Darwinian Arena Prequel:

A page from Darwin’s Notebook B showing his sketch of the tree of life. Courtesy of the Complete Works of Darwin Online.

The following is the first set of conversations over a series of days between Ryan Ludwig (RL) and Ned Dodington (ND) regarding the upcoming series “Architecture in the Darwinian Arena.” Ryan has contact Animal Architecture proposing a series of discussions about current work and research into biologically informed design.

RL: Ned,
Thanks for your quick reply. In short my research has focused on recent developmental models of form as found in biology, ecology and genetics, and sought to juxtapose how complexity (or more specifically novel form) is generated in natural evolvable systems with the current architectural trends of parametric and algorithmically driven work.

I’ve attached a short description of an elective seminar class I taught this past spring semester which provides some insight on my current research interests as they relate to the content of your website as well as my writing style, however I would like to send you an additional more comprehensive writing sample once we’ve had a chance to speak directly.  I look forward to discussing further the possible opportunity of becoming a contributor and thanks for your time.


Proposal for Architecture in the Darwinian Arena: “What is Architecture inside the Darwinian Arena?
Response: The intent of this post series is to discuss and provoke conversation on the potential isomorphic relationships between the development of animal / biological form in nature and the generation of architectural form in the current contemporary moment…

…Through an investigation into a variety of evolutionary concepts / processes, focusing specifically on those most capable of facilitating productive novel form as observed in nature, an alternative reading of many contemporary architectural projects and practices may be developed.  Moving beyond metaphor / style / image / brand or simple performance optimization, this re-reading of formal generation within the biological and architectural regards them both as products in and of a specific historical, technological, social and environmental context dependent upon interaction and activation, not isolation and a priori conformity.  In a description of his 1989 proposal for the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Rem Koolhaas describes the building as a Darwinian arena of competition and mutual influence amongst its parts, an amalgamation of programs and spaces.  The building is not a static organization of individual elements, but rather an environment both active and evolving.

Before this larger question of methodology may be addressed a general understanding of basic evolutionary concepts / processes relevant in the development of biological form observed in nature must first be considered.”

ND: Ryan,
I’ve had little bit of time to look over your proposal and it sounds very thorough and exciting. I have just a few general concerns that you might already be able to answer or could be addressed I think with a shift here and there in the outline…or maybe even just the addition of a section somewhere… But, firstly let me say again that i think this will be very fruitful addition to Animal Architecture’s content. And here’s the big but:

I’m concerned about the jumping off point for your discussion. I would like to just point out the slippery humanism that precedes much of this conversation. Just for an example: in the DeLanda quote: “the relationship between the development of the animal / biological form in nature and the generation of architectural form in the current contemporary world” already sets up the two camps “Animal/Biological form” apart from the Architectural… as you know, something that Animal Architecture tries very hard, indeed is really the only thing, that AnArch, attempts to un-separate.

So… you can see my concern. I think this is a good topic and I’m thinking that this might be an even better arena for the two of us to banter it out a little. I would like you to consider a shift in your outline to account more for the introduction of theories of form-making derived from those animals who don’t have “theories of form-making.” As in, to take into account the kinds of minds and forces that create the termite mound, the beehive or birds nest and then turn it around and ask what would a human structure look like (something I find really troubling actually).

For me, that kind of logical or honest analysis of non-human structures creates a kind of mind-shift where it becomes really plausible to conceptualize people as animals. Then that opens a framework for the (horrifying!) conclusion that there may be more biological richness in prefab scaffolding houses and McMansion architecture than in a Morphosis, Tom Wiscombe or Diaz Alonzo work (or just to be prepared for such an outcome).

Some of my reaction might be based on your focus on form and contexts through which we create form, and not so much on the process of making which I’m beginning to see is so much more fruitful but let’s discuss more. Honestly the more I write you no the more I’m convinced that a kind of online dialog between you and myself might just be the way to do this…
Super start.


