Digital Media: Neural Bodies

This course considers the building as body from a computational and critical perspective. The friction between the building as a quasi-biological organism on the one hand and a precise geometric construct on the other has long been conceptually and formally productive. We will interrogate the reciprocity between architectural, biological, and mathematical form through the contemporary lens of datasets, AI, and geometry. In particular, we will develop techniques that draw on hybrid architectural-biological datasets to generate ambitious multi-material prints of speculative proto-architectures.

The course will look at both large architectural datasets—for example, beaux-arts plans—as well as large biological datasets—such as skeletal scans of comparative anatomy—and ask how the biological data might be understood architecturally and vice versa. Beyond available image and 3d-scan datasets, certain representation and imaging techniques, such as tomographic scanning, will be critical. Through AI techniques such as volumetric neural networks and fabrication processes like multi-material printing, students will explore bio-architectural generative spaces in a spatially sophisticated way.

Students will develop three sequential exercises related to (1) planmaking, (2) intricate double, triple, and quadruple staircases, and (3) a quasi-architectural proposal that negotiates the first two assignments. A key aspect of the class will be the development of productive workflows that leverage disparate tools for novel effect. Students will use AI tools like Google Colab, Stylegan, and Shapenet as well as a range of surface modfication, analysis, and discretization tools in Houdini, Meshmixer, and Grasshopper. Students will also be introduced to a range of more procedural processes to discretize and resolve their proposals into constructible forms.

The ambitions of the course extend beyond techniques of form making to critical perspectives on architecture as body and broader ideas of morphological analysis and classification. The course thus engages ways of thinking about and measuring bodies generally, and considers these practices as constitutive of a rich mode of architectural production.