength

/click on the images to view in the right size/

2. The cultural background

Reasons exist to explain why certain forms or principles were considered to be ‘ideal’ or beautiful in certain times. They reflected the current issues and beliefs, the morals and the adopted views of what Nature is.

The scale and characteristics of the spaces have radically changed from one era to the next. Whether we have lived in the primitive existential space which served the most primal need for shelter or we were impressed by the monumental space of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Whether the darkness of the Gothic cathedrals mystified us or the military precision and the scale of Neo-Classicism intimidated us. A clear link can be seen between the architectural language employed and morals, issues or beliefs of the particular period in time.

We know today that the space in which we live is not as linear and predictable as initially thought. The illusion of living in, what is perceived as a ‘solid’ and ‘fixed’ world, comes from living in an infinitely small time interval and an infinitely small segment of space – and only here, in our visible world, it is that the things still bear the illusion of permanence.

In the last few decades, everything seems to deny the permanent. The emphasis is put on dynamic models and interactivity. The information exchange between people is almost instantaneous. Everything is turned into information bytes which can be effortlessly manipulated and almost instantaneously transported. The thousands of millions of information bytes are transferred via the internet, phone, radio and television, every day, hour and second. Images, videos, music, and information become almost momentarily transmittable. The amount of change is becoming immense.

Yet, there seems to be a vast discrepancy of the society in which we live in, our knowledge of the world, the currently available technology, and the basis onto which the principles of today’s design process rest. The complexity of the society increased so much that even defining the problems becomes less and less possible. The contradiction between the world that we live in and its interpretation is most evident in architecture. Fixed and permanent are still the top principles in the practice of the design mainstream.

3. The perfect form

We know today that it is not possible to define things with any certainty. At the core basis of our known world, the uncertainty principle rules out the possibility for simultaneous definition of the position and the momentum of the elementary particles, thus rendering our universe as fully indefinable. It is on this shaky uncertain core, that our knowledge and understanding of the universe are based.

The systems that are the most ordered, have the least capacity for change. The organizational structures of matter that show the greatest capability for morphing and adaptation are the fluid states. Although there are rules governing their behavior and setting their limits, the positions of the individual particles and even their emergent behavior at macro scale can not be fixed. They take on the form of what contains them becoming a sort of a ‘cast’ of the surrounding conditions.

If it were possible to turn architectural space into such a form that it acted as a liquid, that it had no form until it has being given it’s shape. If there was such a thing as an ‘ideal form’, should it than not be the one which describes the structure to its own ‘essence’. The form which simultaneously could be none and all of its possible versions of self?

Long sought ideal - derivation of many variations from a single idea, the design becomes precisely its essence, this idea of itself.

possibility forms/ liquid 'cubes'

/click on the images to view in the right size/

liquid cubes - probable forms


possibility‘cubes' - liquid cube/single 071

possibility‘cubes' - liquid cube/single 097

/click on the images to view in the right size/

4. Mathematics (of space, objects and their relationships)

Mathematics seems to be a language which can give a description in its purest form. It can describe things without ever having to be specific, give formulas which describe and define relationships, which can be applied to an infinite numbers of cases.

Mathematical states never seem to change. The concept of the cube 1000 years ago is exactly the same concept we have of a cube today. Mathematics seems either to describe or rule our Universe. It describes entities as ‘simple’ platonic objects and relationships as complex as gravity, electromagnetic field, movement, thermodynamic.

Could the language of mathematics enable expressions of the ideas and relationships enabling the manipulation of the form/the design in this way? If the design were able to be expressed mathematically, would than that translate it into a form that, with today’s available technology, could be nearly effortlessly manageable?

concept models, experiments with form

concept model/liquid forms

concept model/liquid forms

concept model/liquid forms

model photographs/2003

5. ‘Unspecified form' - presented 2004, ECA

In this project variations of the initial cube shape were produced using parametrically induced modeling. The forms have been derived using 3d software which has a capacity to control the design using parametrically defined relationships.

Initially, the perfect cube was defined as an object consisting of 198 definition points/vertices. What was defined was a starting size of the cube, the resolution of its structural mesh, the maximum and minimum range for the acceptable extent of the divergence, and its aesthetic characteristic, such as the colour, the materials and the transparency.

In the process, variations of the forms have been obtained out of the initially defined cube object with the implementation of the design software by controlling the parametric values of its mathematical formula i.e. via functions that were describing the information structure of its formal rules.

The design was considered solely on probabilistic grounds i.e. the forms could or could not result in a certain shape. Paradoxically, although the final form stayed unspecified, an infinite number of its probable states was analyzed at once and could have been obtained. The variations were nearly instantaneously calculable.

