Celestino Soddu, professor, architect.
Generative Design Lab,
Department of Architecture and Planning, Politecnico di
Milano University, Italy.
I believe to
interpret the thought of all the participants to this fourth conference on
Generative Art affirming that generative art is a deep creative experience and,
somehow, visionary too. This experience, in fact, anticipates the possible
evolution of the fields proper of human creativeness, rediscovering paths and
approaches to ideation that have been
proper of one of the most fertile moments of the human history and culture as
In this paper I would
like to deal with some aspects, and also some different approaches of
generative creativeness. In particular, the importance to use specific reading
keys, both subjective and objective, the possibility to reach concrete and
feasible design results entering a complex figuration of possible incoming
worlds. In other terms, to reach projects directly interfaceable with
productive reality. Lastly, I will evaluate if and how it is possible and
profitable to use the random factor in evolutionary processes, investigating on
the differences that the use of such factor involves in the creative and design
experience and the quality of the obtainable results.
But how can we define
Imagine to be an
artist, an architect, a musician or a designer that has an idea. It is the idea
of a work: an architectural space for a museum or an object as a coffeepot to
be produced by industry, or a piece of music for a particular occasion.
Imagine this idea to be particularly strong, felt,
recognizable, intimately tied up to your personal and professional identity. In
other terms, imagine that your idea is able to tell, in strong and exhaustive
way, your point of view on how to interpret the world surrounding us, on how to
transform this existing world into a possible one, much closer to your
expectations, on how to be creative and designer.
Then imagine that
every sketch you trace, every possible result, each form you think of will give
you satisfaction, but only partially. Every formalization is not more than one
of the possible representations of your idea, but it is not the idea. Your idea
is fleeing. Your idea is all the possible, endless formalizations, all
together, also the formalization that you have not traced yet but that,
however, are essential to represent it.
Imagine that you
succeed in finding a way to represent and realize this idea as a concrete,
usable and communicable event without losing nothing of its richness and the
complexity of its strength: an idea that becomes product without losing its
Imagine therefore that
you can sell this idea as idea and not as one of its possible results, objects,
projects, artworks, music. You can sell it to an industry, as it is usual for
any project, and this company will use the idea-product to produce the possible
results. An endless number of objects, music, architectural spaces,
communications, that you have never seen before but that, also in their
difference and unpredictability, won't be a surprise for you: every object will
be one of the possible representations, figurations of your idea, each one will
be an individual of the species that you have created and designed.
Then imagine that this
industry, operating on the market with the actual web technologies, decides to
produce every object because it is chosen by a specific final consumer in a way that the oneness of every object find
and fit the oneness of every final consumer. Every user has unpredictable and
subjective needs that go beyond the standard performances of the object,
subjective needs that can be both aesthetical and symbolic, but also further
practical possible uses reflecting the multiplicity of subjective ways of life.
This operation can fit, as finality, the unpredictable further needs of each
final user with the unpredictable uniqueness and specificity of each
This is Generative
Art: the fitting between the idea of the designer (artist, architect,
musician), strong expression of his creative and professional identity and the
choice, that is unpredictable, of the final user, strong expression of his
the random factor
A first field to
investigate is: which is the relationship between these two identities, the
subjectivity of the designer and the subjectivity of the final user of the product? And, as a consequence of that
relationship, which is the role of random factor in the whole process, and how
such factor contributes to determine extremely different conceptual and
operational results and how this factor can mine or improve the design quality
of the results too.
A first consideration
is upstream of generative process. The use of the random factor inside the
design path, according to the different uses, can create a watershed between
project and unconscious formalism, that is not-project, twisting the mutual
roles of designer and client.
The respective roles,
in fact, can be identified as follows: the designer defines how to evolve and
transform the existing world into a possible better one, the user/client
chooses what is better for himself, following his own needs, also the strictly
A possible scenery of
unconscious formalism emerges if we assume the possible substitution of the
design process with the random act, and we try to do that through the
randomization of forms. This hypothesis
denies the design act, the idea, and loads the following choice of the user
with a value that seems to be a design choice because it gives the user the
last word about result, but it is not a design act. The user continues, more
concretely, to play the customer’s role: it chooses between different
possibilities that are offered to him but it doesn't operate as designer
because he doesn't define the evolutionary process, he doesn't possess creative
idea. The results of this approach are very disappointing, obviously.
