Evolutionary Thinking & the Potentials of Environment

According to the historian and theorist Lewis Mumford in his 1934 book Technics and Civilization the motivation behind all of man’s technological development was an attempt “to manufacture outside of the body a set of conditions more favorable toward maintaining its equilibrium and ensuring its survival.” Through the design and construction of localized environments for human occupation, Architecture could be regarded as the indispensable product of man’s unwillingness to accept the natural world, the synthesis of both art and technics towards the sustainment of the human organism.

Taken a step further the artist and architect partnership of Arakawa + Gins have argued that through a closer and more complex alignment of people and architectural surrounds there exists the potential for humans to sustain their lives indefinitely, that “a procedural constructing of the world will constitute a way for our species to take evolution into its own hands.” Although the proposition of cheating death through architectural intervention may be considered fantastical aspiration, various contemporary architects have explored the potential capacities of architecture to directly impact the human condition through experience, sensation, physiology and psychological means. This explicit rethinking of architecture not as form, function or program, but rather as a set of overlapping environmental systems (material, biological, ecological, social, perceptual, , atmospheric, climatic, etc.) has produced an architecture capable of more directly engaging the inhabitant, radically affecting both the process and products of its design. The synthesis of these overlapping systems is what this seminar posits as a movement towards “Evolutionary Thinking” in the contemporary design practice.

In order to investigate this new thinking we will work across two parallel trajectories: 1. Understanding basic concepts of evolutionary processes such as adaptation, natural selection, variation, speciation, specialization, population thinking, gene-environment interaction, evolvability, etc.; 2. Examining the work and process of contemporary architectural practices who have adopted, (at least in part) Evolutionary Thinking, including: AMID (cero9), Aranda/Lasch, William McDonough + Partners, Bittertang, Arakawa + Gins, Terreform ONE, OCEAN design research association, Achim Menges, Sean Lally (WEATHERS), The Living, Greg Lynn, MOS, R&Sie(n), Philippe Rahm, and others. Students will be required to complete weekly readings and participate in class discussions. Students will also conduct independent research / analysis throughout the semester on a chosen contemporary architectural practice providing the basis for a final paper or graphic dossier intended to synthesize a critical assessment of the works as they relate to the previously defined “Evolutionary Thinking."

In addition to weekly reading assignments students will conduct independent research related to a chosen architectural practice of interest as it relates to the idea of "Evolutionary Thinking." The final paper will serve as a means for students to present a critical position, as well as a means for the synthesizing of issues addressed throughout the seminar.

*This class was offered as a undergraduate and graduate elective seminar