This essay/article was written for a Theories II class with professor Neil Leach. The essay talks about how we are in this new era of architectural design where the technology around us has been helping us so much in the actual design of projects. Parametricism is a new way of finding a code in nature and actually finding information for it to create a completely new design. It is very interesting in the fact that this new revolution we are in will completely change our notions of cities and buildings and actually connect us more as people.

 

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New Cityscape. The Kartal-Penkik masterplan by Zaha Hadid Architects


The Revolution Begins

 

First came steam and water power, then came electricity and assemblage lines. After that, computerization. And now, what comes next? A lot of people call it the Fourth Industrial Revolution or part 4.0, but whatever anyone is calling it nowadays, we must understand that there is change coming. This new change represents the combination of cyber-physical systems, the Internet and the Internet of Systems. In short, the idea is that we are now creating smart factories. We do not need manpower anymore for most of our things. There were thousands of women workers in India and China being taken aboard to work making t-shirts for under $6 an hour. After so many problems with this type of work, people are not tending to the computer and machines for “it” to do the work for us. Smart factories are now being thought out where the machine has web connectivity and can connect to a system where you can visualize the entire production chain and “it” can make decisions on its own. In this fourth revolution, we are facing a range of new technologies that combine the physical, digital and biological worlds. These new technologies will impact all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenge our ideas about what it means to be human. These technologies have great potential to continue to connect billions more people to the web, drastically improve the efficiency of business and organizations and help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management, potentially even undoing all the damage previous industrial revolutions have caused.

The Previous Industrial Revolutions

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Before taking a look at what’s happening in this new Fourth Revolution, we must look at the previous industrial revolutions and how exactly they have changed the world. The First Industrial Revolution began in England in the late 18th century, following in the wake of James Watt and his steam engine.  The initial focus of industrialization was on textiles; cloth was needed by almost everyone. The Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in history; almost every aspect of daily life was influenced in some way. In particular, average income and population began to exhibit unprecedented sustained growth. Some economists say that the major impact of the Industrial Revolution was that the standard of living for the general population began to increase consistently for the first time in history. The First Industrial Revolution evolved into the Second Industrial Revolution in the transition years between 1840 and 1870, when technological and economic progress continued with the increasing adoption of steam transport (steam-powered railways, boats and ships), the large-scale manufacture of machine tools and the increasing use of machinery in steam-powered factories. The Second Industrial Revolution, which is also known as the Technological Revolution, was a phase of rapid industrialization in which the adoption of preexisting technological systems such as the telegraph and the railroad networks were widespread being used. This marked a new time for an enormous expansion of unprecedented movement of people and ideas, which culminated in the wave of globalization.

The Third Industrial Revolution or the Digital Revolution was the change from the mechanical and analogue electronic technology to digital technologies. This Revolution began in the 1950s with the adoption of the computers and digital record keeping which continues to this day. Central to the idea of the Digital Revolution was the idea of mass production and widespread use of the digital logic circuits and concurrent technologies such as computer, cellular phones and the internet. There were positive aspects with this in the senses that exposure to this new type of lifestyle and information has been stopping totalitarian regimes because of a more globalized world, people are being able to know more about what happens in every little part of the world. The Revolutions of 2011 were enabled by social networking and smart phone technology. The digital revolution radically changed the way individuals and companies interact. Small regional companies were suddenly given access to much larger markets. Concepts such as On-demand services and manufacturing and rapidly dropping technology costs made possible innovations in all aspects of industry and everyday life.

Previous industrial revolutions liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however, fundamentally different. It is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human. The resulting shifts and disruptions mean that we live in a time of great promise and great peril. The world has the potential to connect billions more people to digital networks, dramatically improve the efficiency of organizations and even manage assets in ways that can help regenerate the natural environment, potentially undoing the damage of previous industrial revolutions.

Creating Digital Cities

Think of what this might mean for cities. Most of us still inhabit the unsustainable model of the Second Industrial Revolution: living in residential areas, commuting to work in commercial districts, and buying goods often produced at a large scale in distant places. The Third Industrial Revolution may flip that equation. Consider the many software and digital fabrication companies that have sprung up in cities all over the U.S.: their staffs increasingly live, work, and make things—even grow things—all in close proximity. Fostering such economic activity may require a rethinking of public policies that still largely support the old economy of mass production and consumption. The separation of residential, commercial, and industrial zones, for example, has become a barrier to innovation, which increasingly depends upon maximizing the interactions among diverse people and enterprises. This may, in turn, cast New Urbanism in a new light. More walkable communities and denser, mixed-use, and mixed-income neighborhoods will now have economic benefits as well as social and environmental ones.

