Sunday, March 22, 2015

Unit Operations

By considering computational models as complex manifold of actions and agencies, we position the model closer to the conceptual idea of the city as an endlessly reconfigurable assemblage (of assemblages) not structured by an overarching law. This does, however, create some difficulty in assessing the success or weaknesses of an urban design. Ian Bogost introduces the concept of 'unit operations' as an interpretive tool that engages with procedural media on their own terms.(1) As is the assemblage in assemblage theory, the unit in unit operations is very loosely defined: “In essence, a unit is a material element, a thing. It can be constitutive or contingent, like a building block that makes up a system, or it can be autonomous, like a system itself. Often systems become units in other systems.”(2) More significant is the way that multiple units relate to one another within a work. In contrast to hierarchical systems that “regulate meaning for their constituents,”(3) these units aggregate into “a configurative system, an arrangement of discrete, interlocking units of expressive meaning.”(4) The important detail here is that the level of operational control remains in the individual unit and though these units may be said to form systems, the systems themselves do not become structuring forces but are “the spontaneous and complex result of multitudes.”(5)

to flickr

Thus “rather than attempting to construct or affirm a universalizing principle, unit operations move according to a broad range of diverse logics, from maximizing profit to creating new functional capacity.”(6) The diversity of logics in play requires close attention to the ways that individual units are positioned within the system as well as how their influence spreads through the network. In the first case, rather than trying to interpret the overall meaning of a network, one might analyze how a particular point of view manifests itself within the context of the network. In the second case, a study of the indirect effects that arise from an isolated action may be called for, or tracking of how the coherence of specific information changes over time. In either case, the emphasis shifts to an exploratory or interpretive response of the situation and away from the “attitudes or values that inform the approaches that created the systems in the first place.”(7)


Sunday, March 15, 2015


One of the defining features of computational design is that it is inherently marked by a divided or displaced authorship. “to write procedurally, one authors code that enforces rules to generate some kind of representation, rather than authoring the representation itself.”(1) The rules then generate a specific instance through the “intervention of some additional agency that may be other than, and even unrelated to, the … designer.”(2)
Mario Carpo defines this relationship as the 'Split Agency' of computational design and, though he typifies the product as an “an open-ended algorithm, or a generative, incomplete notation,”(3) he confers a hierarchical blessing on this objectile(4) naming the programmer as the “primary author”(5) or the “real digital author.”(6) Meanwhile the user or operator of the system is relegated to becoming an 'interactor'(7) who “exerts only a limited and ancillary form of agency”(8) in adjusting the scenario to a specific case or to personal taste.

Immediately, however, we recognize that this simple division does not hold in any practical sense. Carpo admits that “in practice, these two stations of agency are often merged into one, as a single agent often does both jobs – first designing the general program, then finalizing one or more specific objects designed and made with it. This is normal and to some extent inevitable.”(9) Yet, this still ignores the fact that the programs that he portrays as determining is itself always designed within the constraints of other software or coding languages and is often extended into unintended functionality through independently developed plug-ins or libraries,(10) or more prosaically through user scripts.(11) Moreover, there is no room in the two-level split agency for cases where the computer itself plays out its own scenarios through programmed automation or generative solver.(12) These cases highlight the fact that in all events, the model itself exercises an agency that does not properly belong to either of Carpos two agents. Neither is the programming nor the application able to detach from the other as an entirely inclusive, self-controlled activity, but both are conducted as inter-active acts.(13)


Monday, March 2, 2015

Unique Traits of Computation

While certainly not the only solution to these criteria, computational modeling is uniquely suited to provide insight to the task of a complex, autonomous, urban design. As an inherently,(1) even uniquely,(2) procedural medium, it is well-suited to simulating behaviors, and in the automation and wide variety of possible responses, computation is more capable of producing formal, yet complex, systems than other methods, for example participatory or game-based planning.(3) Lorenzo-Eiroa argues that computation has “shifted the mapping of extrinsic content to the coding of emergent content or agency.”(4) That is, in place of translating external forces from the environmental, technological, or political realm into notational representations that inform design,(5) these forces are being explicitly formalized as inputs that are increasingly absent from the representational aspect of computational modeling, which has shifted its attention to the result of playing out these forces (and others).(6)

