Combinatorial Commons - Article by Jose Sanchez
Edited by Skylar Tibbits

We are now on the brink of a new era in construction – that of autonomous assembly. For some time, the widespread adoption of robotic and digital fabrication technologies has made it possible for architects and academic researchers to design non-standard, highly customised structures. These technologies have largely been limited by scalability, focusing mainly on top-down, bespoke fabrication projects, such as experimental pavilions and structures. Autonomous assembly and bottom-up construction techniques hold the promise of greater scalability, adaptability and potentially evolved design possibilities. By capitalising on the advances made in swarm robotics, the collective construction of the animal/insect kingdom, and advances in physical computational, programmable materials or self-assembly, architects and designers are now able to build from the bottom up. This issue presents future scenarios of autonomous assembly by highlighting the viability of decentralised, collective assembly systems, demonstrating the potential to deliver reconfigurable and adaptive solutions.

Contributors include: Marcelo Coelho, Andong Liu, Robin Meier, Kieran Murphy and Heinrich Jaeger, Radhika Nagpal and Kirstin Petersen, and Zorana Zeravcic.

Featured architects: Aranda\Lasch, Arup, Philippe Block, Gramazio Kohler Architects, Ibañez Kim, Achim Menges, Caitlin Mueller, Jose Sanchez, Athina Papadopoulou and Jared Laucks, and Skylar Tibbits.

Massive Re-Patterning of the Urban Landscape- Article by Jose Sanchez

Edited by Antoine Picon & Wendy W Fok

"The eventual collective iteration of design alternatives could be seen as a new kind of distributed urbanism based on participation and emergence, one in which users can re-pattern the urban landscape based on new energy narratives and ecological awareness. This model proposes an alternative to master planning and centralized mechanisms of control by developing a tool and a digital infrastructure to establish a dialogue across a city that consistently grows and is developed in spite of architects."

Combinatorial design: Non-parametric computational design strategies

This paper outlines a framework and conceptualization of combinatorial design. Combinatorial design is a term coined to describe non-parametric design strategies that focus on the permutation, combination and patterning of discrete units. These design strategies differ substantially from parametric design strategies as they do not operate under continuous number evaluations, intervals or ratios but rather finite discrete sets. The conceptualization of this terms and the differences with other design strategies are portrayed by the work done in the last 3 years of research at University of Southern California under the Polyomino agenda. The work conducted together with students has studies the use of discrete sets and combinatorial strategies within virtual reality environments to allow for an enhanced decision making process, one in which human intuition is coupled to algorithmic intelligence. The work of the research unit has been sponsored and tested by the company Stratays for an ongoing research on crowd-sourced design.


Temporal and Spatial Combinatorics in Games for Design
ACADIA 2015 - Winner of the best paper award

This paper will outline the techniques and language that games use to give design agency to a player. By identifying the discrete combinatorial ontology of games, as opposed to a continuous post-rationalistic approach from general design tools, we hope to develop a framework for the design of ‘games for design’, or sandboxes that allow players to develop an output that is unexpected to the game developer and contingent to a player. This research has been the foundation for the development of Block’hood, a city-building video game that explores ideas of ecology and generative urbanism.


BLOCK’HOOD – Developing an Architectural Simulation Video Game

This paper outlines the conception and goals of the video game Block’hood, an interactive realtime simulation that attempts to bridge the gap between the digital and the physical. The paper presents the analysis of contemporary sand-box games such as ‘Minecraft’, ‘Simcity’, ‘Factorio’ and ‘Dwarf Fortress’ to establish a design framework. By understanding the video game medium as a real-time distributed crowdsourced simulation, these games aim to provide a divergent set of strategies and goals mainly defined by the users themselves, and do not impose an overarching narrative or bias. They also allow data collected from the user's gameplay to speak for itself, allowing us to understand the ambitions and strategies behind a larger collective crowd.


Bloom by Jose Sanchez and Alisa Andrasek

This paper presents the Bloom project commissioned by the Mayor of London, design and developed by Jose Sanchez and Alisa Andrasek within The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL for the 2012 London Olympics. The project connects ideas of modular discrete assembly with game mechanics, generating an interactive installation that changes and grows by the engagement of the public. The project was presented in 3 locations throughout the Olympics demonstrating the adaptability and the contingent formations that the public could generate with the project.


POST-CAPITALIST DESIGN: Design in the Age of Access

‘The coming together of the Communications Internet with the fledgling Energy Internet and the Logistics Internet in a seamless twenty-first-century intelligent infrastructure - the Internet of Things (IoT) - is giving rise to a Third Industrial Revolution. The Internet of Things is already boosting productivity to the point where the marginal cost of producing many goods and services is nearly zero, making them practically free. The result is corporate profits are beginning to dry up, property rights are weakening, and an economy based on scarcity is slowly giving away to an economy of abundance.’ (Rifkin 2014)


Polyomino – Reconsidering Serial Repetition in Combinatorics. 

Since the introduction of non-standard design to the field of architecture, we have seen a diminishing interest in the work of serialized units as a design strategy. On the contrary, every building block has become different as enabled by digital fabrication technologies and CNC manufacturing. In the advent of the current energy crisis, and technologies of distribution that allow crowdsourcing as a design strategy, the ‘Polyomino’ project attempts to re-consider serial repetition through a framework of combinatorics and graph theory, one in which we consider geometry as a data structure for a plethora of design



While parametrics and form finding techniques focus on design as an idea of ‘search’, it is inevitable to wonder if the field is becoming stagnated, converging on similar ‘solutions’ in an ever-shrinking design search-space. Initiatives like Minecraft, coming from video game design, re-open the creative desires of players by providing a rigorous algorithmic set of rules and a fully open world coupling algorithmic design and intuition; what J.C.R. Licklider would call ‘Man-Computer symbiosis’. (J. C. Licklider 1960)
This paper presents how game mechanics suggest a radically different ethos for computational design thinking. It presents the Bloom project, commissioned for the London Olympics in 2012, which combines the use of industrially produced identical components with game mechanics. This project breaks the idea of serialized outcomes and suggests that within the search space of possible formations, there are unforeseeable assemblies and creative outcomes.
The project has become a new research unit at The Bartlett, UCL, coupling notions of digital modular materials and crowd-farming for assembly, which positions ‘gaming’ as a design
heuristics to open the field of architectural design.


Hacklikes, weird interactions between things.
Emerging Design + Technology

In this paper, I would develop a framework for the use of gaming as a design heuristics. The paper will focus on the explanation and conceptualization of ‘Hacklikes’, a subbranch of ‘Roguelike’ games that focus on procedural content generation and complex interactions between world elements. Such genre has produced big games like Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress, but the algorithmic design culture surrounding them deserves specific attention. In this paper I will argue that games such as Dwarf Fortress can be considered a ‘Hacklike Sandbox’ with a strong influence of Object Oriented Culture, as a Philosophical branch (Object Oriented Ontology) and as a programming paradigm (Object Oriented Programming).Finally, I will argue that if we consider using a denomination like Object Oriented Design, games with parallel poli-performative simulations such as Dwarf Fortress, become a reference of what the future of the discipline could look like.