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Buckminster Fuller theorized the world to possess finite resources common to all humankind. With growing demand and ever diminishing supply, it is evident that humanity has driven itself to a dead end with one escape: The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Le Corbusier said, “A house is a machine for living in,” meaning design began to take on qualities and advances found in other fields of industry for efficiency. As this notion continues to expand and evolve, not only within the home, but also everywhere throughout the globe, The Fourth Industrial Revolution marks the planetary transition from a collection of “living machines” to a holistic “life factory.” If a house was once a machine for living in can the city now be an iPhone? This is the question that Helen Castle asks in the Book Digital Cities in Architectural Design, giving the example of the iPhone suggests just how omnipresent and influential computer technologies have become in the urban realm.

Architectural production in the last decade or so might also be shifted up a gear and transferred to urban design. Formally, certain advanced parametric design tools are a strong influence on the aesthetics of architecture. In such sense, we can understand how the city itself has been transformed by digital technologies. It is quite evident that for some time now, digital technologies have had a substantial impact on architectural design. From the use of standard drafting packages to the more experimental use of generative design tools, they have come to play a major role in architectural production. But how might these digital technologies help us to design cities? It would seem that we are now entering a new threshold condition, as the application of these tools has begun to shift up a scale to the level of the urban. We must look at these new developments to understand how the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been changing us as human beings and in terms, changing the architecture around us. The new topic of parametricism has been changing how we understand the city overall – This new method helps us analyze our existing cities and investigate them in new ways. The new style is a celebration of form-finding and large scale urban projections. We start having new idiosyncratic ways of looking at architecture and relating it to the science-fictional that is so characterized by the exploration of digital design.

When thinking about building new cities, the questions that arises is how these digital tools, just from a computer and a simple program, can actually be used to create large scale generative models of cities. We must consider the possibility of “breeding cities” as Michael Batty says, and using cellular automata and computer data for this new development.

Parametricism: The New Tool for Cities

There is a global convergence in recent avant-garde architecture that justifies its designation as a new style: parametricism. It is a style rooted in digital animation techniques, its latest refinements based on advanced parametric design systems and scripting method. The urban potential of parametricism has been explored in a three-year research agenda at the AADRL titled ‘Parametric Urbanism’ and is demonstrated by a series of competition-winning master plans by Zaha Hadid Architects. It is incredible how through Zaha’s avant-garde architecture and urbanism methods, we have began to understand how to innovatively adapt and retool the discipline of architecture.

The new parametric style can be interpreted and evaluated in analogy to new scientific paradigms. Parametric design is the process which is based on algorithmic thinking that enables the expressions of new parameters and rules that redefine and encode the relationship between design intent and design response. Parametric design is a paradigm in design where the relationship between elements is used to manipulate and inform the design of complex geometries and structures. Computer technology has given designers and architects the tools to analyze and simulate the complexity observed in nature and apply it to structural building shapes and urban organizational patterns.  Schumacher describes parametricism as a deliberate response to an increasingly heterogeneous society. “The task is to develop an architectural and urban repertoire that is geared up to create complex, polycentric urban fields, which are densely layered and continuously differentiated,” he writes.

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Morphing transformations of massing diagrams, generated in Maya

Not long ago we witnessed an accelerated, cumulative build-up of virtuosity, resolution and refinement facilitated by the simultaneous development of parametric design tools and scripts that allow the precise formulation and execution of intricate correlations between elements and subsystems. The shared concepts, computational techniques, formal repertoires and tectonic logics that characterize this work are crystallizing into a solid new hegemonic paradigm for architecture. Parametricism emerges from the creative exploitation of parametric design systems in the course of articulating increasingly complex social processes and institutions. That parametric design tools themselves do not account for this profound shift in style from Modernism to parametricism is evidenced by the fact that late Modernist architects are employing parametric tools in ways which result in the maintenance of a Modernist aesthetic, using parametric modeling inconspicuously to absorb complexity. The parametricism sensibility, however, pushes in the opposite direction, aiming for maximum emphasis on conspicuous differentiation and the visual amplification differentiating logics. Aesthetically, it is the elegance4 of ordered complexity and the sense of seamless fluidity, akin to natural systems that constitute the hallmark of parametricism.