Auxin Flux Canalisation Process on Vimeo

Procedural representation, as a medium, is not quite that simple, however. ”Procedural systems like computer software actually represent process with process. This is where the particular power of procedural authorship lies, in its native ability to depict processes.”(7) In this sense, the representational mode of computation is not constrained to a simulation but is at the same time, an enaction.(8) This allows representations to more closely parallel their objects and produces a more tangibly comprehensible image of the logics depicted,(9) but also stands on its own as an active environment(10) which can be engaged with independently of its role as a representamen.(11) While representation is always a creative process, putting forth an “independent object” that “defines an agency,”(12) computation hones this point by establishing a self-reflexive representation, aspects of the program are represented within the code to other elements or objects within the program. In the same way, the computational model “represents a formal logic which governs the formation of a category or type,” and at the same time “a unique solution.”(13) In contrast to instances that become “problematic when there is no agency at a representational level, such as when the content represented is extrinsic to the performance of its medium,”(14) computational agency is located precisely in the representational register. This fact motivates the close focus “on the emergent quality of code”(15) and the particular attributes and constraints it engenders as a form and an “autonomous logical system.”(16)


Thursday, January 29, 2015


The urban model that we put forward, then, must proceed from assemblages that satisfy the parameters set out in the previous chapters: sensitive to various contingencies and able to develop alongside the surrounding environment through a mutual production of the city(1) but yet not simply relational entities defined entirely from without. Rather they must posses an internal consistency through which external pressures are absorbed, translated, and made sense of. Unlike some recent applications of object-oriented philosophy within urban design, we are not especially concerned with classifying the type of object that best represents the city,(2) nor do we advance a naïve formal figure of objects based on a kind of metaphorical materiality.(3) Instead the imperative is to develop an urban model whose components possess degrees of individual autonomy from the urban plan as a whole.(4)

to flickr
Process screenshot in GenerativeComponents from my Master's thesis

In particular, it is necessary that the constituent urban assemblages are able to react freely to situational conditions so as to enable the kind of spontaneous formation that is the goal of Assemblage Urbanism. “The indeterminacies of the formative processes of urbanism require methods which specify its propositions provisionally.”(5) For this reason, while the city or masterplan as a whole does constitute an assemblage of its own, such a frame is less appealing to this thesis, as it renders all of its responses subject to a single endo-consistency. The aim, then, is not only that the assemblages afford some possibilities,(6) but that the internalization of behaviors and affects ground an object agency that registers its own apperception and exercises a decision-making capacity with significant impact on its own development and as an action or force “that leads to one particular enactment of the city”(7) Additionally, the elements of the model must be discrete individuals independent from one another, in order to establish their identities through the selective inclusion or cultivation of their environment, their parts, their relations, and their characteristics.(8)

The effect of inconsistent assemblages engaged with one another is an ecology of nonlinear interaction needed to provide our urban model an analogue of the dynamic behaviors of actual, lived urbanism. The key is in enacting meaningful responsive(9) interaction, that is, responses that “make a difference”(10) in their execution in contrast to the perfectly coordinated responses of linear effects that do not sufficient distinguish between individuals but are more typical of the internal actions of a highly regulated assemblage. As we said earlier,(11) urbanism operates also through the openings created by the heterogeneous differences embodied within an assemblage and the potential for transformation present when assemblages encounter unexpected or conflictual reactions. Apart from conflicts and effects of translation, the interaction between model elements become nonlinear when they do not follow a single generative timeline or scalar progression, but operate at multiple levels simultaneously or feed impacts back onto the process inputs requiring a readjustment of the current state.


Sunday, November 23, 2014


Inclusion, according to Deleuze, is formed by the monad's apperception. Inclusion carries events into the monad,(1) enabling exo-relations and promtping individual manifestations. Because identity for the objectile is not a recipricol definition but always a vector,(2) perceptions advance differentially: infinitesimal variations of perceptions that develop inclusion.(3) Of the different types of inclusion(4) we are interested here in how the monad includes the world within itself. Consistent with the object-oriented position, there is no object which functions as a universal world, one that can contain all others. Despite the fact that, for Leibniz, every monad includes the whole world, the “the reason of the series... is not. The limit remains extrinsic and appears only in a harmony preestablished among the monads.”(5) In this formulation, every monad is a singular subject; however, these subjects are themselves without objects, “these are minute perceptions lacking an object, that is, hallucinatory microperceptions.”(6) Despite the inversion of intent, the result retains a correspondence with the object-oriented goal of “subjectless objects” because no monad is thrown under another subject as its correlate, but each exists only for itself.(7) What is changed is that there is no longer a guarantee nor a necessity of overall harmonious convergence across the totality of monads.