Since the resulting form was not a priori envisaged, it can also be said that an element of the accidental was interwoven in the creation process, and some possible results unintentionally became more appealing than others. At no time has the form been manipulated directly by individual displacement of vertices or with a certain result in mind. The work with the form was entirely random. The resulting forms were the result of numerical change applied to a parametrically controlled field, which was at the start set to affect the cubes. The resulting forms could have been any of the emergent shapes, or just as equally a perfect cube.

As the strength of the field increased by the input of higher numerical values, the deviations from the initial object definition increased and the changes inflicted upon the initial cube object became more and more severe.

This experiment illustrates two things: firstly, the final form remained unknown, since only when the parametric value has been applied in the controlling field, the form was determined; secondly, even if the change was fractional, a different form emerged as a result.

Each of the produced forms was unique. Although the design ‘essence’ in each case was identical, i.e. its design principles remained constant, the ‘cubes’ manifested itself differently in every case, nevertheless, clearly representatives of the same family of objects and their essence evidently the same.

We could argue that an infinite number of possible forms existed that could be produced from a singular idea, each of these individual ‘cubes’ still clearly belonging to the same family.

The liquid states are systems with rules governing their overall 'form'
and behavior, but within them there is an individual freedom of movements
of particles.

concept model/liquid forms

concept model/liquid forms

concept model/liquid forms

model photographs/2003

6. Design given as a function

For the design to be given in a state which can be momentarily changeable and updatable, the design description has to be given as an interactive expression.

For this to be achievable, the architectural form and other aspects of the design have to be translated into information code that describes its essence – the character and the relationships of the sub-elements. Structured as a formula that specifies the design characteristics that are constants, and aspects that are variables, with their constrains - in terms of their range – minimum and maximum values.

Once the form is turned into this description, controllers can be assigned to manipulate it, via the input of changeable numerical values. Any events or characteristics can potentially be translated into the parametric or mathematical/information values. Once the relationships between the elements or the events are been established, the ‘script’ of the design can be written.

This gives a possibility to work with an object as if it was a ‘living entity’, designing different response mechanisms and deciding the nature of the responses and its controlling parameters. Designing the parametrical transcriptions in this way becomes the integral part of the proposal for the design of the architectural body.

If, instead of the fixed end values, the relationships between the individual elements are given - defined as a mathematical description i.e. given as formulas or functions, than infinite values can be imputed in the formulas, to obtain equally infinite number of the solution.

In its indeterminate state, the design as such exists only as a virtual object. The form/the design is specified, but in a non-specific way. Only once the variables are inputted into its running function, the possible end results are being actualised. The ‘final’ form emerges only once the variables are specified.

In this way the architectural object is not anymore just a singular element. It ceases to be just a shape and becomes something much more complex, ‘alive’ and truly dynamic.

7. Neutral configuration – dealing with the complexity
(this part is still work in progress - I intend to include further clarification)

For complex requirements, giving the design a ‘neutral’ ‘undetermined’ configuration, which later is applicable to numerous possible situations, seems to produce much more flexible solution.

The more complex the requirements are, neutral configurations seem to be able to tackle the problem in much more efficient way. They allow for the variations to be dealt with in much more flexible manner than the highly determinate solutions are able to.

Today the means already exist to produce the designs requiring a much more complex approach, it is not necessary to rely any more solely on human capacity. The programs are available that are able to perform infinitely complicated number of computations almost instantly, meaning that the potential for use of this design strategy has immensely increased. It becomes possible to explore and manipulate the ideas and concepts far beyond the traditional means.

8. Designing the ‘essence’

With advanced techniques that efficiently can assist the conception of forms, the necessity to work with only one option becomes redundant. In this way, the architectural object is understood as an entity that has an own system of information that created it.

It becomes possible to work with nearly unlimited number of variation simultaneously. This gives the potential to explore many different possibilities resulting from the singular idea, in a non-time consuming, effortless manner.

This opens up the possibility for designing the essence of the objects or of the events that, instead of specifying the final form, inform of their nature in less specific way, creating more space for the emergence of a solution which would be truly the answer to the conditions – their real-time and real- space cast.

While Plato saw the ideal form, this identical ‘essence’ in things which nevertheless manifested themselves in infinite number of ways in nature, today the possibility exists for this process to be reversed and to work from the ‘other end’, designing the essence’ of the objects itself, and than seeing them actualize in great number of different ways.

Bojana Vuksanović
written May 2003