When it comes to urbanism, parametricism describes a swarm formation of many buildings whereby the urban variables of mass, spacing and directionality are choreographed by scripted functions. In addition, the systematic modulation of architectural morphologies produces powerful urban effects and facilitates field orientation. The goal is deep relationality, the total integration of the evolving built environment, from urban distribution to architectural morphology, detailed tectonic articulation and interior organization. Thus parametric urbanism might apply parametric accentuation, parametric figuration and parametric responsiveness as tools to achieve deep relationality. Parametricist urbanism aims to construct new field logics that operate via the mutually accentuating correlation of multiple urban systems: fabric modulation, street systems, a system of open spaces. The agenda of deep relationality implies that the fabric modulation also extends to the tectonic articulation. Both massing and fenestration, if each in its own way, might be driven by sunlight orientation, producing a mutual enhancement of the visual orienting effect.                              

Breeding Cities

Have you ever thought about breeding a city in a laboratory? Although the idea is far-fetched it is actually being investigated by Michael Batty, who is imposing realistic constraints on the form of these infant cities who are being bred to emerge into actual high rise cities. After the book on the Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin was so extremely recognized worldwide as a fundamental message that life proceeds through natural selection and how only the fittest among the population can survive, everyone believes that this is an important step in creating new life forms. It is within the genetic level, that the new organisms can survive and adapt to their environments. Although cities are nowhere near a life organism, they are nonetheless included in this way of thinking. Cities are one of the best examples of how well adapted designs emerge from what appears to be the algorithms and computational analysis of a new life form that can survive. It is thought that if good urban designs can be grown by manipulations the kind of complexity in a computer, when why can’t this go towards city planning as well. City design should ascribe to Charles Darwin’s messages that it is small changes intelligently identified in the city fabric rather than in the massive plans for the city to be more successful.

The images above represent the urban growth and the breeding of urban forms

The last industrial revolutions have left our cities terribly messy and disorganized in form, it appears that everything is just meshed together and urban designers do not even pay attention to the scale of buildings when putting it on a site. As of now we do not have clear cities or well-defined spatial structure. In this Fourth Industrial Revolution, people are trying to connect cities and spaces through dendritic forms where the city can still remain connected but not look messy. Growing city shapes from the bottom up in digital laboratories requires clear rules to be specific and determine how you want to place an agent in relation to another. There are only two rules that digital cities being bred must have: one that people in cities must always stay connected with one another. It is the important realization of economics and communication. The other rule is that people should live with as much space as possible around them.

These two forces or rules compete and contradict each other though. The first solution is centripetal growth, and the second is centrifugal. To brred new cities and designs for cities, these rules can actually be manipulated to reflect the principles of growth. They reflect a genetic code and they tell about a certain location. All these rules go back to the idea of parametricism and how encoding these rules into computational data can begging creating algorithms to finally introduce a genetic code that can be used to grow cities in digital laboratories. The rules encode any relevant information and consist of high doses of mathematical equations. The general idea is to specify rules that are both realistic and optimal, that do not break the process of ordinary decision-making but mutate and interact to produce good designs. Actual cities evolve towards designs that are at least sustainable and, to some degree, workable, and thus the starting point should always be the rules that generate real cities. The challenge lies in defining changes to these rules that improve the workings of real cities by meeting goals pertaining to flows, densities and economies of agglomeration.

The Code to Digital Towers

Asides from the new technology coming into our hands being able to build cities, with this new type of mathematical cyber information, we can begin to build digital towers as well. Code seems to be everywhere, our natural environment is based on rule-based behaviors, from emergent swarm intelligence of flock of birds to complex patterns we see in zebra skins. Just random things such as these contain so much mathematical information that it is extremely easy for us to gather algorithms from everything in nature and build something out of it for the future.

A new generation of structure is being mapped out by information and created that recognizes the potential of the computer as a powerful tool in the generation of design. The claim that form follows function seems to be most valid when looking at biological systems. In order to survive, biological structures evolve as highly complex systems whose aim is to provide an optimal solution for any given requirement. Every organism and life form emerges through a process of evolutionary self-organization. While the principles of morphogenesis tend to become an increasingly attractive paradigm in the field of architectural design, and while the aesthetic appeal of natural forms has always been important to architects and designers, the inherent principles of these systems have gained significance ever since evolutionary and genetic computation have been used for design and optimization purposes. A really interesting project, N Towers, by Will Hosikian and Suby Lui is a speculative project based on the mapping of programmatic distribution of commercial, residential, retail and open public spaces in an existing high-density urban fabric. . The resultant model for projected growth mapped gradients of activity that hybridized programs into various tower typologies. A design composition of minimal surface geometries accommodating the basic requirements of floor, wall, facade and structure categorized into an apartment and a commercial floor-plate type became the programmatic seed. When influenced by the projected data of directional growth against programmatic distribution, mixed-use tower iterations emerged as new solutions of habitation for the area. Why this project is important is because it explains how exactly the computer can be used in order to create new types of designs.

