Argenia, a mother tongue in infinite variations

Identity rises from a silent site because birds have no tears.

Celestino Soddu, enrica colabella

Generative Design Lab, Politecnico di Milano University, Italy

Abstract. Argenia is  a generative AI software built in 1988 and upgraded following the design activity. It works producing endless variations of Artificial DNA as generated species (fig.1). In this paper the authors present the complex structure of generative systems and some Visionary Variations as a poetic product. Also some teaching results using the generative methodology will be showed.

Keywords: AI, Generative Systems, Variations, Visionary, Poiesis, Creativity, Abduction, Architecture, Naturality.

Figure 1.  Generated  Variations of Castles.

1. IDEA AS ARTIFICIAL DNA, a generative system based on a set of codes of transformation

The design Idea is represented with creative algorithms that define multiple paths from an existing world towards possible worlds. Idea is like a natural DNA, a transformation code  that identifies a lot of different relationships starting from  the designer’s imprinting. These algorithms can be used in a creative complex process for every project and it is possible to upgrade them as an increasing experience. So we define a set of not linear procedures (words, matrixes, schemas, paradigms) that performs open generative systems. The creative path that brings to formalize an artificial Dna is based on the observation of the environment that surrounds us and on our cultural references.

Tools for Idea

This first step of the generative process consists in two different moments:

1. Abduction  

As happens in every creative action, such observation activates a subjective interpretation.  We can read and record what fascinated us as a code of transformation. In other terms what is observed and appreciated becomes a strong deep  indication for identifying a process of transformation that will operate on the existing environment to transform it into a possible scenario. We call abduction this type of performing rules because the interpretation of the events is managed with the aim to represent a rule as an algorithm.

The construction of an artificial Dna is a basic process too that can grow toward complexity using algorithms as a usefully answer to the contemporary needs of quality and Beauty.

2. Attributes

We use creatively our mother tongue defining some words as attributes, minimum three or more, as a possible significance of our iter. This is a very important tool that connects in a logical procedure words and pictures as in ancient time, ut pictura poiesis.


STRUCTURE: 1 FIST ATTRIBUTE, generic also random

                         2 SECON ATTRIBUTE, dual, hendiadys

                         3 THIRD ATTRIBUTE, versus

                         = performing open CATEGORIES



Our generative system, Argenia, essentially consists of two different components: a system of codes of transformation and an organizational paradigm for the evolutionary dynamics. Both elements are absolutely essential for realizing an idea as a generative motor. These parts produce together a generative non linear system.

2.1. The artificial DNA

The code system can be compared to the natural structure of DNA. The whole structure of rules is a matrix device that defines how to evolve a system towards complexity. In other words, it is possible to consider it as a group of concepts that trace and identify a specific design behavior. In the case of Argenìa, since in the first years of study it was deepened and developed as an act of author’ s interpretation of the world of the Renaissance Masters. These rules mirror author’s concept of the Beauty of Nature. They represent the subjective fascination for some particular natural structures, whose harmony is translated into rule systems. 

These rules are not objective; neither do they originate from a philological approach. As a whole, they represent author’s concept of harmony, which was born from a personal and cultural experience, from a reading of the universe of natural and artificial events where a new vision of “reality” can rise. This approach is close to the Renaissance spirit and to its challenge: the interpretation of natural harmony as an operational code for realizing an artificial world, “la città ideale”. They perform a poetic structure.

This is a set of transformation codes of evolutionary logics that comes forth from tradition and that mirrors author’s identity. Again, here one comes across the inseparable synergy between the artistic and scientific approach. “Ars sine scientia nihil est” In fact, by experimenting with the evolutionary logics of complex systems, we are able to look for fragments of our code of harmony fathoming the Possible, seeking for our idea of beauty. The system’s non-linearity, and its realization of unpredicted exceptions, represents an unexpected synergy among non-connected parts of our aesthetical research.

In searching for rules as codes of harmony, we have experimented with geometric, perspective and mathematical codes, which were visualized and made operational by computers. In particular, we have made transformations by using imaginary numbers, what has enabled the author to identify the role of events within a complex system. In comparison to parallel events, this system could be transformed and evolved along one “preferential path”, which, through possible variations of the subsystems and of the details that represent it, implies a logic of paradigmatic control over the whole and its identity. In Argenia it was also used multidimensional cellular automata for writing rules that define the topological structure of generated architectural scenarios.

