Saturday, February 16, 2008

Daylighting, Computers, Gardens

I just finished reading Star’s thesis from last semester and I found it super super interesting – she is looking at daylighting analysis methods [both scale model and software] and their accuracy when measured against reality. I definitely do not understand the math or the computer programming sections where she goes in depth about the specific calculations, but what was most interesting to me were the underlying questions of the role of computer analysis [or physical model analysis] in design: how designers make decisions and what information we base those decisions on.

I know I’ve written about this before but I think the idea that we could ever create an ‘accurate’ replication of reality inside the computer model which could be used for measurement or analysis is a bit odd, and in reality, unnecessary. The ‘real’ world is impossibly complex and I doubt that we could ever get a computer to recreate everything that is going on in even the simplest of scenes. And really – if the designer is asking the right questions, then there is no need to model everything. That was another really good point Star’s paper: that one of the central problems of the existing software analysis programs was the disconnect between the variables the user though was important and what values the software was actually performing its calculations based on. Especially as architects – we get focused on analyzing things like space, form and geometry – when in reality the variables that are the most important to the software might be things like material reflectivity, glass and material type and fenestration. We can accidentally spend a lot of time adjusting variables which really don’t have much of an effect on the results – I know I’ve certainly had that problem when attempting to use programs like Ecotect in the past.

But I think that the real power of the computer is not its ability to calculate really complicated things, such as light moving through space [cus its just math after all], but its ability to calculate those things fast enough to allow us to interact with them in a way that wouldn’t be possible if those calculations had to be done by hand. And for architects especially, the ability to visualize the results are much more important than the specific values. While I know that the values are important, especially as we try and quantify more and more of our design process, to me it is more important to watch things change as a result of design decisions – in this way, form is given scale and you can more accurately predict the repercussions of future actions once you have yourself ‘calibrated’ to the results.

I suppose this also goes to the question of the most effective way to practice architecture. All these fancy computer programs might never be as effective as real-world experience, accumulated over a long period of time, practiced in a local environment. Of course - the computer can be a really useful supplement to first-hand knowledge and can show designers things they might never have thought of, but it can also overwhelm designers with irrelevant / wrong information. I suppose its a question of balance - how can you use technology and fancy analysis software to add to our knowledge and decisions without replacing experience?

Anyway – I thought it was a great paper and I’ll see if she’ll let me put it up on the blog.

Also – Carrie and I finally had a long talk about the gardens in our project and I think I’m finally getting a better sense of their place in our proposal. I’ve been hemming and hawing about using gardens on the roof – I just wasn’t sure what I thought about it – are they ‘nature’ are they infrastructure? Are they a building system that treats water / air? How do people interact with them? Touch? Sight? Is it a ‘Roof Garden’ or a ‘Green Roof’? What the difference?

At any rate – We’ve started to use the gardens in a way that I think is more closely related to some of the original requests from the client - namely – to make clear the linkages between the residents with their neighborhood, as well as make explicit the connections between these residents and their broader community / region / environment. I think we are going to be trying to bring the residents into more intimate contact with the gardens: we’re proposing primarily veggie, because it could be integrated into the other vocational training programs of the building and also because it is more obviously about seasonal change and cyclical patterning. The idea of connection is maybe what is most important to us here – to see our connections to one another and to a shared environment represented in the gardens is kind of what we are aiming for. So formally, we are a trying to blur the boundaries between the ‘people’ zones and the ‘veggie’ zones – by slipping surfaces through one another, by shifting ground planes and by generally just mixing benches, paths and planters in a way that brings people into for intimate contact with the gardens. I dunno – its not all there yet, but at least it is a concept that gives us someplace to work from.

Aliright, its like 1:30 am here right now and I still have to finish a 3D model of a bunch of new things in our proposal for a morning meeting tomorrow. I’ll try and upload some pics of our new design tomorrow. Till then . . .

No comments: