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Ornament In The Age Of Postdigital Architecture.

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This paper is part of an ongoing doctoral research investigating the meaning of ornament in the age of the postdigital. Here I rely on Alina Payne’s hypothesis of what if modernism ornament crisis was a shift from ornament as a surface to the ornament-as-object. Within this framework, I rely on the incommensurable creativity held in the Japanese Katagami patterns -used in Kimono and Yukata textiles- in order to translate them into architectures. The article presents a theoretical framework explicating ornament as a well codified cultural asset and the ornament from optic to haptic.
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Ornament in the age of postdigital architecture
Redefining the neo-modern through a case study translating Japanese Katagami
patterns into architectures.
Bouayad Ghali
Tokyo University of The Arts, Department of Architecture, Mitsuhiro Kanada Structural
Design Laboratory, Japan.
https://gbaara.com
ghalibouayad@gmail.com
Abstract. This paper is part of an ongoing doctoral research investigating the meaning of
ornament in the age of the postdigital. Here I rely on Alina Payne’s hypothesis of what if
modernism ornament crisis was a shift from ornament as a surface to the ornament-as-object.
Within this framework, I rely on the incommensurable creativity held in the Japanese
Katagami patterns -used in Kimono and Yukata textiles- in order to translate them into
architectures. This research aims first to redefine the meaning of ornament and to explore
new design approaches differentiated from the systemic usual space configurations. While
many designers are diving in the algorithmic design world by developing new personal
methods, I recycle the existing production of Katagami Patterns into three-dimensional
objects, perpetuating the artists work and making their design go beyond time, borders and
scope of applicability, all the more the current digital shift has given us new fabrication
strategies and new methods to explore, produce and stock geometry and Data. In this paper, I
rely on agent-based algorithms to study the architectural potential of the Katagami patterns as
a top-down clean and simple initial topology as social animal behaviors are applied to the
patterns to make them emerge, self-organize and generate spatial forms.
Keywords. Architectural theory and planning; Ornament; Art and technology; Agent-based
algorithm; Postdigital architecture.
Introduction
My interest in patterns and ornament has grown since I was advised to read the seminal
“The function of ornament” by Farshid Moussavi and Michael Kubo (2005) and “Patterns
and layering”, a collection of essays published in 2012 and written by various architects-
researchers of Kengo Kuma Laboratory. Other than these two published references,
diverse historians, theorists and practitioners have published seminal work in the past
decade, accompanying and documenting the revival of architectural ornament. From
Mark Garcia guest-editing ‘Patterns of Architecture’ published in a 2009 issue of
Architectural Design, to ‘The politics of architecture and subjectivity’ written by Antoine
Picon in 2013, where he offers an overview of ornament history going from the
Renaissance architects to Alois Riegle, Gottfried Semper and Adolf Loos; the paper
before you is somehow a digestion of the knowledge contained in those manuscripts and
hopefully is in conversation with them. In this article, I would like to introduce a theory
showcasing how ornament and discrete discourse could play a great role in reconciling
and reconnecting ornament to object to architecture, and proof that they can come
together under the same narrative, leading to a redefined neo-modern era addressing the
function of the sculptural-object matter, aesthetics and society, spatial quality, simplexity
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and democratic -accessible to all- mass-customization. Most importantly, I rely on the
hypothesis raised by Alina Payne in her 2012’s ‘From ornament to object : genealogies of
architectural modernism’ where she asks ‘What if in fact, this was not a crisis (ornament
crisis), but a shift, and the object-as-ornament was the underbelly of modernism ?’. I will
therefore start by introducing in details Payne’s contention and how it fits within my
framework. Then, I will argue on the importance and the power of ornament and patterns
to create a bound between users and their environment when well codified in society; for
this I consider Japan as a terrain of action and use its traditional Katagami patterns as a
case study to translate them into three-dimensional architectures, demonstrating my
rhetorical discourse built on Japanese ornament as a well codified -society anchored-
cultural asset. Finally, I will argue on the importance of the raising discrete-postdigital
discourse. These arguments are developed in the following three points.
