Programming to construct new designs

There are countless articles on how famous architects and artists started their early design development. From filling their study books with sketches and drawing on napkins, to knowing the details of every semi-famous artwork and spending countless hours at museums studying other masters. These articles inspire and amaze, but they can also hamper the motivation in some of us – especially those who aren’t “true artists”. But, do you have to be able to draw to be a great artist?

My math books didn’t have doodles all over them. I rarely remember the dates of when buildings and art were created and only occasionally the artist (even if I love the piece). I still struggle with perspective drawings and suffer from what my Art History teacher called “museum-fatigue”. However, in the last few years I’ve been surrounded by people who have made me realise that being a great artist or designer is about much, much more than being able to draw or paint. Magnificent artwork and designs are being realised through written commands, rather than the stroke of a brush.

As well as exploring different drawing techniques I’ve always been interested in trying new software. While most people use Word for writing large documents I wrote my Bachelor thesis in InDesign and my masters using LaTeX – two very different programs, with very different qualities. InDesign is used by visual designers, while LaTeX is aimed at science students (can anyone guess what my boyfriend at the time was working in?). For my purpose InDesign was probably the better choice – arguably Word would have been superior. It definitely would’ve minimised the countless hours spent googling why my margins kept changing. Nonetheless, LaTeX made me appreciate the level of code behind all the visual work that I interact with everyday. The code below was my title page. Seems excessive, doesn’t it? It might not have been the best decision for my thesis, but I had full control. Have you ever tried to place images precisely where you want them in Word? Nightmare.

Thesis Title Page Designing By Code Ida Evensen

During a design project there’s a lot of non-design work that has to be done: specifications / load schedules etc. I’ve always been keen to make these non-visual tasks more efficient, so I got into building code. Or to be precise, writing macros using VBA (visual basic) in Excel. Previously known to me as “the tasks of boring geeks without any imagination whatsoever”. However, it was through VBA I realised how much imagination is actually required for good code. Just like the progress of an artwork, one small iteration leads to three new ones. In the programming world I’ve barely taken a baby step, but by using code to optimise my tasks I started to find new design possibilities.

“To somebody who does it (programming), it’s the most interesting thing in the world. It’s a game much more involved than chess, a game where you can make up your own rules and where the end result is whatever you can make of it. And yet, to the outside, it looks like the most boring thing on Earth.” – Linus Torvalds (creator of Linux)

This ongoing journey has stretched way beyond the initial goal of providing myself added time to design. Designers out there will know that without good communication between professions, visualising designs in a project is ten times harder. I feel that my experience has brought me closer to the engineers and contractors I collaborate with during technical design. I feel more appreciation for their work, and I know that a minimal design may require more work behind the scenes compared to a visually complex design.

I’ll never stop being envious of all the amazing artists out there, but on the other hand I find it very exciting that in our modern day art is being created with the aid of computers. Software that visually looks simple is often built up by a web of code, confusing even the most tech savvy of us. Designing in programs like InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop still benefit from the steady hand of an artist for a truly amazing artwork made from scratch. However, in these programs we can overlay images, duplicate shapes and alter existing artwork to make extraordinary visuals without being able to draw a single straight line (to be fair, that’s actually harder than it sounds).

Chaoscope Software Model Ferraree François Axone Man

There’s a current trend to introduce more maths into design – in some instances to the extreme. The software Chaoscope by Nicolas Desprez can produce highly detailed 3D artwork by “simply” changing math values in the coding program. It’s a visually stunning result made entirely by numbers.

The architect Michael Hansmeyer brings numbers into architecture. Inspired by cell division and the millions of facets within shapes in nature he has “computed nature”. By digitally folding a single cube over and over, his software is able to create unimaginable shapes. To realise his designs by drawing, even digital drawing, would take months, likely years. Instead of using drawings to realise his imagination, the process generates the shapes – he “just” steers things in the right direction.

“If we as architects begin to think of – not the object, but the process that generates the object… in short, we have no constraints” – Michael Hansmeyer

Michael Hansmeyer Digital Grotesque II Computational Architecture

This digital way of designing doesn’t set constraints, but gives infinite possibilities, and an outcome that, possibly, couldn’t have been imagined by anyone in a design team. In the future I believe our light fittings will become organic glowing architecture. With the help of complex algorithms our future cities will be able to merge into our surroundings, like the planned underwater restaurant being designed by Snøhetta that allows us to view life underwater, and the “Bubbles” canopy concept by Orproject that’s driven by our right to breathe clean air.

Restaurant Under Water Architecture Seabed Snøhetta

Enclosed Park Daytime Bubbles Orproject Designing By Code

The future certainly has no boundaries. As for how to light these futuristic structures, sign us up – we’re already excited to take part in the journey!

Images: Michael Hansmeyer / Ida Evensen / François “Axone Man” / Michael Hansmeyer / Snøhetta / Orproject

Blog post by Ida Evensen