Posted by: Adam Roake | April 22, 2009

Can you spot the difference?

As I skimmed through my copy of last week’s Building Design I came across this article about Smart Geometry. Basically ‘smart geometry’ means parametric design which allows designers to produce blobby buildings like the Beijing Stadium.

Okay, in some circumstances a blobby building works; like in a parkland setting as an iconic piece of work. But for most of the time a blob is singularly inappropriate. 

 And then I got to this bit:
Martha Tsigkari of Foster’s demonstrated with boundless enthusiasm how the use of Generative Components has been integrated into the work of design and production information. The Valery Gergiev Cultural Centre project illustrated the use of a single Generative Components model to generate four related but individual buildings (see illustration).

Foster’s used Generative Components to propose four related but individual buildings for its Valery Gergiev Cultural Centre design. Clockwise from top left: philharmonic concert hall, multi-purpose concert hall, school and youth centre.


If these four images are supposed to be four individual buildings, why do they all look the same (I accept the two on the left are red and the two on the right are yellow but is that really sufficient?) Should a concert hall really look like a school or a youth centre? Are these blobs so important that the rest of the city only merits inclusion as a silhouette? And what exactly is supposed to happen between the apparent skin of the buildings and the clever exoskeleton that encases it?

It seems that they must be well designed buildings because it takes a vast amount of computing power to draw them. Hurrah! Or rather yawn. I’m bored of these egotistic self-referencing apologies – they are uncouth, anti-urban and difficult to tell apart. Once you’ve seen one blob, you’ve seen them all!



  1. Countering an argument with argumentum ad verecundiam? Interesting.

    Appeal to aesthetics is one thing. Not your cup of tea? Fair enough. But that’s a different story.

    As reported, the tools helped the design process, not vice versa; therefore, if the plan was to make something “related but individual”, it is a successful project.

    Another rendering here:

    P.S.: Schools and youth centres aren’t candids for lowbrow treatment.

    • Jayne, Thanks for this. I wish my Latin was better than O level, although I think I recognize a gerund (or is it gerundive). Either way I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.

      If as I suspect you find my post unfair in someway, I might be able to debate the issue with you if you could answer the questions I have asked, i.e.

      Why do all four buildings look the same? They are different building types but that appears to have no external manifestation in the design proposed.

      Should a concert hall really look like a school or a youth centre? I don’t say any of those uses merit “lowbrow treatment”, whatever that is, but I do think they are different building types and their external appearance should reflect that. The buildings proposed are not in any way “individual” and I think it is odd to design a big hall for concerts with a foyer and ancilliary spaces with the same built form as a series of classrooms grouped around shared resource spaces or a youth centre which presumably contains a different collection of internal spaces. It would seem Foster and Partners disagree. Perhaps you do too but it does seem a perverse argument. The argumentum ad absurdum (hope that’s vaguely right) would be that all buildings end up looking like egotistic self-referencing blobs, which is anti-urban and results in a city devoid of lowbrow, highbrow or any other brow.

      Why does the rest of the city merit no more than a silhouette? The link in your comment includes this comment: “the urban context will act as a powerful influence, and the reinvention of this valuable civic space will be a principal concern.” I wonder where the urban context is in the illustration from BD and how it is a principle concern. It seems to me to be no more than a silhouette which makes a mockery of the brave words.

      I make no appeal to aesthetics or taste as in cups of tea. My concern is that the cleverness of the blobs, that they have been created using Generative Components, is the only argument or illustration of the quality of the design. If as you contend, the tools helped the design process, the bizarre result is that the four (well three I suppose) quite different building types have all turned out looking the same. That is not appropriate and I think indicates either an impoverished design process or else a faulty tool or perhaps both. Perhaps you can enlighten me but please answer my questions first!

  2. Adam, it seems that your main point is this:

    “…quite different building types have all turned out looking the same. That is not appropriate and I think indicates either an impoverished design process or else a faulty tool or perhaps both.”

    Fair enough, you don’t like buildings that have “different” uses and look “similar”, although you don’t support the “not appropriate” part of your arguement.

    But the uses are not so different at all. It’s a cultural centre. Schools, youth centres, libraries, concert halls, all could be part of a cultural centre. Only an elitist would exclude education from the concept of culture and you don’t seem like one.

    Regarding the “similar” design, many architects do it. For example, take a look at Frank Gehry’s proposal for King Alfred’s Leisure Centre:

    The buildings are related but individual. They have different but related uses. Individual does not mean unique, or completely different.

    As for the skyline, it’s quite obvious that there are many more renderings (see F&P link) and the picture BD chose, gives focus to the models.

    • Thank you Jonas.
      My point is not as you say but rather should a concert hall, which comprises a very large hall with some ancillary spaces, look the same as a school which comprises a more complex collection of smaller spaces or a youth centre which would also have a different collection of spaces. There is no way of knowing which building is which in the proposal. These building types are very different. Whilst they all might reflect culture in some way, the activities they each house are simply not the same. The buildings proposed are not in the least “individual”; they all look the same. In fact without the caption it would be impossible to be sure which building was which. What are the differences that lead you to conclude otherwise?

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