an interesting article from 2006, swarm architecture ii. this is a very intriguing article in light of the recent project which will show a design for a system of autonomous agents along the huron watershed. -JB
Space is a computation. Architects design constructs as to structure the movements of information. This is true for the simplest house. Urban planners design strategies as to structure the flow of information in the city. This is true for all cities, big or small. Instead of focusing on the material appearance of spaces which are built after imagining the movements of people, we must pay more attention to the membranes of those spaces in the design process and to the openings in the membranes allowing for the flow of information in whatever form. A door essentially is an on-off switch in the membrane, the movement of stuff is structured as to flow through that door. Doors are open or closed [or half open and half-closed], the spaces are switched on or off, or sort of switched on or off. The membranes are semi-permeable envelopes around a certain quantized volume of space. The semi-permeable membranes let through people, light, heat, cold, small animals, air, radiation, information, food, water, gas, waste, molecules, wind, sun, moist, materials, cars, shopping bags, television programmes, waves, books, paper. A wide range of different materials is coming in through the membranes, another wide range of materials is leaving the space somewhat later. Some things come in through explicit holes, others come in by diffusion, by radiation, by transmission, or are carried by other messengers. Much of it is carried by people, coming in and going out. People are information carriers, they run in, about and out the house. The information they carry out of the house is of different content then the information – in whatever disguise – they take out of their house. The information content and some material properties of incoming information is changed inside the space. This space can be considered as a content transformer, it digests the incoming material / information. Taken to the extreme all material is a form of information, and taken even further all information is a form of computation. Thus space computes information. The question to be raised here is: does the space compute or do the people in the space compute? In the context of Swarm Architecture I understand human action in such a way that it must be the space which does the trick. The space is full of more or less active components, many of them communication with each other, many of them interacting with certain intervals, and many of them interacting in real time. I see people as drivers of the space when looking at it from a certain distance. To understand this better you may imagine a highway with cars running on it. When one finds oneself inside this traffic system, one always refers to the other players as cars. You always would state: that car came from the right, there goes a Ferrari. The cars are the players in the traffic system, and these cars are eventually driven by someone, but they are only their operators, they basically function as programmes running the car. So the car is the flocking bird in the traffic swarm, and the person is a member of the running car, and not a member of the highway traffic system. How can we look at space with this in mind? Then it is the space itself that behaves and acts, as driven by their programmes and executed by a variety of actors, among them people, but also light bulbs, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, sofa’s, shopping, bookshelves, tables and chairs. They all move or are moved inside a certain space. In the mind of the Swarm Architect, all actors / players behave in relation to each other following a set of simple rules. And it is the space which defines the workspace of the players. Seen from further away this space interacts with other spaces. Then you loose track of the swarm of interacting players within the space with their semi-permeable membranes, and you are monitoring a swarm of interacting spaces. And the human people flow through this from space to space, from car to space, from small space to vast space. Seen from the point of view of space, people operate on the space as if they operate a computer. Just like the computer does the computation, the space performs the computation and transforms the information content of the information / materials absorbed into it. People also compute in their own domain: they feed on vegetables and meat, they eat and drink, they absorb sounds and light, they smell and sense. People compute that information and spit out information in a different format. People are transformers, just like spaces are transformers on a meta-level as seen in relation to people.
Now that we have left behind the anthropocentric world view, which states that people are in the centre of knowledge, and now that we have accepted space and people as equal players in the field, we can start thinking of another approach towards architecture. Now we can build up a language of Swarm Architecture [SA from now on]. In SA people interact with people, books interact with tables, paper interacts with people, all are active players in a complex adaptive system called a car, a space, a home, a street, a city… ”