TABLE 1. The generative process (cycle 1-2-3-4-5) uses algorithms managing the transformation and evolution inside a non-linear system, but not only the evolution of the system itself. Each generative project can generate, using a lot of parallel artificial lives, an endless sequence of possible parallel results for fitting the architect’s imprinting with the client’s needs.

In order to build individual events, this artificial DNA needed an evolutionary system, an artificial life, which allowed it to develop and achieve the levels of complexity proper of our time. The goal was the figuration of complex events, such as cities, buildings, industrial objects. It was not enough to produce beautiful and fascinating forms that allude to the natural complexity of possible environments, as for instance fractal or numerical wholes, represented by Bezier curves. The challenge was to produce artificial individuals that were "recognizable" within the complexity of the existing events: historical cities such as the Italian medieval cities, New York whose identity is also recognizable in the most marginal areas, Chicago with its ability to represent the history of the architecture of the twentieth century, Hong Kong with its unrepeatable mixture of west/east styles, and so on. This experimentation begun in 1986, starting from the Italian medieval cities.



In order to reach the figuration of complex events, it was necessary to work out paradigms that used and guided the evolutionary structure of the system. This gave rise to results that, because of their difference, were typical examples of Italian medieval cities. In order to create these organizational paradigms, it was necessary to systematize the structure of the architectural space, as Renaissance architects have done. Therefore it was built a system in which relationships among architectural events are nested inside each other. This system formed a basis for the evolutionary structure and its exceptions. (Exceptions are important because they could overturn deeply the same structure during the evolutionary path.) 

The system is made up of event-spaces with, all around, 26 synapses, which manage the interface with possible topologically near events. The whole system is therefore based on the number 27. Every direct relationship between two spaces can maximally activate 9 complex interfaces. Every spatial event therefore has one to nine parallel possibilities for structuring a relationship with the topologically near event. Every interface, to operate its own evolution-transformation, is characterized by a series of parallel systems which are usable together and which can be reciprocally contaminated. Each of these systems responds to specific characters that the event will have to explain and show. Each one has a different geometrical-topological structure representing its peculiarity. For instance, one of the evolutionary contaminations that has been used in some architectural generative projects works with three parallel geometric systems. The first one is based on the number nine (9x9x9 references linked with specific relationships, such as the golden section), the second on the progressive division of axis and diagonals, and the third one replaces the Cartesian coordinates by the polar ones building an order of preferential relationships with centre. The contaminations and the interferences between these three parallel systems simultaneously generate complexity and harmony.

The system, in addition, provides some foldings that can alter the structure of topology making to coincide in a single event the interface produced by synapses, which are, before folding the system, distant one from the other. In this entire transforming path, time enters as a conclusive factor of the possible bifurcations of the evolutionary structure as it is the only unpredictable element. Every possible start-up of generative paths is conditioned from the temporal moment of its beginning, that is obviously always different. And the folding of the system, with the respective acceleration or induced decelerations, manages the unpredictability of the results. 

This approach makes it impossible to repeat the same generation. This uniqueness is due to the temporality of the generative process that was started up, and it can only be overcome by producing clones through manipulating and resetting the clock, which is, of course, antithetical to the aim of the generative approach.

Once the architectural spatial net is systematized, it was built, referring to every single design occurrence, the logical plot to check the evolutionary dynamics of the system in order to fit the client’s needs. In other words, if the generative project has to realize a multifunctional skyscraper in Los Angeles or, for instance, a chair, it is necessary for the codes of harmony to work in such a way, as to reach this goal.  This part of the generative project is obviously built ad hoc for every single project. Therefore, schematically, we do not have a homologating technology. 

The generative projects are not tools for producing any possible result. They can’t be used by all creative people. The generative projects need a subjective approach that can answer the specific needs of the client, in line with the humanistic tradition. It is possible, instead, to define a modus operandi and to make it executable through rules, as we have experimented in didactics.

In our teaching activity, especially as supervisors of master thesis, we asked to our students to design their own artificial DNA based on their cultural references. This is an exercise for representing their imprinting as architects and designers.

Three examples of master thesis.

