AA Visiting School Shanghai 2014 -

Urban Formation


Figure 1: Experiments using 'Marching Cube Algorithm: Space Frames- RJ

Figure 1: Experiments using 'Marching Cube Algorithm: Space Frames- RJ

Figure 2: Experiments using 'Marching Cube Algorithm: Networks - RJ

Figure 2: Experiments using 'Marching Cube Algorithm: Networks - RJ

Figure 3: Experiments using 'Marching Cube Algorithm: Centroid Particles moving VS changing the viscosity of the mesh - RJ

Figure 3: Experiments using 'Marching Cube Algorithm: Centroid Particles moving VS changing the viscosity of the mesh - RJ

PROJECT | AA Visiting School Shanghai

PLACE | Shanghai

ROLE | Tutor

STUDENTS | Burt Dongning HUANG | Sima OKLAH | Elizabeth Haitian WANG | Grace Ke YAN Jo COOK | Denise BECHIS | Ana CASTAINGTS | ZHANG Lipei | MA Tengyuan


DATE | 2014

MATERIALS | Urban Components

Metabolic Para-City


We are on the breach of a new industrial revolution. The use of computer simulation and digital fabrication in design has opened doors for novel means of thinking and making. Designers now have the ability to generate complex geometries, and accurately mass- customizes unique components, countering the monotony and lack of contextual relevance that is prevalent in modern urban-scapes.

Illuminated by notions of mass customisation and intelligent material response, while drawing precedent from natural systems to perceive scale-less prototypes of future environments, designers are envisioning artefacts that adapt, perform, and behave to better the quality of life for their inhabitants. Taking a position that goes beyond the mundane formalisation of pragmatic functions, to envision hedonistic urban rehabilitation interventions.

The ideal of a heterogeneous cityscape, freed from top down division of its typologies, becomes an interesting subject to research under this light. Given that we can now customise the building parts of a small prototype, an interior of a store, a house or even a skyscraper, then why not a city?


The unit will mainly make use of the ‘Marching Cube’ algorithm as a way to form diverse and contextually driven heterogeneous habitation units within the fabric of the city.

We will use Rhinoceros in addition to its parametric plug-in Grasshopper, to get an introduction to generative design strategies. Working mainly with points, curves and surfaces, we will go over the various ways of how these geometries could yield to variable novel spaces. The unit will look into bottom-up simulations and means of self-assembly of interventions within inner city Shanghai.

Following an intensive introduction class, we will quickly turn to NudiBranch, a plugin-n for Grasshopper, which allows the user to run multiple dynamic physics simulations in addition to pre-set branching and network scripts. We will also look at ways of surface sub-division using Lunchbox, another plugin for Grasshopper, which when used with Weaverbird, allows for dividing mesh geometries into multiple components. We will quickly delve into VB Script to investigate the use of the ‘Marching Cube’ Algorithm to form fluid heterogeneous mesh formations around points curves and networks.


Metabolist architects have experimented with the notion of modular assemblies, compact living, diversity and high city density of what was then 'The Future of Cities'. They were designing for our current times, responding to advancements facilitated by industrialisation and envisioning not only buildings and urban environments, but lifestyles as well.

This overlap is perhaps best noted by the prophecy of the ‘urban nomad’, the ‘capsule home’ and the ‘plug-in city’. Metabolists were however, naively borrowing from natural systems to formalize these ideas by virtue of looking at these organic forms as an end product and superficially imitating these geometries while somewhat overlooking why these came to be.

With the current computational capacity that the new generation of designers have, we are able to parametric the notions of networks and nodes to better mimic the performative values of natural systems. By that we will envision a seamless city. A city composed of prefabricated parts that assemble to make a heterogeneous whole, larger than the sum of its parts. 

'Metabolic Para-City’ will look at bottom up means of formation evident in natural systems and attempt to simulate the behaviours of these systems at different scales. This unit intends to revisit some the notions proposed by metabolisms. Updating previous notions of the plug-in capsule system with a network of fluid parasitic habitation units that would morph around Shanghai. We will examine different typologies that make up the city of Shanghai, and rethink their composition and interaction through a seamless, generative workflow.