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Will Hosikian and Suby Lui, Fab Hab 3, Master of Architecture: N Towers


Fourth Revolution Impact

Every period during revolution has potential risks and damages. Especially when we talk about technologies and systems and the computer doing most of the things for us as designers. Although we are at the beginning of this new revolution, we cannot know the potential impacts in the future but we can at least estimate the impact of said revolution on different groups of peoples in three areas of potential concern which are inequality, security and identity.

Inequality, targeting the common man and woman, is a main concern for all people. The richest 1% of the population will hold more than half of the world’s digital markets. Or perhaps, the mot discussed river of inequality in general is the potential for the new revolution to increase unemployment. All industrial revolutions have created and destroyed many jobs, but unfortunately there is no evidence showing that this new fourth revolution will actually create new jobs, rather than display people and put machines on high demand to do human tasks. In fact, the future jobs that companies will be needing are those of extreme complex problem-solving, social and system skills. Someone highly educated that can function these machines and put them to work. An upward bias to skill requirements to work on the industry with these new technologies.

The next type of damage this new Fourth Revolution can create is that of low security. Increasing inequality and ways for machines to overrun the world (I know, it is a very far-fetched idea but looking at all sci-fi movies can’t make you at least hopeful). This could very well easily lead to fragmentation, segregation and social unrest. The factors creates conditions for extreme violent and other security threats. The combination of the new digital world mixed with the powerful emerging technologies is creating a type of “battle space”, expanding the access to lethal technologies which could in turn make it easier for governments to create social unrest and use deadly weapons. The technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution also offer expanded capabilities for waging war which are increasingly accessible to both state and non-state actors, such as drones, autonomous weapons, nanomaterials, biological and biochemical weapons, wearable devices and distributed energy sources.

Then, when it comes down to the human level of problems we start noticing how the Fourth Industrial Revolution can being to affect us as individuals and members of a community. Already, digital media has been a primary drive of how we frame our society and community, connecting to individuals in new ways – all through our cell phone and the web. We start creating this fake persona to attract others through social media that completely changes our identity and how we connect to people. Emerging technologies, particularly in the biological realm, are also raising new questions about what it means to be human. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the first where the tools of technology can become literally embedded within us and even purposefully change who we are at the level of our genetic makeup.  It is completely conceivable that forms of radical human improvement will be available within a generation, innovations that risk creating entirely new forms of inequality and class conflict.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this research project talks about how the new era we are now living in can bring amazing advantages to us in the area of Architecture. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is starting now and we are being involved in new technologies that we had never seen before. Starting from cyber robots, robotics in architecture, and new programs that are helping us create cities and even buildings without any type of work. Digital cities are created thanks to computerization codes and data that is taken from our environment. Everything around us has a code scripted in it. Starting from flock of birds to how many stripes a zebra has. We can take all that and put it into a software to produce a code and make the designs about such sighting and information. Why is this important to know? Because we are living in a world that is quickly changing and orthogonal Le Corbusier designs will no longer be functioning, technology and the computer is taking away modernism and coming up with the new style of parametricism to design anything around us. It is important to know at least that these types of advancements and developments have been happening but also important to know about the impacts that it will be bringing about in the world and on us as individuals.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the computer and code, will affect us in a way where we can lose our jobs due to the high demand of software and technologies. More than that, it will make us lose our identity as a people and we will begin to look similar to one another, not only as our cities will start to lose the trough of anti-globalization. Everything will start looking completely the same thanks to the computer.

 

Posted by:archiologist

I am a Masters Architecture student at Florida International University with a passion for architectural research and learning precedent studies. My interests include hand sketching and writing.

One thought on “The Fourth Revolution: The Digital Era

  1. I found this article on Instagram and ran to read it. I just started a personal blog about architecture and this article is a great role model. About the article, The future is today, change is imminent in all professions including architecture. I like how to highlight the positive factors of this so-called fourth revolution and how it benefits architecture. I think architects must be resilient and adapt to these changes that occur every faster.

    Like

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