One example. I
casually take a series of points in the space and I represent them through a
curve built with the algorithm of Bezier. If I expect the final project of a
coffeepot, or the final project of a vacuum cleaner or of a commercial center
to emerge, this is as to expect that, extracting some letters at random, the
Divine Comedy comes out. Possible, but highly improbable.
If the goal is the
figuration of a not-abstract event, it is necessary to have an objective that
drives the process, its increasing
complexity, it is necessary to have an idea, it is necessary to design.
Contrary to using
random forms, generative design works through the possible randomization of
interactions, or better the use of the random factor to make the (virtual)
context of reference in the designed evolution of the system unpredictable.
The creative idea,
following the trace admirably pointed out by Florensky, is active on three
different fields, space-geometry, the time-environment-flow, the object-form.
(Florensky pointed out the triad space-environment-thing, where space factor is
fundamental). If random factor is applied to the object-form or to the space,
the result cannot be a project but only unconscious formalization. The reason
is that we cannot define the idea but only the choice of a before-shaped
results made by the final user inside the time-environmental flow.
Alternatively, and this is my operational hypothesis of generative art, idea
can be the idea of a space, whose possible bending are an integral part of the
idea and whose organization is the reference paradigm for the not-abstract
figuration of each possible results. The time can be the random factor of
environmental interaction that activates and clocks possible trans-formations
of the system whose generative rule-codes, absolutely not-random, are integral
part of the idea in the field object-form.
Generative project as
projected evolutionary code that works and generate events inside an
environment whose unpredictability contributes to strengthen its possible
identity. As in nature. The artificial evolutionary procedures of a generative
project recall the natural evolutionary flow. The more the interaction with
the(virtual) environment is
unpredictable (random), the more the idea (how to transform the existing one in
possible) acquires identity, recognizability and strength. As in nature. The
more an olive tree is beaten by the (environmental random), the more, twisting
itself and growing, it acquires its own identity of species (idea) - the olive
tree becomes more olive tree than before - and, in the meantime, it increases
its own oneness of individual. And such oneness can fit the oneness of a
Also appearing as
opposite, the two “generative” approaches just delineated, (form-random and
interaction-random) are the two extreme of a continuous series of possibilities
where, alternatively, it is increased or decreased the hierarchical importance
of the casualness in the three fields of the idea: space-geometry, form-object
and the time-environment.
What also appeared
not-project in preceding example, it appears as project if the design intention
is confined in the character-identity of the abstract form that can derive from
the use of particular geometries, relations and logics. It appears clear that
the design intention is the character, extremely recognizable, of the curves of
Bezier. The idea is Bezier’s.
Generative Design, objective, subjective and adaptive aspects.
If we would really
like to trace a possible border between designing and abstract playing with
random forms, this border has to refer to the ”design intentions” and to all
the components that compete to the formulation of an idea.
If the Idea intends to
reach a “figured” result, that is a result that defines concrete and possible
events as an object of use that can be industrially produced or an architecture
in its complex configuration, then we could individualize, for convenience,
three aspects in which the design intention is shaped.
Objective aspect. It
includes the list of the performances to be carried out whose characters appear
broadly sharable and whose evaluation and subjective appreciation of consumers
appears univocal and taken for granted.
Subjective aspect. It
defines how to reach and to satisfy the objective aspects and, with these
processes, it renders explicit the specific characters of the identity and
recognizability of the product, of the designer and of the firm that produces
Adaptive aspect. It
defines how to open to possible performances on practical, aesthetical and
symbolic fields. These performances may be requested by unpredictable possible
consumers whose subjective needs cannot be listed previously, not being known,
but that however must be satisfied. If not, an absolute lack of market for the
product wil result.
