Currently reading : Fibrous House

Fibrous House

17 March 2014

Author : helenlevin


The built environment contrasts so heavily with biological growth, even though buildings and plants both come out of the ground. Do you ever look around and wonder why anyone even started building, disrupting inherent order? Yet our contemporary sheltering needs have gotten quite sophisticated, and require systemic separation from the elements. What if we could have shelters with integrated systems, generated through biological influence? Architectural explorations derived from biological algorithms begin to connect us back to the earth visually, while their experiential effect is not yet known.


Roland Snooks’ work extracts information from biological systems to create architectural systems. He focuses on the complex swarm algorithm and its stigmergy: when a high population of individual agents intuitively move together, such as birds flocking in perfect separation or schools of fish cohesively traveling. The flocking agents are simulated through algorithms written in programming languages such as Processing and Python. The code is finessed until outcomes resemble the patterns found in nature. The nonhierarchical agents continuously communicate and learn from each other, nonlinear feedback loops occur, and when the agents are assigned geometry, such as a strand in the Fibrous House, architectural form emerges.

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Traditional architectural design occurs linearly through an analysis of the intended use of the building, form emerging out of that analysis, architectural systems then employed to that form. Snooks prioritizes the “agency of architectural elements, not agency of use” and the resulting architectural proposals invoke frozen natural growth, with just enough thickness and interior space to use, with a potentially sublime spatial effect.

The strand-agent architectural proposals excite through their novel tectonics and process, new forms resulting from new design methodologies. A building is composed of more than just an interior and exterior, there are systems snaking through every wall cavity, why not reject the old system of “predetermined hierarchies” and engage in a process looking to find “how hierarchies emerge…Form, structure, ornament and surface negotiated between one piece of geometry.”


One can wonder how literally to interpret Snook’s expectations of strand-derived architectural systems, beyond the aesthetic applications. I want to see the systems as having been, from birth, perfectly coordinated with each other. I mean this in the sense that since the feedback-loop-generative process learns as it grows, it redefines its needs and geometry with each generation to a harmonious final solution. As he writes, the conglomeration exists as “an ecology of interactions rather than as a sequential hierarchy.” This is in contrast to the current building practice of coordination between architect, engineer and builder that typically occurs after the architectural design is made. Where the mechanical systems typically bear little to no relationship to the intent of the architecture, the strand agents could potentially integrate and coordinate the entirety of systems into the architecture at once: negotiated when the swarm of strands concurrently establishes every individual relationship and the systemic relationship, while simultaneously generating form. The resulting visible differences in the design of the building are merely between “surface and strand,” surface being a high population of distributed strands, strands being an independently necessary agent, creating the architecture together. “Strands within fibrous assemblages bundle and weave to form surfaces, while surfaces delaminate into strands.”




The Fibrous House design was completed in a workshop at Texas A&M University with a collaborative group of designers and fabricators. I like this part of the Fibrous House’s description: “the project lies somewhere between the natural fibers of plants and the tissue of flesh – not metaphorical but intentionally disquieting.” The project promises to build anxiety and worry into its spatial effect.

At home you may like to surround yourself with materials, colors and objects that comfort you, but when you visit someone else’s home, their decorative choices might challenge your taste. In the Fibrous House, the materiality of the strands mimicking the internal muscle or skin structure only seen when a body is cut open, could provide insurmountable challenge in terms of domestic comfort. The inhabitant must learn not to feel anxiety or worry from the house, in realizing the intelligence of the form and the strand system working together to make the functioning whole.

On the other hand, the Fibrous House dweller, living in an organic form mimicking flesh, might actually be intuitively comforted by the architecture. Inhabiting biological forms generated in a harmonious process promises an inherent spatial harmony. Here, the form and material of the domestic living space begins to mimic videos of the womb experience, protectively housed, a comforting fantasy. Entering into your Fibrous House you are once again shielded from the horrors of the world as you were during your physical incubation, perhaps? Or, the feeling that you are entering into an additional external layer of yourself, Matroyshka doll-ing into your living space, recognizing a fractal, universal existence.

The limits of the domestic application of this type of architecture currently lie both in constructability and in demand. Biologically derived architectural propositions present a seemingly more terrestrially harmonious approach to living, even though there remains a continuous contradiction between the technology needed to both derive and regenerate biological form and the idea of the natural synergy it promises.

The Fibrous House is “a speculative project in collaboration with the Mitchell Lab (@ Texas A&M), Directed by Gabriel Esquivel.
Project Team: Ryan Wilson, Drew Busmire, Jacob Patapoff, Emily Knapp, Hong Bea Yang, Jose Padilla, Nick Gutierrez. Ashley Ricketson.
Fabrication Team: Jorge Cruz (Project Manager), Adrian Martinez, Cody May.”




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