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This Code-Generated Architecture Can Only Exist On Paper

Utopian architecture meets generative design in Miguel Nóbrega’s illustrations, which offer surprising lessons on failure and innovation.

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Some of the most insane architecture has never existed outside of a sketch or rendering. Take the entire avant-garde Archigram movement or Paolo Soleri’s Arcologies—they propose utopian design with zero plausibility for construction. Artist Miguel Nóbrega operates in a similar way but his craft centers around code—not an architect—as the creative genius.

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To produce his Possible Structures, Plausible Spaces, and Potential Sculptures series of illustrations, Nóbrega built a program that randomly draws architectural elements like walls, floors, columns, and stairs and feeds the data into a CNC machine fitted with colored markers. They look like axionometric blueprints, but are nothing more than a jigsaw of geometric forms.

Generative design and utopian architecture don’t initially seem like bedfellows, but Nóbrega draws a keen parallel.

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“I believe these two aspects connect by two ideas: potentiality and failure,” he says. “Potentiality is embedded in both utopian architecture and in the randomness of an algorithm. Before running my algorithm (or my program), I have no idea what composition will come out of it. There are infinite possibilities inside the program, but they are not visible by just looking at the code. The composition needs to become concrete to be perceived, however, once it’s materialized it detaches from its universe of possibilities, and inevitably brings up the ‘failure’ aspect of the work. The same thing happens in utopian modern architecture, once a building is materialized it will inevitably fail (as a) utopia. I strongly believe in failure to achieve innovation. Since we are kids we learn that to fail is something intrinsically bad. That is a very unproductive, especially in creative fields.”

The drawings are alluring and easy to get lost in—they’re a pretty picture, which is what “visionary architecture” is, when you remove the conceptual underpinnings.

“I don’t expect people to see in the drawings everything that I’m talking about here,” Nóbrega says. “I actually really like when people enjoy the drawings not knowing about the process, and in analyzing the precision and imprecision in the drawings they start to question themselves if it was made by man or machine. I wonder if this will lead them to think about authorship and artist-machine collaboration.”

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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