Current Pauly Fellow-School of Architecture - Carnegie Mellon University

2012-2013 George N. Pauly Jr. Fellow

Liss C. Werner [link to bio]

‘Architectural concepts are expressed as generative rules so that their evolution may be accelerated and tested.’ John Frazer, 1966

‘An architecture machine that could observe existing environments in the real world and design behaviours from the parent would furnish the architect with both unsolicited knowledge and unsolicited problems.’ Nicholas Negroponte, 1973

Interview with Liss Werner:

What interested you in coming to teach at Carnegie Mellon University?

My interest in coming to teach at Carnegie Mellon University can be best described as a combination of factors. Carnegie Mellon University has been familiar to me in respect to its longstanding and successful tradition in computer sciences, robotics and machine learning. The facilities within the architecture school, especially within the field of digital fabrication in the dFab Lab, intrigued me. Also, the very fact that the School of Architecture is situated within the College of Fine Arts rather than engineering was relevant to me, given that the aspects of aesthetics, culture and theory find themselves in the former. A further aspect is my personal research interest somewhere between computational and code-based architecture, science and architectural theory, which can be enhanced through teaching and researching at CMU College of Fine Arts with its wide field of expertise and interdisciplinary approach that can be found in the CodeLab run by Mark Gross or in the Studio for Creative Enquiry directed by Golan Levin. And I had never been to the States before, so the opportunity to teach at one of the most prominent Universities in the States sounded fabulous.

What topics pertaining to architecture and the built environment interest you the most?

I see architecture and the built environment from a cybernetic point of view. What this means is that the built environment is a living system in constant flux through information and data processing, recursive feedback and emergence. Buildings, infrastructure and urban topography are formal results of interacting objects that are constantly subjected to external forces such as environmental, political, economical, cultural and internal forces, such as material behavior. I am fascinated by looking at the world through the lens of an architectural anatomist, investigating its structure and the relationships of its parts to each other and their environment in order to arrive at a form that has emerged through breeding. I do believe that ‘Form is a VERB and not a noun’. From this point of view, the understanding of architecture as static form becomes obsolete and superseded.

I am interested in testing and pushing the boundaries of using code-based design tools focusing on behavior as form generator rather than relying on software packages that merely deal with descriptive static geometry.
Material-behavior and its related internal structure as optimization strategy are part of my interest. Building up from there it is inevitable to collaborate with formerly alien disciplines such as Colloid and Interface Sciences, Tangible Interaction Design, Neurosciences or Computer Sciences in professional practice, academia and research.

How are they relevant in the past, present and future?

This is a big question and certainly not easy to answer. However there is a longstanding thread of thought considering architecture as a cybernetic system consisting of a combination of material, force and form. Aristotle examined the problem of substance, material and form in his ‘Metaphysics’ and suggested that there is a particular formula made of parts inherent in each object. Gottfried Semper successfully investigated the relationships between culture, building material, tectonics and form followed by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson who in his great and undeniably important publication ‘On Growth and Form’, published in 1917, researched the relationship of form, force and states: "The form, then, of any portion of matter, whether it be living or dead, and the changes of form that are apparent in its growth may in all cases alike be described as due to the action of force". In short, the form of an object is a ‘diagram of forces’.   In recent decades, mainly through Steven Johnson, the discovery of emergent systems has become more and more relevant to architecture, prior to which Nicholas Negroponte and Gordon Pask developed the theory of an architecture machine at the AA.

Taking historic development into account and projecting into the future, the topics I am interested in are totally relevant within an academic and practice context. Through a rule-based approach, issues such as topology, topography, tectonics and certainly the question of style need to be redefined. Architecture is undergoing a paradigm shift and the future of architecture will be vibrant and dynamic, once architecture is understood as an organism aiming for optimization. The development is fascinating already.

What do you hope to accomplish while at Carnegie Mellon University?

My main aim is to bring passion for explorative and emergent architectural design strategies to the school, paired with knowledge, that is new and has the potential to submerge within the curriculum and architectural design thinking and making. I am aiming to communicate the relevance of architectural theory and philosophy during the decision-making process in order to nourish the ability to evaluate a piece design or design process. Now, this is my first time teaching and researching in the US, which describes an opportunity to bring famous scholars within the field of research to the school. Hence, I am planning a conference to implement critical and invigorating conversations and to rigorously drive the exchange between the various strands of computation, computer-machine interface, tangible interaction design and of course architecture.