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The Geometry of Qualities

Published onApr 23, 2021
The Geometry of Qualities

In order to make adept, temporal comments, an architecture machine must have a certain basic understanding of qualities. Though at first primitive, this qualitative appreciation itself would evolve within a value system that is very personal, between a man and a machine.

The handling of qualitative information is too often presumed hopeless for the constitution of machines. Or it is granted feasibility only through the abortive techniques of quantification. No doubt, characteristics of identity, oppression, and fulfillment are hard for our present machines to comprehend. Nevertheless, even with existing machines, properties of privacy or accessibility or the natural environment furnish qualitative features that can be readily expressed in terms that are understandable to machines, machines that for the time being have not experienced these qualities. This is because we already have a model whose base is geometry. This geometric structure, resulting from the form base of urban design and the pictorial structure of computer graphics, happens to suit the topology of many environmental qualities.

For example, within some context, visual privacy has an explicit geometry. The presence of a transparent surface, while providing light and view, might not yield visual privacy. A machine can check this without disturbing the architect, by weighing the activity (sleeping, eating, bathing), the actor (housewife, bachelor, exhibitionist), the external uses (commercial, recreational, residential), and the geometry of the two spaces that abut the surface. With an evolutionary designer-machine agreement of the definition of visual privacy, the four ingredients can determine either an unequivocal absence or presence of visual privacy, or a graded value of it.

Unfortunately, visual privacy has psychological and personal ramifications not expressible in the four parameters. These subjective and personal parameters are important; however, they are more appropriately manipulated by the inhabitant (and his machine) rather than the designer. A prospective lessor or buyer, in conversation with his terminal (less elaborate than an architecture machine), can placate his need for privacy by manipulating surfaces and volumes in a given framework. Thus we have a situation where a general scaffolding is locally nourished by residents managing their own insular needs. The concept of an architect (a professional) handling topical qualities and each urbanite interjecting personal standards is particularly compatible with the notion of “plug-in” environments. Machines are the architects for a range of qualities (using human or nonhuman values) that structure the environment, the architects are architects for a piano nobile of qualities, and the householders are architects for local qualities.

As Peter Cook (1967) asks, “Does consumer choice of pre-fabricated living units and the like imply that every man might become his own architect?” Or, as another author suggests, “The housing modules can be bought and sold much like cars, new or second hand.… The individual units can be combined vertically and horizontally … residents will buy and own their housing modules, but rent the space they occupy” (Hosken, 1968).

An architect attempting to provide natural amenities, a resident trying to overlay his own needs, and a machine endeavoring to transcribe these qualities through some geometry all together comprise a system that must always be in equilibrium. The maintenance of this equilibrium is the design process. Within this definition, the urban environment is a multitude of quantitative and qualitative, local and global, individual and group forces that push and pull on a membrane. The shape of this adaptable membrane at any instant of time is urban form.

In effect, the graphic manipulations from many remote terminals would manipulate the urban form. Each action, by designer, by resident, or by satellite machine, would generate repercussions throughout the system. In most cases, effects of a change would have local impact and lose force within several hundred feet of the modification. Effects of a highway or the equivalent of the year 2000 would have more global effects than a family adding a bedroom. But, given a machine that can interpolate qualities, design by-products would no longer be unforeseen civil disasters.

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