Dive into the archives.
- Shameless Plug: Who is Architecture?
Who is Architecture? is a book based on my 2009 interview series for Domus China magazine.
The series tries to understand architecture by ignoring architects, speaking instead to their collaborators – the engineers, contractors, curators, educators, and digital renders on whom architects depend to realize their designs. The book features conversations with Michael Rock of 2×4, Lu Zhenggang of Crystal CG, Rory McGowan of Arup, Barry Bergdoll of MoMA, Jeroen Koolhaas & Dre Urhahn of Haas & Hahn, Reinier De Graaf of AMO-OMA, John Dekron & Markus Schneider of thismedia, Jennifer Sigler of Hunch/SMLXL, Mark Wigley of Columbia GSA, and Tan Xiaochun of Beijing Urban Construction Group. In stores in November; available from Amazon now.
My editor’s letter:
- Muslim in America
During Ramadan last year, Aman Ali and I visited 30 mosques in 30 days around New York City … This year, while I was in Pakistan, we decided on a whim to revisit that adventure, but this time, take on the rest of America. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.
It’s a really nice project, and important given all the anti-Muslim noise in America.
- Domus 02.06: Stephen Wolfram
It’s been a while since I posted an interview up here. I still do one a month for Domus China and this year I’ve been able to speak to some truly amazing people. The man above is one. He’s Dr Stephen Wolfram, renowned scientist, inventor, and author. For the past thirty years, Wolfram has led a series of explorations into the laws of science and mathematics, discovering along the way critical insights into the nature of technology and design. He is the person behind Mathematica and A New Kind of Science. (Here is a very long, good article about him by Steven Levy.) We talked about his latest project, WolframAlpha, a searchable database of the world’s accumulated scientific knowledge, the similarities between designing architecture and writing code, and how algorithms will determine our future cities. The conversation is long and pretty dense but very worth it if you’re into that sort of thing.
I view my use of computers a little bit like the Galileo approach from 400 year ago: computers had existed as practical tools, just as telescopes had existed as tools for looking at ships before Galileo decided to look at the sky with a telescope.
BM: In this interview series we’re imagining how changes in technology will affect urban life in the future. There are several of things related to your work that I think are relevant for architects and urban planners, and to begin I’d like to talk about one of your central projects, the book A New Kind of Science, in which you lay out many of the principles that shape your work. For those of us not familiar, could you provide some background on that book – how it came about and where it led you?
SW: The “new kind of science” is concerned with the general science of computation. It is concerned with exploring the computational universe. When we think about computation today we usually think about specific programs that we write on computers to perform specific tasks, but there’s a more general scientific question: if we think about all possible programs out there in the computational universe, what are the characteristics of those programs, what is this computational universe like?
BM: What do you mean by “computational universe”?
SW: The computational universe is the universe of all possible programs. We know about programs from computers. Most programs that do interesting things that are useful – whether it’s your CAD program or drawing program or word processor – these are big, complicated programs that are built to perform specific tasks. But these programs are built up from simple instructions and the question is: what if you just start building programs at random? What will these programs do? What type of behavior do you see?
You don’t need the idea of a computer to talk about this, but it is the best metaphor we have today. In a sense, what we’re talking about is following all possible types of systematic rules. Now, typically today as a practical matter we implement these rules in computers and that’s our best modern metaphor for this, but in principle these could be rules that are applied to pieces of mosaic or something else. They don’t have to be operating in a computer. We’re just talking about looking at the space of all possible rules, the universe of all possible rules.
The main discovery of A New Kind of Science, and this was very unexpected to me, is that you don’t have to go very far in this computational universe before you see that even very simple programs can generate incredibly rich and complex behavior. The thing that is exciting as it connects to existing science is that this abstract observation – that out in the computational universe even simple programs produce complex behavior – explains the secret that nature is using to produce a lot of the complexity that we see in the natural world, whether it’s in physics or biology or elsewhere.
I think the significance of the [new kind of] science at one level is that it lets one understand things about the natural world but it also gives one a new way to get things like technology and art, because it gives one a way to go out into this computational universe. Once one is there, one finds all these rich resources that are represented by simple programs. Then the challenge is: can you mine these resources for something that is useful for technology? It is sort of analogous to saying, go out into the natural world and find magnetic material or liquid crystals or something like that. Can one take those things that exist in the material world and apply them for human technological purposes? The same question exists for this computational universe: can one take what one finds and apply it to human technological goals? One can do that for traditional technology but also for more artistically-oriented things.