Diana Cristobal Olave, *24

School of Architecture

Algorithmic Drawings: Architecture, Computers, and the Aesthetics of Exhaustivity under Iberian Developmentalism (1953-1977)



This dissertation follows the rise and decline of what I call “algorithmic drawing” under Iberian developmentalism—a period when the fascist regimes of Spain and Portugal sought to open their economies to Western democracies while also retaining ideological control of their cultural production, including architecture. This term is used to understand a series of affinities between architecture drawing techniques and techno-science, fueled by the introduction of computer technologies. It refers to a form of inscription practice that depicted abstract structures of interconnected nodes and links: flowcharts, graphs, and network diagrams that, acting as “boundary objects” between disparate actors and disciplines, built a new form of evidentiary regime for architecture. Confronted to the challenges of Franquista Spain, architects used algorithms as a compensatory mechanism for idiosyncratic and personal decisions, claiming moral and ethical imperatives that opposed to the authoritarian aspects of the Regime. Yet, I argue that this withdrawal of human decision-making was only aspirational. Instead, I characterize algorithmic drawings as exhaustive, and I read the architects’ fascination
to develop complete sets of possibilities as a strong urge for control.

The institutional archives studied in this dissertation unearth delirious and repetitive exercises that undermined the focus on efficiency and optimization that can be found in some of the author’s own writings, as well as the technophile rhetoric on political and aesthetic neutrality that characterized governmental claims. Examples include the mathematical graphs drawn by Javier Segui, that decomposed extensive lists of human activities and housing layouts to find correspondences between them. The housing meshes drawn by Rafael Leoz, that used combinatorics as a means to find “infinite” variations of housing forms. Constantinos Doxiadis’ infrastructural networks, that obsessively computed alternative ways of interconnecting cities and highways. And Christopher Alexander’ rough computer-aided patterns, that combined graph theory with low-resolution hand-made diagrams as a means to provide contingency, variability, and adaptability within a step-by-step computer-aided methodology.

I demonstrate that what was guiding this reform impulse—that is, this increased interest in the computer—was less a concern with efficiency and certainty, like other historiographies have argued elsewhere, than an articulated faith in the ethics and morals of an exhaustive combinatorial logic. Whilst exhaustion or fatigue are missing from techno-scientific approaches to architecture previous to computation, algorithmic drawings made exhaustive methodologies workable and visible. Exhaustion—unlike efficiency or optimization—was time-consuming and costing; yet, it was considered worthy because it promised variability within a repetitive step-bystep process. Enumerations, series, permutations and combinations, represented via algorithmic drawings, provided architects with a new vocabulary of “variations,” “alternatives,” and “choices” that promised to express change within a step-by-step recurring methodology.


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