Re-interpreting Payne’s argument : from optic to haptic, from surface to
depth, from small to monolith
In her book, Alina Payne demonstrates how modernism was clearly about objects. Here,
Payne brings a new understanding of the early twentieth century’s movement. She invites
us to understand and read differently the well known modernism’s radical aesthetics
made of technology, mass production, clean lines and unadorned surfaces that broke
decisively with history by making the infamous Adolf Loos’s statement “ornament is a
crime”. One of her key arguments was that ornament has been detached from surfaces
and was relocated in the objects that populated architecture’s space. 1925’s Le Corbusier
and Amedee Ozenfant’s ‘Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau’ is what epitomizes her contention
best. In that pavilion, "there was no adornment, no ornament, no decoration. But what
was equally if not more remarkable were the pavilion’s furnishings. Few and apparently
simple objects inhabited the space […] what was particularly striking was that these
objects existed in a dialogue with the paintings on the walls”. Paraphrasing Alois Riegle,
Payne wonders if this move from ornament to object was a move from optic to haptic.
For modernists, ornament was always designated as a surface add-on; and the fact that it
was associated to sculpture was a problem as Alina Payne provides the most direct
summary : The fact that ornament cut across scales and mediated between architecture
and sculpture placed it even further outside the mainstream. Ornament and architecture
was a topic, albeit negative one, and objects and architecture was another one, but no
questions connected the three”.
In this research, Japanese katagami patterns become a host for human activity. This is
based on the latin word ‘ornamentum’ and that has a common etymological origin with
the verb ‘ordino’. The latest means to organize and to order (Picon, 2013). Here,
katagami ornament’s geometrical topology is used to implement activity and organize the
spatial (see figures 1 and 2). When translated to a three-dimensional object and scaled up,
this ornament achieves both a structural and an architectural function. Through this
framework, the human body engages directly and haptically with the new monolithic,
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large mass architectural object. The ornament becomes architecture volume, not a mere
multi-layered surface outer-shell at the periphery of a building.
The social binding ornament argument : The Japanese Katagami pattern case
Katagami (型紙) are the stencil tools that Japanese artisans and artists used in the process
of dyeing patterns on fabrics of Kimonos and Yukatas. Japanese Mino-Washi paper is
sculpted by material removal through carving techniques; with as many layers necessary
to produce one unique pattern. At the end of his career, an artist reaches a level of
accomplishment as he spends a whole lifetime mastering one technique and making his
own tools (Ikuta and Maruyama, 2013).
Japanese ornament and patterns are a result of the ‘’point of view’’; which makes
them new creations and not just a mere reproduction of nature. They are not real
representation but are produced by intuition, imagination, the unreal and the irrational
(Belfiore and A.Liotta, 2012). The Japanese have long been inspired by nature, but
Japanese ornament is not a faithful transcription of the original shape, it is only a symbol
of the vegetal and is often an exaggeration of reality and is assimilated by impulse and
presentiment; the later will translate the pattern into its totality. Soetsu Yanagi describes
the transformation into beauty and the transformation into pattern and ornament as having
a great relationship. Therefore to value the meaning of the ornament is to understand
beauty. The later being a mystery, it can not be palpated by the intellect. Especially since
everyone is able to see the plant, but not everyone will see it in the same way (Yanagi,
1972). In a mono-cultural and metropolitan society like Japan, symbolic communication
will be easy to incorporate all the more symbols, iconographies and patterns have been
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Figure 1!
Conceptual diagram of a Katagami pattern’s geometrical
topology implementing activity and usage of spatiality.
Figure 2!
Conceptual diagram of a Katagami pattern’s geometrical
topology implementing activity and usage of spatiality.
codified through various consensus (Dower, 1990). Other than architecture, daily use
ceramic objects and textile’s ornament, the 1926 Noburo Ofuji's official debut work and
the first Japanese silent black and white animated film ‘Bagudajou no Touzoku (1) proves
how ornamental patterns are a major cultural element, as we can perceive in figure (3),
both various characters and their environment being highly ornamented.
Our globalized societies have evolved and are becoming more complex while
developing new versatile social modes. As architects, and as human beings before all, we
need to focus our current debates on relationships, boundaries, buffer and transition
spaces and especially on more inclusive and narrative experiences (Kuma, 2009). All the
more architecture is the art that has the most influence on the daily life and social
organization of human being; an art that creates a physical difference (Balmond, 2008).
