Automatic ArchitectureMotivating Form after Modernism

Automatic ArchitectureMotivating Form after Modernism

Sean Keller

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780226496498

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book examines architecture’s fascination with autonomic design methods during the 1960s and 1970s. Influenced by broader postwar developments—the expansion of science, the emergence of structuralism, the development of serial music and art, and, most importantly, the appearance of electronic computing—the architects considered here proposed radical reformulations of design methods. Condemning both intuition and historical precedent as inadequate to the postwar condition, automatic architecture argued for design processes that were rational, systematic, and transparent. Through these methods architecture would be connected to mathematics and science. This book provides an account of the development of such automatic design processes, a historical shift that both extended selective principals of modernism and presaged the expanding role of computational methods in contemporary architecture. It concludes by expanding our understanding of the automatic through Stanley Cavell’s concept of “automatism,” which recommends the motivated deployment of the automatic as a technique of cultural production. The core of the book offers intensive treatment of three cases. First, the mathematically-grounded “design methods” research initiated by Christopher Alexander and extended by Lionel March at Cambridge University’s Centre for Land Use and Built Form Study. Second, the early work of Peter Eisenman, who posited a neo-Platonic logic of form, with ties to the contemporaneous work of the linguist Noam Chomsky and to Conceptual and Minimal art. Third, Frei Otto’s research into form finding and natural models for design, with a particular focus on the West German Pavilion for Expo 67 and the 1975 Multihalle in Mannheim.