In an architectural or
industrial design project, we cannot omit any of these aspects, if it aims at
reaching the “figuration” of the result. I would say however that, also in the
most abstract field of figurative art or music, these three aspects have to be
considered, however, if we intend to reach results whose complexity of
performances, intentionality and possible interpretations make the created
If objective aspects
are missing, aspects that we can also call the theme, the occasion of project,
we cannot arrive to not-abstract, identifiable and recognizable results. Such
results can be achieved only through the definition and the activation of “how”
to manage the process. Hiding or underestimating the choice of how to operate,
or to operate this choice unconsciously, doesn't deny that this choice has been
done. Also activating a structure of artificial life that manages and decides
“autonomously” the evolution from the idea to possible results implies the
existence of the idea as the intentionality of reaching specific objectives. It
also implies the design of the artificial life’s engine that defines how to
reach such goals.
The adaptivity is a
fundamental factor of the quality of the results, and therefore of the idea. It
presupposes, in the most banal cases of industrial product, at least the choice
of the color or the most proper measure. In the architecture, it presupposes at
least the possibility of using/personalizing the spaces where we live and, in
art, at least the possibility to choose a painting inside the production of an
artist and to choose a context where insert it.
In other terms, I
believe that, when we design or use our creativeness, we gather
aleatory-environmental input to bring forward very precise objectives. Rather
we look for such unpredictable inputs to solicit our creativeness, to look for
inspiration. Such aleatory inputs support us to strengthen and to shape our
idea. They can help us to verify in progress that the results that we will
reach will be appreciable from a multiplicity of different subjectivities.
In the generative
project we realize the system in its total dynamic structure. We define either
the rules either the unpredictability of
the occasions in which to apply them, either the possibility of exceptions.
In the generative
projects that I have realized, beginning from the projects that had as
operational field the
transformation-evolution of town landscape, going on with the project Basilica
for architecture generative design, continuing with the generative industrial
design projects Argenìa for chairs, sofa, lamps, coffeepots and jewels, and
ending with the GWP, the generative project of portraits of women, I have been
developing this type of approach, confining random in the field of the time-environment
Where and how, in
these generative projects, objective, subjective and adaptive aspects are faced
They define the theme and the base performances of results. These aspects are
so peculiar and referable to a specific occasion that, in my experimentations,
I have had to realize a generative project, an original software, for each
design theme. I don't believe that it is possible, if we intend to reach and
fix final figurations of project, to make a generic generative project, or
rather to realize a software able to produce coffeepots, vacuum cleaners,
chairs, televisions, cars, rings, lamps and so on. Each theme presupposes
specific objective aspects and therefore a different project, a different generative
software. In my experimentations it has not been possible, if not in the most
banal cases as, for instance, applications on the quantitative plan (a space of
defined square meters), to manage the functional applications with
interchangeable data. Such performance requests, in fact, must be interpreted
by the designer in terms of logics of transformation (algorithms) and of
structures of relationship (paradigms). Managing these requests, we enter
immediately the field of “how” to operate, therefore the subjective
Generative design of a
Species of Chairs and Rapid prototyping realization of
They define how to reach the objectives of project. A simplification (and an
opening to the generic generative project, a tool for designers) could be that
we don’t define how to reach the objectives but we identify a series of
solutions, a database of random accessible forms that are modifiable and
personalizable by the designer using an appropriate interface.
Apart from the conceptual choice that, in
my opinion, change the nature of generative design, this is a simplification
that makes impossible the attainment of the objectives of performance if these
are complexes and multiples. The management of the complexity is in fact one of
the strong themes of the contemporary project, in which is necessary to
activate a multiplicity of approaching keys, that are often different and
belong to various disciplinary fields, and that must be realized by team of
experts. Manifold forms for diversified performances are not, in fact,
stratifiable and usable simultaneously. It is not possible to pass from
complication to complexity, and to synthesis.
Contrarily, the definition of the “how”
and therefore the subjective indication of an evolutionary path to follow for
the attainment of the objectives, is not the definition of a form but of a
process. A process can be used inside a multiplicity of processes in which
every output is input for the following one. In this way, we can realize the
possibility to increase through an evolutionary sequence of processes, quality
and complex performances of possible results. I would also say that the
interest for the generative design is based on the multiplicity of the
processes simultaneously activable and is really founded on the concrete
complexity of the obtainable results.
