Computing the Environment
Computing the Environment
1 Earthrise image of Earth, photographed by astronaut Bill Anders during a 1968 Apollo mission, the first manned voyage to orbit the Moon
This photograph is renowned as an influential environmental image, sparking people's impression of Earth as vulnerable and small in a large expansive universe. Looking back on Earth, it seems potentially fragile, a finite, closed-loop system.
1. Introduction-Computing the Environment:
Design Workflows for the Simulation of Sustainable Architecture
BRADY PETERS AND TERRI PETERS
That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. ... There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.(1)
Architects design for the future. The act of drawing is a predictive act of experimenting with possible futures. The buildings architects design today form the cities of the future. Necessary optimists, architects design to achieve better ways of living-turning 'existing situations into preferred ones'.(2) In architecture, the vast majority of projects are now designed in virtual environments; and, beyond architecture, in almost all sciences, we are seeing the rise of computer simulations as more and more experiments are carried out 'in silico'.(3) Simulation is a way in which designs can be tested for their future performance. In architecture, 'while simulation once pertained to modes of presentation, it now connects architecture to the natural sciences and to a methodological and strategic instrument, a tool of knowledge'.(4)
A 'model' is an approximation of the real world, and following the building of models, simulations are repeated observations of models that enable analysis and visualisation of behaviour.(5) Architects have always used simulations-tools to forecast a range of behaviours in buildings. Yanni Loukissas suggests that this way of working is not new in architecture-Filippo Brunelleschi invented linear perspective to simulate the perception of space, Pierre Patte used ray diagrams to simulate sound and Antoni Gaudí used graphic statics to simulate structural performance. While in today's practice, numerical methods have overtaken graphical techniques in the domains of visualisation, sound and structural performance, what remains constant is the notion of simulation-the desire to get feedback from the design environment.(6)
2 Pierre Patte, acoustic ray-tracing theatre design diagrams, 1782
This drawing of sound paths and their reflections off interior surfaces was used as a way of understanding acoustic performance. This is an early example of performance analysis. Architects have always been interested in this, but digital simulation tools offer more sophisticated and precise options for computing performance, including sound, light and airflow.
Like many architects, Bjarke Ingels designs by imagining a whole new world from scratch. Discussing the work of science fiction author Philip K Dick, Ingels says: 'the whole story is a narrative pursuit of the potential of the idea or innovation; he writes about what unfolds as a result: problems, conflicts, possibilities, freedoms ... it's almost like unleashing a whole new universe based on a single triggering idea'.(7) Ingels describes his design process in a similar way: 'as soon as I discover some kind of innovation that has altered the game, making the project is like pursuing the consequence of these changes-at that point, I don't have to come up with lots of new ideas; I just have to work with the consequences of a single innovation'.
Simulation is what allows architects to 'work out the consequences' of their innovations.
Data, Drawing and Simulation
Now these simulations are carried out using computers-and have become part of the (almost)