Dustism, Creatures And Speculative Materialism In Architecture: An Interview With Alisa Andrasek/Biothing

01/24/2012 12:42 pm ET | Updated Apr 17, 2012

I have previously reflected on concepts of 'particle architecture,' architectural design which engages the potential future varied performances of microscopic levels of fabrics that build designed spaces and the large ensembles they can create. This time, I present a brief talk with biothing's principal Alisa Andrasek. Currently teaching at the Bartlett School of Architecture, last August Alisa organized the "PROTO/E/CO/LOGICS Symposium: Speculative Materialism in Architecture" in Rovinj, Croatia. The work of biothing is very engaged in concepts of mathematics and physics informing design processes. In our conversation we also discussed, among other things, 'dustism.'

(Interview continues below)

Work by Alisa Andrasek/Biothing

At "Leper Creativity: The First international Cyclonopedia Symposium" in 2011 at Parsons TNS for Design, you described the concept of 'dustism.' How do you explore this concept in your work and find a relationship between mathematics and architectural design?

[Alisa proposes two quotes to start her answer.]

"Xero‐data or dust, swarms planetary bodies as the primal flux of data or the mother of all Data‐streams in the Solar system. Each particle of dust carries with it a unique vision of matter, movement, collectivity, interaction, affect, differentiation, composition and infinite darkness -- a crystallized data‐base or a plot ready to combine and react, to be narrated on and through something. There is no line of narration more concrete than a stream of dust particles. Given that each dust particle envelopes and carries different materials and entities from diverse territories, dust particles express particulars of different fields and territories in terms of universals." -- Cyclonopedia

"As an inter-dimensional carrier, dust scavenges xenochemical particles (outsiders) as its cores or constituents, introduces and implants them into compositions, creations and establishments..." -- Cyclonopedia

Biothing's evolution was inverse to the de-evolution of its systems building blocks. Recent arrival of planetary computation, finer grains of computational physics deployed through simulations, multi-agent systems (in massive populations) and large data sourced from myriad of domains are opening novel spaces of synthesis. Computationally, it was necessary to descend to the primordial soup of logics, towards distributed information processing rather than centralized procedural formats, resulting in more resilience.

Instead of designing at the order of scale of rooms and middle scale structure, it is now descending into cellular grain of matter, flow of light, heat, vapor, friction, simulation of massive scale erosion and sedimentation or ice melting. Such architecture is drawing on large data from the finer-grain physics of matter -- matter as information, instantiated by computation. These tendencies are not only expanding on technically enriched material formations, but also activating previously hidden material powers towards designs beyond our anticipations in both formal imagination and performance. This new speculative image of matter reveals things that go beyond established concepts of "nature" -- via matter as information, active agency, as strange and unnatural.

"Negaresturing Pavilion" Project video:

In older writings, you apparently coined the usage of 'creature' in architecture design. How does this term impact methodologies/ambitions of past/current work?

In the space of abstraction (mathematics) as a secret intermediary between matter and formation (in a form of life at its most complex), unfeasible instances outnumber the feasible ones. Mythical creatures, mutants, monsters, aliens, often exhibit "superpowers" and exist as fringe entities -- as the "other," unknown... When I used the term creature, I was intuitively referring to the notion of strange/unnatural velocities of transformations within systems. Structuring behavioral rhythms was a shortcut to legible patterns, expressions, even stable structural behaviors. Quality of durational patterns sourced from the creative pool of computational time were often "weird" and counter intuitive. Things did not move in a natural way -- those fringe creatural behaviors could be called "undead" rather than alive. This was against the dominant hauntology by the specter of life often found in metaphors used by architects -- "life-like" or "nature-like." Creating something that mimics forms of life which already exists demonstrates lack of imagination...

Also it was a struggle to define agency within material praxis -- an attempt to recognize the agency of "it" -- before eventually realizing that agency is very distributed. That was before I read Material Agency edited by Lambros Malafouris and Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani, as well as writings of speculative realists (Object Oriented Philosophy by Harman and Ideas of Contingency and Universality by Meillassoux, amongst others).

"Fissure Port" Project videos:

Most recently you organized the conference "Speculative Materialism in Architecture." Could you describe this concept and ambition?

In parallel to the developments in philosophy (from which the term "Speculative Materialism" was taken), there are recent developments in mathematics of open continuum that are engaging the ideas of complex synthesis.

Columbian mathematician and philosopher Fernando Zalamea's work on transient ecologies in a context of Latin American socio-politics, is looking at triadic logic proposed by logician Charles Pierce. It investigates the study of transference of information around complex porous boundaries of trans-ecological continuum -- shortly, triadic logic is concerned with the expression of universal properties within regional localities.

Different from the binary logic which still dominates majority of computing, it contains the third element -- one that can absorb ambiguity and noise. Therefore it allows for openness, unrestricted synthesis and contamination, overlaps of organic and inorganic, biology and culture, ecology and economy and similar. Unlike the principles of total holism that have characterized early ecological thinking, what this kind of open synthesis offers is resilience and redundancy of transient boundaries, with increased ability for interweaving contingent agencies. The role of those boundaries is not any more to enclose space, but rather to form connective tissue for intensive exchange.

Discoveries in material science can now be incorporated through simulations into massive resolution speculations in architecture/urbanism/design, opening doors for weird synthesis and fissuring established preconceptions of what design could be. Increasing access to universal conditions of materiality is redefining boundaries of practice and opening new venues for architecture. Myriad of human and non-human agencies converge in such new synthetic landscape.

Mathematics of open continuum are corrupting blueprints of architecture, characterized by structures with increased resiliency, plasticity and malleability of complex interrelated systems -- in short increased design-ability within complex ecologies. It allows for speculative proposals of unprecedented nature, complexity and scale.

"the invisibles" project video:

Go to the biothing website here.
Link to GENWARE research here.
Biothing on Amazon.
Alisa Andrasek on Vimeo.
Project credits can be found in image gallery, included in the first slide of each project.

Carla Leitão is an architect, designer and writer currently living, working and teaching Architecture in New York. Practice and academic works interests in ubiquity and intersection of new media and architecture.

Research Assistant: Benjamin Rice