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A Preface to a Preface

Published onApr 23, 2021
A Preface to a Preface

You will find that this book is all beginning and no end.

Most of the machines I will be discussing do not exist at this time. The chapters are primarily extrapolations into the future derived from experiences with various computer-aided design systems and, in particular, URBAN5. Some of the bents and biases may suffer from provincialism in that they reflect a general unhappiness on my part with the present practice of architecture.

There are three possible ways in which machines can assist the design process: (1) current procedures can be automated, thus speeding up and reducing the cost of existing practices; (2) existing methods can be altered to fit within the specifications and constitution of a machine, where only those issues are considered that are supposedly machine-compatible; (3) the design process, considered as evolutionary, can be presented to a machine, also considered as evolutionary, and a mutual training, resilience, and growth can be developed.

I shall consider only the third alternative and shall treat the problem as the intimate association of two dissimilar species (man and machine), two dissimilar processes (design and computation), and two intelligent systems (the architect and the architecture machine). By virtue of ascribing intelligence to an artifact or the artificial, the partnership is not one of master and slave but rather of two associates that have a potential and a desire for self-improvement.

Given that the physical environment is not in perfect harmony with every man’s life style, given that architecture is not the faultless response to human needs, given that the architect is not the consummate manager of physical environments, I shall consider the physical environment as an evolving organism as opposed to a designed artifact. In particular, I shall consider an evolution aided by a specific class of machines. Warren McCulloch (1956) calls them ethical robots; in the context of architecture I shall call them architecture machines.

The Architecture Machine is for students, for people who are interested in groping with problems they do not know how to handle and asking questions they do not know how to answer. Those people who know how computers should be used in architecture, or those who expect to find the answers in this volume, should not read on. This work results from playing and fumbling with both good and bad ideas. It is not a definitive work or magnum opus on the subject of computer-aided architecture or robot architects.

Nicholas Negroponte, May 1969

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