Tornado III

photo credit: ‘Tornado III’ via Fickr user Lethbridge_man’s

Massive Customization: preventative architectural parameters

Its a gray day & perhaps one to be mindful of the one topic that deserves to come before the rebuilding of environments that have encountered extraordinary destruction through both human initiated (repurcussions of politics / economics / terrorism) & natural forces (climatic)… that of preventative measures.

I believe now is the time for the architectural profession to contemplate not only the built environment’s ability stand resistent to great forces of nature, but rather to intervene. Specifically– consider the potential of parametric modeling processes to reach far beyond the custom material textures & differentiated facade paneling systems of recent years. How might incredible computing power and capacity for customization of form respond with a greater magnitude– i.e. to alter the path of tornadoes from civilized areas or to react to spatial parameters of diseases such as Lyme disease which is currently proliferating throughout the northeast coast of the US.  By many accounts, the multi-system nature of the disease on the human body is so complex that by some arguments its incurable. Instead of turning to the medical realm to address, what are the architectural parameters to prevent it?  Even the clouds in our skies are now under consideration by scientists as design means to lessening the effects of global warming…

The architectural profession it seems has widened its application of design involving themselves on increasingly larger scales–from buildings to complexes to urban planning and engagement with landscape scales to the most recent buzz word– infrastructure. Let us now consider what seems to be the next wider realm–extreme climatic forces. When a tornado strikes a populated area, it is clear the tornado’s behavior is related to its interaction with architecture. With behavioral modeling exploring a range of possibilities in time, what potential emerges for architecture to take form in peripheral zones of human habitation to encounter and redirect catastrophic forces.


Instead of reinforcement on the individual scale (tornado resistant housing), might design formations have a greater impact on a network (community / regional) scale?

What is the cost of a tornado run wild over a town? Warning systems and emergency response? Rebuilding…No matter how environmentally friendly the

the original materiality, what is the footprint of a town needing to rebuild nearly in its entirety?  Perhaps its time the architect should think larger…much larger.


Tornadoes alone (concentrated mostly in a few US states) account for $1.1 Billion in damages & over 80 deaths per year in the US (source: NOAA)


With the word ‘infrastructure’ saturated in architectural speculation lately, I think its important that we re-examine what the word now stands for– not merely bridges, highways, train bus & airport terminals. What are our emerging climatic infrastructure needs?   What are the fabrication possibilities of a massive earth element of a calculated form?


In our engagement with nature, it seems our best defense is nature itself.  With the technological capacity to study complexity… it is natural systems which are taking our spatial organization studies to new levels of understanding… in some cases taking phenomena that happen on micro scales in nature and utilizing them for building scale approaches of structure & skin, etc.  In other cases, the opportunity to design differentiated structures which significantly magnify the effect via the intended utilization of natural forces (i.e. a snow or wind fence’s influence on a greater landscape).


Designing intervening structures with nature is certainly nothing new… we perhaps just need to think further.


“Humankind is the most powerful changer of the Earth’s surface. The procedures of occupation and connection are controlled, altered, influenced and triggered by human kind.”

from Frei Otto Occupying and Connecting Thoughts on Territories and Spheres of Influence with Particular Reference to Human Settlement


post by LaN Monika Wittig  (Sept 11.2009)


references / related articles of interest:

(Frei Otto) Occupying and Connecting: Thoughts on Territories and Spheres of Influence with Particular Reference to Human Settlement

NOAA  Economics of Tornado Data


Bacteria make computers look like pocket calculators