The European Academy of Design
Contextual Design / Design in Context Conference
Stockholm 23-25 April 1997
Argenic Design

Prof. Celestino Soddu, Prof. Enrica Colabella
School of Industrial Design, Faculty of Architecture,Milan Polytechnic, Italy
tel. (39)2.2399.5418, fax (39)2.2399.5454

Before the industrial era every object was unique, unrepeatable and strongly connected to the identity of its maker or user.
This bond, together with the uniqueness and irreproducibility of the object, invested it with a quality which went beyond the intrinsic value, embodied in the materials and the execution.
The result was, for the object, an extremely slow obsolescence for the most part in terms of function (also aesthetic function) rather than changes in the "ultimate model."
In the two centuries of the Industrial Era, by now at a close, objects were produced as undistinguishable multiples. The mass-production line renders all objects equal. And this equality has been celebrated in the overvtimation of the processes of optimization and in the construction of an aesthetics of repetition.
But this approach was based on certain presuppositions that today have lost their axiomatic force, and could be disproved easily for the reason that they are no longer respondent to the potentiality and expectations of man:
1. Identical mass-produced objects cost less than unique individually produced objects.
2. The optimization of function leads necessarily to a "unique" design result.
3. The quality of a designer and of a particular design idea is the final result, the crystallized scenario of the completed process. This is the only possible result of said process.

1. The first point is no longer true. Digital manifacturing technology allows one to realize, at the same operational cost, unique objects or repeated objects. We have examples of this before us every day: a printer costs the same to run whether it prints ten identical pages or ten different pages.
In digital manifacturing technology it is the same. The cost differential belongs to the commands, to the reprogramming actions that we must perform in the robot, in definitive to the design work.
If design is an operative metaproject, it should be able, in emulating the process, to generate the design results, and to generate these results as they are in reality, as unexpected different scenarios. An operative metaproject can realize these scenarios by formalizing them as reprogramming actions, in real time, of the digital control machines, of the robots. In this case, the additional cost, if it exists, belongs only to the design operation.
2. The mith of the optimization of a product has been debunked. We cannot identify a given design result as "necessary", once we have discovered, or re-discovered the role and the irreplaceable importance of the subjective designer.
Design is not an inferential process. An identification among optimization of function and design as a single result it is unthinkable. Margins of variability of formal matrices, of the technological matrices and of materials will always exist within the parameters of their obligation to satisfy function. The production of identical multiples is, on the contrary, an impoverishment, without benefits, of one of the final qualities of the object. The possibility of linking the object to different human individuals, and to their diversified exigencies is reduced. In sum, a fundamental function of the object is sacrificed: the capability of increasing the identity and the uniqueness of each human individual.
3. The quality of a project is not deducible from the final single result. In order to demonstrate and evaluate the quality of a project, it is not longer acceptable to reconstruct the captive process a posteriori, in terms of inductive/inferential sequence. In other words, it is not longer acceptable to depart from the result in order to demonstrate that this same result is the only possible one that could come of a desired quality, a definite idea.
If we want to clarify the relation between design, ideation and creativity we must identify, within the design process, what is possible to emulate using computers and what is, instead, the exclusive dominion of human thought, that wich cannot be emulable by a machine. The idea, as subjective construction of a hierarchy of possible relations and interferences within an object, cannot be emulated by a computer, for the reason that an idea is not the fruit of inductive or inferential processes, but of adduction, that is of the interpretative processes which define human subjectivity. Once conceived, the idea could be explicated and communicated in two ways: with a series of projects or with a subjective metaproject.
But a series of projects is not exhaustive of the idea, it carries out only some of its possible scenarios. And the process of building a scenario (today sometimes identified with design, and in this case also with the idea) is a process which could be emulated by a computer for the reason that it uses processes of inferential synthesis, like the consolidate procedures of artificial intelligence.
If instead of explicating the idea through given results (only some of the possible scenarios, however) we carry out a subjective metaproject of an operative kind, we arrive at a total communication of the same idea.
A subjective operative metaproject is a computer program utilizing artificial intelligence to explicate the idea, capable of emulating electronically the processes of building scenarios, and of managing these scenarios in the manufacturing sequence.
This is what is meant by Argenic Design.
At this point, if we exclude the relative preconceptions about cost, about the optimization of function and about the recognizability of the design idea, Argenic Design might thus be seen as a conceptual and operative innovation for the realization of industrial products in the Third Millenium -unique and unrepeatable products, like the objects made by man have always been, but realized in factories. These objects are made to the measure of man in, that they respond to individual subjectivity. Futhermore, these products are good for the environment, not only because they are recyclable, but because they have a slow obsolescence.

The example that I will show you is an Argenic Design of a series of chairs.
The aim of this first experimental project was to test the possibility of using digitized manifacturing equipment to produce in the factory a series of individually distinct objects.
The differences between the scenario/design of each chair results in a stratification of identity - that of the metaproject, of the idea, and of each individual chair.
The achieved goals are:
1. The idea is recognizable notwithstanding the differences among the individual chairs.
2. The Argenic design has not been realized through a data base compilation: we have not used, in the code, a sequence of pre-defined shapes but a series of generative procedures.
3. The logic that guides to the codes of generation and control is an emulation of the subjective procedures that we, as designers, normally use. We have represented and used this logic in a fractal way, from the overall form to the detail, so as to produce chairs that are identifiable in terms of the idea and design logic that we have adopted, but with the impossibility to foresee the final form.
4. The system emulates normal procedures of chairs design. These procedures are activated by codes that emulate the evolution of design as dynamic chaotic system, therefore a system highly sensitive to the starting data.
5. Each chair is unrepeatable, as in all scenarios produced by dynamic chaotic systems. If a model is repeated, the same system would enter a cycle of iterations, it would enter fibrillation. This failure signs that the system is not a dynamic chaotic system, and it could not reach the objective of an Argenic Design.
Celestino Soddu, "Citta' Aleatorie", Masson Ed., Milan 1989
Celestino Soddu, Enrica Colabella, "Il progetto ambientale di morfogenesi. Codici genetici dell'Artificiale", Esculapio Ed. Bologna 1992

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