A further field in
which we can define subjective objectives, and therefore of “how” to manage the evolution, is the
definition of a structure of relationships, an organizational paradigm that
defines and manages, in their mutual hierarchy and in mutual resonances and
contaminations, how the processes work. We could say that, while the definition
of the processes is inside the field identified as object-forms, the definition
of a paradigm belongs to the field space-geometry-topology, and its possible
Denying or not taking
into consideration the subjective component of the generative projects can mean
destroying the only access key to complexity. Although the interest arisen from
this possibilities is very high, the experimentations that people have made so
far, concerning generative “objective” engines, tools for designers, are
confined in the field of the evolution of CAD tools and intelligent interfaces.
That’s not a limit, but it’s different from generative projects. If they are
“generative”, these projects don't allow, inside the generative process, a
progressive growth of the complexity of a multiplicity of results that is
acceptable in an object not ”simplifiable” and “reducible” to an single form
as, for instance, a bottle or a pendant.
generative design of castle. The two series are realized with a different
geometry curvature. The automatic
realization of thickness following the different generated materials,
and a rapid prototyping phisical model.
An exception, even if
partial, to the necessity to realize different software for each different
design occasion, has been realized in the generative project Basilica. Even if,
obviously, Basilica operates always and exclusively in the theme "
I have built an
interface that allows me to manage three aspects that I beleve fundamental in
the definition of an idea of architecture: 1. The geometric space and its
bending, 2. The specific paradigm of a theme and its net of relationships
between spatial events. 3. Some characters of the activated evolutionary
processes as the type of usable “cellular automata” and the existence and the
topological structure of the exceptions.
However this operational interface
doesn't transform Basilica in a do-all tool. In fact, Basilica always realizes
architectures and not generic objects and every produced architecture is
strongly characterized by my personnel idea of architectural space that is, I
think, strongly recognizable. Besides, the idea of space-geometry that I have
realized in Basilica is referable
Generative Design of
to the same concept: a
homothetic structure based on precise design choices in which the number 27 is
fundamental, as in the Renaissance codes. Every space-event generate 26
things-events, and so on. The evolutionary codes, the processes of
transformation of the objects have always same logics founded on my
interpretation and dynamic proposal of the harmonic relationships proper of the
Despite, to face to
each design occasion it was necessary to increase and upgrade the generative
motor and contextually to evolve the project
Basilica in front to realize the architectural " figuration " required
by the customer.
Adaptive aspects. They
are fundamental for the charm of each results in front of final users. The use
of the random factor is essential, to reach this purpose. It creates possible
(and not predictable) fields of verification and time-environmental input for
possible further keys of reading. If the use of random forms hampers the
complex performances of the results, reducing them to a precocious stadium of
evolution, the random interaction gets unpredictableenvironmental input that
detect and make possible to get results that are fruit of possible
resonances between the evolutionary processes activated in series and in
parallel. Each of such processess, in its different parallel lives, realizes
the attainment of its own objective. But the interactions and interferences
concretize, in the flowing of artificial life, the identity and unrepeatability
of each produced individual-event.
The random of the time
and the mutual speeds create a very sensitive tool able to enter in resonance with
existing points of strength, even if not directly anticipated, in the idea.
When this happens, it is possible to concretize them suddenly in one of the
possible results. As when a subjective sensibility is able to wave and to enter
in resonance with natural strengths that, also if existing, until that moment
it had not the occasion to be disvelate. As the strength of beauty.
The generative idea:
an operational code of a possible natural flow that realizes unique and
unrepeatable individuals belonging to the same species.
Celestino Soddu, “Città Aleatorie”, Masson
Celestino Soddu and Enrica Colabella, “Il progetto
ambientale di Morfogenesi”, Esculapio Publisher, 1992
D. Corne (edited by), “Creative Evolutionary Systems”, Morgan Kaufmann
Florenskij, “Time and space in Art”1923, It.Version: Adelphi Publisher, 1995
Soddu (edited by), Generative Art, proceedings of GA Conferences, Dedalo
Publisher 1999, Generative Design Lab 1999 and Alea Design Publisher 2000.