Down with dualism.

Matei Denes, New York.

Architecture is filled with dualities; inside/outside, form/function, or plan/section. All of these have played key roles in how architecture has developed. Currently architecture is dealing with the struggle between distribution and articulation. This binary, like the others has always been present, shift emphasis historically between one and the other. Greeks were interested in articulation, as can be seen by their differentiation of multiple column styles, while the Romans used these found styles and defined their spaces through how they were distributed on the facades and interiors. The Modern interest in new spatial arrangements like the raumplan and free plan versus the Post Modern emphasis on image in the decorated shed and duck typologies is a more recent example of the changing emphasis.

Diagram of distribution; MVRDV Sky Village

The dialectic between articulation and distribution has continued into contemporary practice, culminating in two distinct approaches to design. The distribution of space is being accented as a diagrammatic approach to space. This deals with spatial blocks being pushed and pulled to create new formal typologies. OMA, MVRDV, and BIG are all are using these diagrams to drive their projects. Rem Koolhaas championed this approach in his essays on Junkspace and the Generic City, as well as early projects for Parc de la Villette and the Paris Library. This is diametrically opposed to the intricate patterning that articulation is proposing. Architects like Zaha, Gehry, and Asymptote have used new technologies to develop a language of articulation. Patrick Schumacher argues that articulation is better suited than distribution to deal with the complexity of current architectural projects. These two methods clearly drive towards different goals, with the simple diagrams of distribution being opposed to the complexity of the articulation.

pattern of articulation; DSR, Broad Museum

While articulation and distribution are currently working against each other they are at the same time erasing other dualisms, most notably form versus function. The pixilated forms that result from distribution diagram no longer follow the strict edict of form follows function. Instead they work to develop families of forms for multiple functional possibilities. And articulated facades are creating formal expression of functional parameters such as daylight exposure, path mapping, or privacy requirements. The blurring of form and function is allowed as this new level of architectural discourse emerges to the fore. It is similar to how previously the inside outside opposition was subsumed by the form function debate, with both formalists and functionalists using their methodologies to break down that boundary.

The game of this or that is misguided. It is clear that soon another level of discourse will emerge and with it a new dualism perhaps (maybe continuous versus discreet). But it is possible to short circuit this process and begin blurring these two aspects of design. Both articulation and distribution are using data and algorithms to organize spaces. But they do this at separate scales, creating gap between the two. Lars Spuybroek suggests that these two aspects of spatial formation can be combined. Spuybroek specifically tries to address the issue of the surface limitations of computational design. He uses John Ruskin’s description of the Matterhorn to show how an object can layer itself and creates a link between its massing and texture. This would be an example of what Jesse Reiser calls “and and and”. Reiser also suggests that “and and and” moves architecture beyond semiotic mannerisms, which both the diagrams of distribution and the patterning of articulation tend toward.

articulation & distribution;
Ernst Haeckel, Branching Surface

Beyond the example of the mountain in Ruskin, Phillip Ball in “The Self Made Tapestry” points to both morphogenetic and morphodynamic systems that simultaneously create both articulation and distribution. These are techniques which designers now have at their disposal. They are processes of the “and and and,” using feedback, iteration, and complexity to develop open ended designs. It breaks down the traditional hierarchy of architectural space. Articulation and distribution are no longer read as background or foreground. Instead they operate on each other, creating novel configurations. They become anexact and open to multiple possibilities which depend on the specific circumstances. This produces space that is no longer a sign or signifier, but that acts directly. It shifts from a dialectical architecture that searches for “truth” to an architecture of immediacy that is based on experience.


BALL, Philip The Self Made Tapestry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)
KOOLHAAS, Rem S,M,L,LX (New York: Monicelli Press, 1995)
REISER, Jesse & Nanako Umemoto Atlas of Novel Tectonics (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006)
SCHUMACHER, Patrik “Parametricism and the Autopoiesis of Architecture” (lecture, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, November 17, 2011)
SPUYBROEK, Lars “The Sympathy of Things: Ruskin and the Ecology of Design” (lecture, Architectural Association, London, UK, November 29, 2011)