In order to meet these needs today, a synthesis between nature, energy, culture, society,
user, spatial experience and technology is essential. Investigating the expressionist
materiality of architecture is the opportunity to find new methods in order to interact with
the urban configuration and to converge towards culture (Moussavi and Kubo, 2005). For
this, new recycling mechanisms could help in the production of concepts, diagrams and
new ways to see, understand and imagine architectural elements in opposition to the usual
space configurations.
The idea of using Japanese patterns in architecture has been proposed in the past and
has been studied and explored by diverse architects (Kuma, 2010) and researchers
(Belfiore and A.Liotta, 2012) to cite a few. Their design mainly applied patterns on
building envelopes by extruding the pattern geometry and remapping it on the wall or
ceiling surfaces. While I also investigate a potential application of Katagami patterns on
building facades, my alternative approach focuses mainly on bottom-up agent-based
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Figure 3!
Screenshot from Bagudajou no Touzoku. (Ofuji, 1926).
algorithms as it allows greater freedom in creating unpredictable and unconventional
space formation while using the Katagami patterns as a well defined top-down input.
Pattern translation and investigation methodology
1. Basic setup
The behavior of various animal species and social insects produce very complex
architectures that demonstrate great sense of proportion while fulfilling multiple
functions such as protection from predators, humidity regulation, reproductive activities,
etc. (Hansell, 1984; Jeanne, 1975;Wilson,1971 cited in Bonabeau et al, 2000, pp 1-2). In
the very recent years, various researchers have relied on biological and animal behavior
where agents reacts to their environments such as stigmergic planning (Gerber and
Lopez, 2014) and (Ireland, 2010), parasitic behavior (Alborghetti and Erioli, 2015) and
cellular growth (Klemmt, 2019) to cite a few.
In this paper, I will focus on the flocking behavior described by Craig Reynolds
(1999) in order to give our top down initial Katagami pattern the ability of locomotion
and self organization in the three dimensions while we store each particle coordinates at
each time frame update and build geometry on it in order to get a spatial structure that
emerges as a consequence of the system’s behavior (Bouayad, 2019).
I chose to use the IGeo library (Sugihara / ATLV, 2011) developed for the Processing
environment (Fry and Casey, 2009). In IGeo, the flocking swarm behavior is coded by
Sugihara as a Class named “IBoid” that has three parameters for threshold distances and
three others for force ratio that control the strength of cohesion, separation and alignment.
For the case studies discussed in this paper, our agent-based algorithms were based on the
parameters found in table (1).
Input Katagami
pattern
The top down pattern that will evolve through agent based simulation into a
non deterministic bottom up spatial formation.
Population
Number of particles that constitutes the pattern.
Number of
frames
Necessary update counts for generating the geometry.
Cohesion
distance
Going to the center of the surrounding agents : agents are considered as
neighbors if the distance to the agent is less than the threshold. The center
of the agents is calculated by adding their respective position vectors and
then divided by their total number.
Cohesion ratio
The force vector is calculated by taking the difference vector between the
agent and the center. The force is adjusted by the Ratio coefficient.
Separation
distance
Going away from other agents : This parameter works in the same method
as the cohesion distance and is used to determine if the other agent is close
enough to get away from.
Separation ratio
The Ratio coefficient is adjusting the separation force.
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Table 1!
IBoid class flocking behavior parameters.
2. Case studies and design applications
All the following case studies has as a source the same original pattern. The first case
study (table 2) investigates potential application as wall surface and bring another agent
class to interact with the flocking IBoid class. A branching behavior was added to create
branches between each particle’s current position and other particles previous position
within a distance threshold in order to control the density of the geometry and therefore
the porosity of the facade thanks to the branching threshold and the frames count (figures
4 and 5).
Table 2!
IBoid class flocking behavior parameters.
Alignment
distance
Heading towards the same direction of other agents : velocities vectors of
the agent’s neighbors within the threshold are calculated. The difference
between average velocity and actual position is measured and the force is
added to the direction difference vector of the two velocities.
