"You want your own house in the countryside, in a quiet location and a pleasant environment where you and your children can develop freely? But you nevertheless want central shopping and a short commute?
Help yourself! Decide how you want to live! Generate your own house according to your needs!"
This was the little explanatory description of the project that laid the ground work for continous research on the idea of digital participation in architecture. In 2012, when we were half-way through our minor studies, we developed a project in our city-planning course that would allow around 200 of our friends and relatives to become part of it.
On a site in Duisburg, Germany, close to the Rhine a quarter had to be developed in our course that would allocate a new residential area. Asking ourselve how we could plan in the best possible way for the future inhabitants of the quarter, we decided to leave the main questions on their own house to themselves. Therefore our ambition was to collect and integrate the demands of possible inhabitants into a functional city plan. As a team of six students we could divide tasks optimally: while some of us designed a spatial framework for the participation, others explored fields like algorithmic architecture and webdesign to gather demands and locate their spatial representation. By setting clear interfaces between a top-down design and a bottom-up strategy, we could easily implement the outcome of our website survery into our final design.
With the collection of more than 200 datasets we were facing a problem though. Having this amount of individual houses we were not able to draw a solution by hand. With certainty our semester would have ended before we would have found a working design and we would have failed the course. But being inspired by the work of Kaisersrot, who were using computation to create solutions that cannot be drawn by hand, we found a way. With the help of parametric geometries and the use of genetic algorithms, we were feeding the individual datasets to a computer that would generate a solution inside of our boundary conditions in minutes! Meaning: We finished the course!
We still believe it is one of our best projects so far, considering our immature knowledge about the different fields of planning, programming and participation. Without too much theory we were just trying out and doing something that we had little clue of. There are definitely weaknesses in all aspects. People could participate better, categorising in Top-Down and Bottom-Up is silly and modernistic, and wtf actually happens in the backyards of our blocks? Still it was a great project since we had more so many people participating in it through the use of digital technologies. That's something we haven't been able to reproduce since. Architecture universities slowly add algorithmic design to its curriculae, participation normally stays only theory in education web-design is never teached. But there is so much potential in it that we need to learn from.
Form follows you is nowadays facing similar challenges as in this project. We know there is not one answer or theory to digital and/or analogous participation. It is about weighting and negotiating how much should be defined by the designer and the expert, and amateur participants.
Therefore we will try to share and educate as much as possible about our experiences in this field and hope you join us!