RL: Hi Ned,
I’ve given your comments much consideration and have the following thoughts. I agree with your general concern related to the separation of the animal/biological and the architectural into two distinct camps of form making and that this separation is contrary to the ambition of AnArch.  I think the beginning statement I posed was maybe not totally clear, because the aim of the conversation I was proposing was meant to uncover the potential of how these two worlds, that are typically regarded as separate, could in fact be related as different parts along the same continuum.  This is why the term isomorphic (taken from DeLanda’s use of the word in relationship to the genesis of from) becomes critical as it implies not that these two groups are different, but rather that they may both be guided, infused, directed, influenced, connected not by simple metaphor, analogy, or image, but rather as DeLanda describes a “deep, objective isomorphism… that isomorphism may be accounted for, in turn, by the physical processes common to the formation of actual [forms], the structure-generating processes which make all the different applications of those terms quite literal.”  In my view these underlying relationships, diagrams, schemas, abstract machines, processes, or whatever you want to call them, are what allow one to understand the animal/biological and the architectural as one commonality, and I think are ultimately the most interesting and productive aspects to think about.

I believe this is similar to what you’re referring to when you propose including “the kinds of minds and forces that create the termite mound, the beehive or birds nest” into the conversation.  I would agree, understanding these minds and forces are what may be most fruitful for the architect and a better understanding of how contemporary architects have, and in many more cases haven’t, taken advantage of them in a meaningful way.  In short I think you’re right in the sense that it would be better not to separate out the animal/biological from the architectural at all, but to rather present them from the onset as part of the same continuum of production, and it is true that my original statement did impose a kind of dialectical relationship between the two, however its broader intent was meant to understand how in fact they could (or perhaps should) be understood as two aspects of the same domain.

Regarding your second main point as to the emphasis on the relationship of Form and Context over the Process of making I think this is a very interesting point of conversation, however I’m not completely sure we’re in disagreement here, rather that the terms may not be totally in alignment.  In my mind the development of all animal/biological form is the result of an evolutionary process of making, and in almost all instances that I can think of this process is intimately informed by a specific context (whether it be at the scale of the cell, the organism or the species).  One interesting example that comes to mind is from an experiment conducted on two fleas who were actually clones of one another and who by extension had identical genomes.  One was subjected to an environment rich with the pheromones of a common predator and the other was put into an environment without such pheromones.  The first flea developed a thicker and more pronounced helmet like head with a large spike like tail, presumably for defense against the perceived predatory threat, the other did not (see attached image for your amusement).  The point being is that identical genomes exposed to different environmental stimuli may produce drastically varying formal outcomes which are in fact the product of a specific developmental process, but a process that is intrinsically linked to a specific context and history, and in reality only indirectly to a specific genome.  For me it’s impossible to really talk about either context or processes of form making with out the other.

It is here where I think it’s necessary for me to point out an important difference between where I think you and I are each coming from, which in some respects may be problematic, but I think may ultimately provide a more interesting and diverse discussion.  Much of the research, reading and thought I’ve done in the realm of the animal/biological as it may relate to architectural design concerns the evolution of biological form (or perhaps in the context of this conversation the better phrase to use is biological form(ation) of attributes, either physical, behavioral, or otherwise) as they relate to the organism itself.  Judging from AnArch and your recent comments it seems your focus of thought is more specifically on animal/biological constructions (as you mentioned the termite mound, the beehive or birds nest).  I do see these two territories as really being very much extensions of one another, but I think it’s important to recognize this difference as we continue our dialogue and to make sure the conversation is focused with this in mind.  As I mentioned in my previous email I’m totally in favor of making the posts into a conversation between the two of us which I think could be quite effective.


to be continued…

You May Also Like

Ecological Urbanism

"Ecological Urbanism considers the city with multiple instruments and with a worldview that is fluid in scale and disciplinary focus...The book brings together practitioners, theorists, economists, engineers, artists, policymakers, scientists, and public health."
Read More

Living in Expanded Times

We are living in unprecedented times. The arrival of the novel corona virus global pandemic in the early months of 2020 has essentially re-written how we live our daily lives - to say it lightly. There have been profound changes at every level of life. Firstly and most tragically is the loss of life. As of today’s writing, which is roughly 120 days into the US experience of Covid-19, over 460,000 deaths world wide.


Today on Treehugger we found a great story on Permaculture. Now, permaculture is something we here at Animal…
Read More


What was lost along with the disappearance of animal life in urban centers? Clearly there were problems with the 18th and 19th century modes of urban animal life but surely there were benefits. How can we learn from past periods of beastly cohabitation? I think it would makes us all the more human.
Read More

Follow-up: Interview with Rona Binay

Recently our founder and editor Ned Dodington was able to catch-up with Rona Binay, a young designer working in New York and the author of the previously posted project "Coexist." She was generous enough to share some of her thoughts with him. Here's what they discussed.