Alignment ratio
The amount of the alignment force is readjusted by this ratio.
Initial Direction
A direction / amplitude vector that acts uniformly in space : a vector force
that is added to the locomotion of the swarm to help it grow vertically.
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1000
20
60
5
50
8
40
0.5
(IG.v(IRand.get(20, 40), 0,i%2*100-10).rot(PI*2/num*i+PI/4));)
10 - 15
For the behavior simulation of the second case study, the same flocking IBoid class’s
parameters are also identical except for the initial direction and velocity vector
(respectively IG.v(0,0,25) and IG.v(0,0,125)). When increased, the enclosure’s height,
indicated by the white arrows (comparison between figures 6 and 7), is stretched as the
system agents need more time frames to reach their positions according to the IBoid
parameters. Through this parameters, the pattern is investigated potentially as a space
configured with circulations, enclosures of different heights according to the architectural
program needs.
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Figure 4!
First case study’s generated geometry (Curves).
Figure 5!
First case study’s generated geometry applied as a
building facade. Curves thickened into meshes.
Figure 6!
Second case study; exploration of the initial direction
and velocity vector parameter impact. Here (0,0,25).
Figure 7!
Second case study; exploration of the initial direction
and velocity vector parameter impact. Here (0,0,125).
3. Morphological exploration conclusions
While I wrongly thought that all patterns behavior can be studied through one same
algorithm, up to today’s trials showed that each pattern needs its own algorithmic strategy
and agent-based model to explore its potential. As Katagami artisans spend a lifetime
developing their tools and techniques to deliver unique mind-blowing patterns, I consider
that the algorithms are digital craftsmanship as each agent method must be personalized
for each pattern. The purpose is to be able to develop an algorithmic tool that takes
advantage of the pattern geometry.
The methodology and the morphogenetic experiments adopted in this research have
demonstrated being able to generate a wide variety of spatial morphologies through the
translation of traditional Japanese ornament and show relevant potential for applications
on architectural configurations (figures 8 and 9). By contrast to standard architectural
process where an architectural planning and design are made following a design brief and
constraints, blending ornament and swarm intelligence offers new possibilities to explore
forms of design and architectural composition. The goal is not to produce clean
geometries, but to nurture our imagination for early esquisse phases by generating basic
data (coordinates at each time frame) before starting to sculpt form, creating architecture
that offers a new interest in space and forces the user to question his practice and
curiosity. In this surrealist method of exploration, I abandon the search for the “best”
solution (Ogrydziak, 2011) and disrupt rationality, alienation, oppression, and
predomination of existing design methods (Eagle, 2018). Just after the delivery of the
Serpentine Gallery pavilion, Toyo Ito then described Cecil Balmond as someone who
used algorithms to produce rules : «He claims that when people try to imagine on their
own they run out of ideas very quickly and instead begin to think of conventional spaces.
An approach based on algorithms offers greater freedom. It allows you to create
unpredictable complexity and hybrid situations».
4th International Conference on Biodigital Architecture & Genetics - BIODIG 2020
Figure 8!
Figure 1’s pattern translated into architecture.
Figure 9!
Figure 2’s pattern translated into architecture.
The discrete and postdigital argument
Adam Fure, in his contribution to ‘Aesthetics equals politics’ (2018), reminds us of the
postdigital definition : “Postdigital scholarship tracks the transition of digital technology
from extraordinary to ordinary. The “post” in post-digital, therefore, does not imply a
time after or beyond the digital; rather it calls for an examination and evolution of what
we have known as “the digital” to date.” Architecture has definitely entered its
postdigital era when Gilles Retsin published early 2019 his manifesto ‘Discrete :
Reappraising the digital in architecture’. In his various research articles, Gilles
demonstrates how there is a fundamental problem related to the gap between simulation
and fabrication, design and materialisation. Architects have always been constrained to
post-rationalize their complex -continuous- surfaces into discrete, flat mass customized
elements. In addition, those complex morphologies were reserved mostly to high-end
condominiums, prestigious cultural programs -museums, theaters, etc…-, stadiums and
so on. By opposition, and in alignment with modernism’s understanding of prefabricated
assemblages, the discrete discourse is armed with a social agenda and an egalitarian
materialisation process based on serially recombinable bits of discrete, assembly-ready,
cheaply mass-produced, elements for highly complex buildings. This is an equity made
also for both young and theory architects (2); complexity is no more delivered exclusively
by large architectural firms. Young practices have now the possibility to materialize their
own Kleinarchitektur (3) (small architecture) and confront themselves to reality and the
alterity of the commissioning system. It is important to no stay at a conceptual level, but
to make its language effective.
