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  Cornell University

Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning

Cornell in Rome Lecture Series: Philippe Morel

For the first of the lecture series the faculty at Cornell in Rome invited Philippe Morel, the cofounder of EZCT, the CEO of a 3D printing company, and an architectural theorist. From the beginning of the lecture it was obvious he wasn’t your typical architect. Citing Descartes and La Grange as early challengers to standard ways of thinking and making, Morel was aiming to convey to us students something grander than formalist, humanist or mechanistic ways of understanding and designing. In fact he brought into question the very boundaries of design itself. Morel was primarily interested in the prescription of codes and mathematical equations as a way of fundamentally describing everything around us.

Philippe Morel mid-lecture
Photo by Andy Chen

He discussed the evolution of thought from rationalism to computationalism. From nature we observed geometries and from geometries, mechanisms, and from mechanisms, algebra. With every successive step and evolution of thought he explained that it became a more universal way of describing laws, information, and embedded code. From algebra evolved the algorithm and from there we have the program or software.

His work investigated how we might mine data or information from a site, and use it with a mathematical function to create an architecture that responded to this data in ways a human unaided by machine might not have conceived of. This idea of a computer generated architecture brought into the larger question of architectural or artificial intelligence. Could a computer or program provide us with a design or information that is completely separate from human influence?

How would we even begin to understand such an architecture, and how would the definition of architecture and creation evolve with not only these new tools, but this new type of intelligence?

Cornell professors engaging with the lecturer
Photo by Andy Chen

He had quoted a compelling analogy which I will paraphrase here: if there are smells that a dog can smell but we cannot, and sounds that exist but we cannot hear, can’t we also rationalize that there are thoughts we cannot think? And so I leave you with these questions – what does it mean for us to create something that can create beyond our own abilities and understanding? Where does that leave the human in the role of not only design, but being?

I’m excited to see what other lecturers the faculty here has in store for us.


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