For Leibniz, the convergent harmonization of these series was required by the imperative of a single compossible world that is sharply delineated from all others. Deleuze, drawing from Riemannian manifolds, introduces “a fibered conception according to which 'monads' test the paths in the universe and enter in syntheses associated with each path... a world of captures instead of closures”(8) In this model “bifurcations, divergences, incompossibilities, and discord belong to the same motley world,”(9) or rather, a plurality of non-exclusive worlds.

to flickr
Fruit cultivation Wanmu Orchard, Guangzhou

The relation of object to world is a complex one; “there is always a double antecedence: the world is virtually first, but the monad is actually first.”(10) To clarify, we would say that the point of view of the monad precedes the individual object(11) as a potential series of interaction between the monad and surrounding objects, but that the world, or environment(12), that it occupies does not pre-exist as such. Part of the generative ability of objects includes their “active role in constructing their environment, both through determining relevancies in the environment and through actively changing their environment.”(13) For each and every object, therefore, there is a unique environment, which it includes.(14) However, in the same way that objects that become components of an assemblage do not give up their distinct identity or agency to become docile parts only, so do the environmental conditions “exceed the object, they are equally the conditions involved in other existing objects, and that cannot therefore be specified as belonging to that object alone, nor as terminating in it.”(15) In particular one can say that “while objects construct their openness to their environment, they do not construct the events that take place in their environment”(16) and relate to it in a feedback cycle of construction and constraint.(17) The need for objects to form “contingent strategies for contending with the environment”(18) constitutes the ground of exo-relations.

Though Deleuze prefers the metaphor of the fold to convey the complexly implicated interior of the monad,(19) the virtual dimension from which objects are unfolded is not a pre-individual stratum that is continuous like a sheet of fabric. Instead it is like an entangled knot or rhizome: not everywhere continuous but, through a complex selection, continuously interconnecting. “This genesis is a genesis from other objects or discrete individuals, and in many instances is productive of new individual entities.”(20) It is perhaps better to use Leibniz's own images of every portion of matter as teeming with individuals “like a garden full of plants and like a pond full of fishes”(21) in order to remind ourselves of the complex plenitude of components at every scale. As an alternative to assembling or constructing, then, we might speak of objects as 'cultivating' their environments.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Deleuze describes Leibniz's concept of the monad in similar language as “the autonomy of the inside”(1) and “a unity that envelops a multiplicity, this multiplicity developing the One in the manner of a “series.”(2) As a pure interiority, the monad is withdrawn from direct connections, which “must retain the distinction of its details and its own individuality in the hierarchy in which it enters.”(3) Again, there is agreement that local manifestations, or 'inclinations', of the monad are non-necessary(4) traits that occur as “an act, a movement, a change, and not the state.”(5) Inclinations are qualitative but not attributive, “the predicate is above all a relation and an event, and not an attribute,”(6) therefore predicates do not ground the monad, they are included in the monad. More than anything else, Deleuze emphasizes this point; it is established in the very first sentence, “The Baroque refers not to an essence but rather to an operative function”(7) and is adamantly repeated throughout his analysis: “Inflection is the event that happens to the line or to the point;”(8) “not defined by an attribute, but by predicates-as-events;”(9) “the spontaneity of manners replaces the essentiality of the attribute.”(10)

to flickr
Xiaozhoucun, Guangzhou

As these events proliferate, they gain series of entanglements with other objects whereby they extend into or over one another.(11) The way the monad includes its predicates determines a harmonization of the monad with the adjacent and component objects, with regard to the production of the world around it.(12) The monad's withdrawn virtual being—or its intrinsic singularities, to use Deleuze's term—generates the events that include relations within the object. Meanwhile there is a second, reflexive operation which directs these series of inclinations inward toward convergence as intensities.(13) As such, the propagation of relations is not a constriction of the object but a continuous prolongation(14) with regard to the world it engages. “Even compressed, folded, and enveloped, elements are powers that enlarge and distend the world.”(15) In the same way architecture extends into a frame that “itself becomes detached from the inside, and establishes relations with the surroundings so as to realize architecture in city planning.”(16)

The extension of monads and the inclusion of additional inflections gives the monad a changing 'texture' of qualities and potentials. “Extensions effectively are forever moving, gaining and losing parts carried away in movement; things are endlessly being altered; even prehensions are ceaselessly entering and leaving variable components.”(17) The example above from the Baroque bel composto illustrates how the object gains new arenas of influence as it attunes to new inflections. “This area of interindividual, interactive clustering is quite agitated, because it is an area of temporary appurtenances or of provisional possessions.”(18) Continouous differentiation of the developing assemblage feeds back into the withdrawn being of the object such that the object “no longer refers... to a relation of form-matter—but to a temporal modulation that implies as much the beginnings of a continuous variation of matter as a continuous development of form.”(19) Michael Guggenheim has demonstrated how architecture is incapable of being restricted to a single domain, but is always an object acting in multiplicity of associations,(20) making it uniquely suited to the model of the objectile,(21) where “fluctuation of the norm replaces the permanence of a law.”(22) Following this concept, we will show how architecture activates and intensifies the urban dynamic by including its perception of the unlocalizable rhythms of the city as inflected predicates.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Exterior Relations