Conclusion
Proning soberness, I reject ornament meant to produce a continuous stream of sensations
and affects, where unhealthy alliance of art, urbanism and commercial-development
interests has become dominant. Architecture should not be a monument for consumerism.
Especially how the contemporary world only values how fast we can absorb new
information. For this, I would like to argue for a return to the roots of space experiment
and aesthetics, making architecture deliberately difficult, inefficient experience, forcing
the visitor to slow down and think, avoiding instantly consumable spaciality. In this
theory, ornament is taking over the mediation role, inviting the user to reconnect with
cultural heritage, reflection and knowledge. Here, through the discrete materialization,
the three-dimensional translated ornament is abstracted, distancing the ornament-
architectural-object from ‘the shock of the new’ based experiences, far from the
superficial condition offered by post-modern architecture replacing depth by surface
(figure 10). Antoine Picon closes his book by a chapter dedicated to reinventing the
meaning of ornament. I believe that the contemporary architect can achieve this goal
through Functional Ornament -brought to architectural scale- and through aesthetics. Far
from a Kantian aestheticism revolving around beauty, but an aesthetic as defined by
Jacques Rancière : The sensible experience. The key components of the neo-modern
4th International Conference on Biodigital Architecture & Genetics - BIODIG 2020
architecture surely enable social groups to share experience. Ornament, as a key element,
joins Rancière in his definition of the aesthetic : “The idea of the distribution of the
sensible implies that an art always does something else that its proper business. […] The
aesthetic is not the same as the artistic. The artistic is about implementation of an idea. It
implies some kind of anticipation of the result. […] The sensible experience is not at all
about beauty. It is about the experience of a common world”. To conclude, a society
anchored -function hosting- ornament translated into architecture will transcend the
immersive yet superficial condition of the deleuzian notion of affect, to reach a sensible
primitive experience.
Notes
(1) 馬具田城の盗賊, accessible via https://animation.filmarchives.jp/en/works/view/15479 / 14min10s,
silent, b/w, The original was three reels of 35mm film with a total length of 666 meters, lasting 30 min (at
18fps). The existing film is a 16mm digest version (Marvel Graph) released by the Jujiya Kogata Eiga
Division.
(2) This is not a critique toward architects relying on philosophy; on the contrary analogical metaphor and
logic of comparison involved with philosophy has proven unlimited creative potential and has given artists
and architects a whole language to theorize their practice (for this matter, refer to Florence Plihon’s Phd
thesis manuscript ‘Digital Architecture and Baroque Resurgence: Bernard Cache, Greg Lynn and Deleuze’s
Fold’). Here, I refer to the fact that theory architects have built very little as it was raised in an interview-
discussion with Frederic Migayrou.
(3) In a conference titled “ La pierre : la dimension glyptique de l’architecture at Musée du Louvre in
2016, Alina Payne addresses how sculpture and small objects are preparatory experimental grounds to
reach monumental scale.
4th International Conference on Biodigital Architecture & Genetics - BIODIG 2020
Figure 10!
Figure 8’s architecture materialized through discrete chunks. WIP.
Acknowledgments and image credits
The ongoing research presented in this paper is part of doctoral investigations is
supported by a scholarship funded by the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT). My
gratitude and special thanks goes to my thesis supervisor Professor Mitsuhiro Kanada
who has been a valuable interlocutor supporting my research by generous discussions and
sharp theory and methodology critics.
Except figure 3, all images are personal production of the author.
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Frontiers of architecture. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
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Balmond, C, 2008. Frontiers of architecture. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
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  • A Liotta
Belfiore, M. and A.Liotta, S-j., 2012. Patterns and layering : Japanese spatial culture, nature and architecture. Gestalt-en.