High Orders: Structuring Architectural Possibility
Excerpt from Melencolia I (1514) Albrecht Dürer. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
6 pm
Goethe-University Frankfurt | Campus Westend | Auditorium Center, Lecture Hall 8


High Orders: Structuring Architectural Possibility

Theodora Vardouli

In 1977 architectural theorist Lionel March and mathematician Christopher Earl set out to define the limits of architectural possibility. At the core of their argument was the idea that design freedom was based on immanent structures that were mappable and countable. The project of counting architectural plans – as they also titled the paper presenting the mathematical procedure for enumeration — would bring together long-standing architectural engagements with polyhedra and modern combinatorics that the two authors were immersed in during their academic appointments. The sphere, the polyhedron, and the graph would bolster a theory of architecture that would accept “no exceptions.” This talk examines the intellectual context and institutional infrastructures that supported this enumerative endeavor, by weaving together diverse contexts of mathematical inquiry in architecture such as the University of Cambridge, the University of Waterloo, and the Open University in Milton Keynes. In discussing the emergence of a “science of possible forms,” its divergent mathematical and conceptual strands, and the technical devices that supported them, the talk sheds light on the architects’ ambitious confrontation with architectural high orders –with a science of the many—but also on the historically and culturally contingent ordering structures that afforded and delimited enumeration.

Theodora Vardouli is an Assistant Professor at the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture, McGill University. Her research examines algorithmic techniques of describing, generating, and simulating architectural form and performance – their histories, cultural meanings, and operational implications for creative design. Vardouli is the founder and principal of CoDEx (Computational Design Exploratory), a research group linking social and material histories of design and computation with critical design, with the aim to expose the inner workings of digital tools in their social, ethical, cultural, and aesthetic dimensions. Vardouli holds a PhD and a SMArchS in Design and Computation from MIT, and a Master of Science in Design-Space-Culture from the National Technical University of Athens. Her in-progress monograph tentatively titled Graph Vision: Digital Architecture’s Skeletons (under contract with the MIT Press) offers a pre-history of digital architecture by focusing on the symbolic and physical prevalence of the mathematical object of the graph.

The event is part of the lecture series Order | Disorder. The lecture will be held in English.