Because objects cannot be reduced upwards into controlling structures nor downward atomistically into their parts, neither is there an a priori global container, “There is no world... that connects things together. All such connections must be emergent properties of the objects themselves.”(1) The internal withdrawal of objects and the location of their potency within the virtual clearly complicates the ways by which such connections are able to form. To remain consistent with the ontological formation advanced thus far, any possible relation forgoes direct contact: it must derive from the individual object and issue from its own agency,(2) Bryant proposes that exo-relations can be characterized as translations of information—with the understanding that “information is thus not something that exists in the world independent of the systems that 'experience' it, but is rather constituted by the systems that 'experience' it... Information is, as it were, a genuine event that befalls a substance or happens to a substance.”(3)

to flickr
Xiaozhoucun, Guangzhou

A few significant aspects of this concept are worth detailing. First, the information of a relation does not have its own, separate being, but is enacted by the emitting object as a property, a quality, or an event and received by the second object tin an act of sensing or perceiving: “information is object-specific, whereas the same perturbation can affect a variety of different objects while producing very different information for each object.”(4) Relations are highly sensitive to the affective capability of objects.(5) Second, because these information-events are translated into being only through the apperception of various objects, there is no 'original meaning' or 'pure interpretation'.(6) Third, in a nicely symmetrical moment, this fact holds true even for the originating object, from which the quality is a self-othering event.(7) (We can confirm this by following Deleuze's argument that the virtual does not in any way resemble the actual.(8)) Taken together, these points prevent the the relation-as-information from devolving into mere simulacra(9) thought instead “as force-signs of deterritorialization and of reterritorialization.”(10)

Meanwhile, objects are always joining together to form larger assemblages. In fact, Harman has written that “when two objects enter into genuine relation, even if they do not permanently fuse together, they generate a reality that has all of the features that we require of an object... they create something that has not existed before, and which is truly one.”(11) However, this would effectively reduce all relations to endo-relations and the assertion that “there are properties of objects that emerge as a result of the manner in which the object relates to other objects.”(12) would have to be modified to acknowledge that those properties occur only as the result of the top-down influence of a encompassing assemblage. Though we want to facilitate the production of new objects as much as possible, we will hold off from extending objecthood to such an extent, preferring to leave open the possibility of horizontal relations between objects that remain merely relations. Even stable patterns of relations should be permitted without automatically conflating the relationship with a new object.(13) Rather, a new object occurs “when exo-relations among other objects manage to attain operational closure such that their aggregate or multiple composition becomes capable of encountering perturbations as information in terms of their own endo-consistency.”(14) While this qualification risks being misinterpreted as saying that all objects are strictly defined intensionally, by a shared property or predicate, the earlier specification of the virtual proper being as a dimension subsequent to the individual, still allows objects to be defined extensionally by naming or enumeration as well.

The problems of external relation and the formation of new assemblages both raise questions about causality, or, the efficacy of assemblages. Timothy Morton seemingly implies that the withdrawal of objects away from one another produces a “disturbing illusory play of causality.”(15) This would be an understandable position if one focuses on the interior being within an object as a division “vertically from the implicate to the explicate.”(16) Through this lens it would appear that the virtual in an object acted upon constructs effects that are detached from their source. Rather, returning to the dictum that “difference is an activity... existence is thought as a sort of doing or movement,”(17) it is apparent that such a reading confuses the agency of the object with its reception. “No object can transfer a force to another object without that force being transformed in some way or another,”(18) but this does not mean that the force is not exerted or that the transference is only an illusion. The agency of an object is measured by its effecting of the world, a process that is always messy and complexly negotiated, not by distilling the legibility of intent away from any interferences.

In fact, the opposite is true. If there were a medium or metalanguage by which information were transferred without alteration, there would be no action—that is, no difference—remaining in the act itself but only within the mediator.(19) Just as all connections emerge from the objects themselves, so are communications produced through patterns of encounters, based on “the records of actions antecedent in the production of consequents.”(20) and are perpetually challenged by new divergences.(21) So too is causality not effected by the machinery of an underlying structure, but manifests as a phenomenon that emanates from and repositions objects in new spatio-temporal contexts.(22)