1. The drawings of Piranesi as design reference. The passage from 2D drawing into 3D models needs a subjective interpretation that pushes the emerging of the subjective imprinting as architect. (fig.2).

2. Reconstructing, using abduction, some transforming rules of Gaudì. The result was an artificial DNA able to generate some sequences of  possible casa Batlo and casa Milà and evolving hybrids with modern movement authors for delineating the borders of identity.  Each scenarios is different but each one representing the performing Idea of Gaudì architecture. (fig. 3).

Figure 2.  Abduction from Piranesi.

3.Designing transforming rules for a particular project, the reconstruction of Trimellone Island, destroyed by a blast. The historical and contemporary references are clearly represented as transforming rules and this generative process used these rules as codes in the architectural project of reconstruction. The master thesis of  Germano Scalinzi (fig.4).

Figure 3. Abduction from Gaudi. The generated model of Casa Milà and two variations of generated Casa Batlo.

Figure 4. Abduction of transforming rules from the medieval castle in Verona used in Trimellone Island reconstruction..


Argenia was designed as a concept software that can generate architectural 3D models, and that controls dimensions, materials, technology and structure of function. It is therefore like a personal virtual architectural office. Each 3D model is generated from “harmonic codes”, which represent a strong identity and follow author’s architectural concept.

Argenia is a generative project that is always in progress. [In the fifteen years that it was used it in our design activity, each occasion has been used to implement it in architectural projects. Now it is a real virtual office that can realize an impressive sequence of architectural 3D projects in real time. These projects define a dynamical vision, and can fit exactly the client’s needs. Constraints are not considered as problems, but as occasions for reaching a stronger identity in the artificial life of the project. Something similar occurs in nature. The more the needs of the clients are complex, the more the generative project can increase its quality and identity.

Architectures must not only adapt to contemporary clients and users, but also to future users. This objective could be realized by giving the client the opportunity to choose among endless possible generated scenarios. At the same time a further objective exists: meeting the expectations of the city and its inhabitants. Can architecture, with the strong imprinting of its designer, increase the identity of a city? To verify this, we presented the inhabitants of cities with a strong identity, such as Hong Kong, a series of visionary images of their city, and it was asked them a very simple question: which of these visionary variations of Hong Kong is more like Hong Kong than before? It seemed that it is really simple for human beings to recognize similarity. Artefacts imitate nature.

The following images present a series of visionary scenarios of transformations in Hong Kong (fig.2), Washington DC (fig.3) , Los Angeles (fig.4), New York (fig.5), Milano (fig. 6 and 7), Shanghai (fig 8 and 9), Beijing (fig. 10), Tianjin (fig 11), Nagoya (fig 12) and Chicago (fig.8). In these generative projects the architecture was designed and generated with Argenia, and tries to increase the identity of towns. These images were used in exhibitions to verify the impact on its inhabitants.



Figure 2.  Generated  Variations of buildings for Hong Kong waterfront.



Figure 3.  Generated  variations of the IDB new Cultural Centre, Washington DC



Figure 4.  1 real + 2 generated  Variations in Beverly Hills

Figure 5.  Completely generated town system representing the NewYork identity code.


Figure 6. 1 real + 2 generated Variation of a New Gallery in Milan

Figure 7.  1 real + 3 generated  Variation of Milan with the New Museum of Futurism


Figure 8.  Real environment and first scenario of generated two towers in Shanghai

Figure 9.  Real environment and second scenario of generated two towers in Shanghai

Figure 10.  1 real + 2 generated  Variations of a multi-purpose building in Beijing


Figure 11.  1 real + 2 generated  Variation of a tower in Nagoya downtown.

Figure 12. Previous environment and with generated  office building in Tianjin

Figure 13.  Old Chicago before and after a new generated tower.

This is an universal language that uses variations as in music, that every people can recognize because starts from a simple singular mother tongue.



master thesis:


Colabella, E: 1999, Imaging Humanity, Proceedings, USA, Bordighera  Press,  The imprinting of a man, word as medium for icona (pag.129)  The experiences of the students of Enrica Colabella, a. a. 1997/98 Corso di Rilevamento e Rappresentazione , Faculty of Architecture, Politecnico di Milano. Codes as expression of an hypothesis that comes from the Poetic Test of Giacomo Leopardi. The goal is the building of a possible “real” scenery of Architecture, that represents the formulated idea. 

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