Synthetic morphologies

In nature, living forms occur through a combination of self organization and self assembly of discreet parts at the molecular and cellular levels.

While there are generally understood principles of morphogenesis in biology, much of what is known comes from in silico (in a computer) rather than in vivo (in nature) experimentation. Alan Turing, for example, in his seminal paper ‘The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis’ gave accounts of mathematical formulas which are capable of generating patterns which resemble forms in nature. The correlation between the computational models and the observed characteristics of various biological morphologies is compelling but not proven. However, it has been proposed that it may be possible to use SB to bridge the gap between cellular complexity and observed morphological patterns by designing and programing cells in the way we program computer simulations to take on, for example, Turing equations through much simpler cellular circuits. Biological morphogenesis has been raised in discourses on computational methods in architectural design through the paradigms of parametric and procedural modeling of form. A distinction needs to be made, however, between what might be described as biomimicry of form and morphogenesis.

Morphogenesis is characterized by the interaction between unitary parts to generate whole structures and such approaches have been investigated as a way of generating computer models of form where, for example, forces are calculated such that materials are deposited in efficient ways. Such approaches are, however, still only relevant within the computational models themselves and do not follow through to the logic of material construction. Form is eventually imposed through the patterning of existing material structures (timber, plastics etc.) through processes such as 3D printing. There are alternative mechanical methods for producing morphogenetic-like self assembly. Griffiths, for example, shows how a series of plastic tiles, given magnetic edges and fed through a channel onto an air table, can self assemble into basic shapes. Such systems represent programmed self assembly in that the designer controls both the information contained in the system (in the case of the Griffith example the ways in which the tiles can join to one another) and the space of interaction to achieve a desired and pre-designed outcome.

These experiments hint at a view of morphogenesis which encompasses both information held in the cells of the system and their interaction with their environment, offering new territory for architectural design theory.