Iâve been re-reading Ayn Randâs The Fountainhead this week. Consequentlyâin addition to sneering at any building that dons superfluous friezes and pilastersâI took particular interest an article in the latest issue of American Scientist, called âBreeding Better Buildings.â? DNA molecules are often called the building blocks of life. But the articleâs authors, George Mason computer engineers Rafal Kicinger and Tomasz Arciszewski, turn that around. Understanding genetics, they say, can help us give life to building blocks:
As scientists gradually began to understand the mechanisms governing various biological processes, engineers of all stripes were able to apply this knowledge to building complex devices. (The most famous example of such "biomimicry" may be Velcro fasteners, the idea for which came from the observation of sticky burdock seeds.)
We hope to heighten civil engineers' appreciation for biology by suggesting that they go one step further, not only imitating natural shapes and forms but simulating nature's evolutionary and developmental processes to arrive at their designs. [my emphasis]
They go on to describe software theyâve designed that treats building partsâsuch as beams and columnsâlike genes, combining them in random ways to form a building âgenome.â? Using this method, the software produces a bunch of different buildings, then cross-breeds the best results to, as Kicinger and Arciszewski put it, âproduce subsequent generations that improve on their parents.â?
The softwareâs already made structurally sound buildings that are similar to those made by humans. But what the authors really hope for in later generations is that an entirely new style evolves, one thatâs more creative than anything humans haveâyes, Iâll say itâintelligently designed on our own.
(And speaking of intelligent designers, the photo above features the wacky windows and walls of MIT's Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry in 2004.)
UPDATE: Gehry's Stata design might not have been so intelligent...as commenter Steve points out, MIT is suing Gehry over "serious design flaws," including leaky windows and drainage problems.