A Primitive Parametric


Contemporary research on the human genome has directly influenced new biological metaphors for architectural design. The architectural historian Mar)n Bressani has summarized this tendency as a new form of “Architectural Biology,” which the cri)cs Reinhold Mar)n and Manuel Delanda have related to historical paradigms of architectural organicism.1 The intent of this paper is to discuss the biological metaphors that translate the genera)ve principles of genomics into new strategies for architectural design. Spurred in part by the digital revolu)ons that occurred in architectural studios in the late 1990s, these rubrics metaphorically interpreted computer scripts as “gene)c” algorithms for “breeding” architectural forms in digital space.2 Following Deleuzian models of scien)fic materialism, the architects Greg Lynn and Karl Chu have pioneered computa)onal strategies for genera)ng complex geometries. Their efforts have prompted a new string of biomorphic architectures and updated historiographies that link contemporary form-finding philosophies with previous func)onalist tendencies and biological metaphors in midcentury modernism.3 Despite nearly two decades of sustained interest in the formal complexi)es of Architectural Biology, very li]le research has been completed on the humanist dimensions of this new paradigm. This is a curious oversight considering how fundamental human diversity and iden)ty was implicated in the research completed by the Human Genome project – the most expansive research project on genomics completed in the last two decades.

One of the most important accomplishments of the Human Genome Project was its reconceptualiza)on of the material basis of human diversity. In contrast to Neo-Darwinian models of heredity that consider the transmission of informa)on between DNA and organic )ssue to be unidirec)onal, the discovery of an epigene)c layer above the genome has led to specula)ons of the poten)al influence of cultural prac)ces on the transmission of gene)c material.4 Even before the Human Genome project was completed in 2003, press coverage emphasized the radical poten)al of this project for reshaping the human body at its most fundamental levels.5 These expecta)ons extended from directly elimina)ng gene)c defects, to improve the body’s inherent resistance to aging, to aesthe)cally breeding offspring or shaping one’s appearance with greater control. In a strict material sense, genomics forced scien)sts to


reconsider the role of biology in the cons)tu)on of individual iden)ty; it not only increased their understanding of the mechanics of inheritance, but it offered greater agency in deciding what to do with these traits once they exist. It is no coincidence that the term ‘diversity’ was originally included in the )tle of the Human Genome Project. According to the DNA Nano-technician Paul Rothemund, understanding the gene)c code of the human body is more than a physical map of long strands of informa)on; it provides a base set of instruc)ons to “program” human life.6 The term that has become most influen)al in architectural discourses, however, has been ‘complexity’. This term was most oeen used by scien)sts to describe the computa)onal modeling tools that were required to calculate the placement of all three billion links in the DNA chain. Regardless of one’s preference for either term, it is apparent that our ability to rethink iden)ty is explicitly connected with our ability to visualize the interior structure of organic life.