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Course Title: The Philosophy of Materials and Structures.

Course Type: Lecture.


Instructor: Manuel DeLanda.
Course Description:
This lecture series introduces students to the basic philosophical concepts needed
to understand contemporary science. Most of the examples and case studies discussed
in class come from two elds that are intimately connected with architecture: structural
engineering and materials science and engineering. But in addition, the class deals
with the philosophical underpinnings of two other elds, one which has been the
backbone of science since its inception, mathematics, and the other which has
revolutionized mathematical models by setting them into motion: computer simulation.
Pedagogic Objectives:
The course aims at helping students integrate the insights from science and
mathematics into contemporary architectural thinking:
1) Approaching philosophically the concept of a load-bearing structure to allow
students to go beyond routine equations and think about concepts like stress and strain,
the distribution and transmission of forces, and the articulation of matter and energy in
architectonic structures.
2) Laying out the conceptual basis of the relatively young eld of material science
and engineering, as well as discussing the novel materials that are being designed
today, such as shape-memory alloys or nanotubes, materials that have already become
part of the palette of the contemporary architectural artist.
3) Revealing the deep structure of mathematics, the aspect of it that is lost in the
mechanical learning and solving of equations, such as the underlying connections
between topology, projective geometry, and euclidean geometry, to give the architect a
solid foundation for a philosophy of space. Mathematics today also forms the basis of
design technology, from NURBS surfaces, dynamic particles, and meta-balls. Learning
the history behind these virtual materials can help architects get a better grasp of the
nature of their tools.

Completion Requirements:
Students are required to write a 5-10 page essay on one of the themes discussed
during the semester
Class 1. Introduction: Three Reasoning Styles from Science.
This lecture gives an introduction to the theory of the genesis of material form in
nature. There are three explanatory strategies from science that are necessary to
understand morphogenesis: intensive thinking, topological thinking, and population
thinking. The rst comes from thermodynamics and is based on the distinction between
extensive (or spatial) properties and intensive properties (stress, temperature,
pressure). The second comes from geometry, and is founded on the distinction between
metric spaces, in which length, area, and volume are key concepts, and non-metric
spaces, in which those concepts become irrelevant. The third comes from evolutionary
biology, and deals with the role of populations and variation in the generation of organic
form.
Required readings for the discussion:
On Intensive Thinking:
Eric Schneider and Dorion Sagan. Into the Cold.
Chapter Five: Nature Abhors a Gradient.
On Topological Thinking.
Manuel DeLanda. Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy.
Chapter One: The Mathematics of the Virtual.
On Population Thinking:
Richard Dawkins. The Blind Watchmaker.
Chapter Four: Making Tracks Through Animal Space.
Class 2. Social History of Science.
The development of science does not occur in a social vacuum, so before
proceeding to apply the three reasoning styles to specic case studies, the cultural
context of scientic practice must be discussed. Social factors like legitimacy and
prestige have affected the focus and allocation of resources among different elds.
Materials science, for example, was starved of nancial and human resources until the
end of WW2, so it developed at a much slower rate than more prestigious elds like
astronomy. In addition, the interaction with non-scientic discourses (like religion) has
affected the conceptualization of basic principles. Thus, the concept of an eternal and
immutable law of nature is like a theological fossil from another era. But the referent of
the concept, the immanent patterns of being and becoming that shape the world, are
real, so this class introduces the proper conceptualization of these patterns, using as
examples the patterns of deformation that different materials exhibit when bearing loads
in compression and tension.
Required readings for the discussion:
The Materials Revolution. Edited by Tom Forrester.
Chapter Four: Cyril Stanley Smith. Materials in History and Society.
James Edward Gordon. The Science of Structures and Materials.
Chapter One: The Language of Strength.
Class 3. Emergent Properties and the History of Materials.
From ancient times, artisans have known that novel material properties can be
obtained by carefully mixing different types of matter: different metals in the right
proportions to create alloys like bronze, or heterogenous mixtures of glue and grit to
create objects like straw bricks. The novel properties exhibited by these mixtures have
received different names. Buckminster Fuller called them synergistic (using alloys as his
main example) but a more common name is that of emergent properties. The concept of
emergence is crucial in the philosophy of science because it blocks any attempt at
reductionism, as when physicists say that all we are is a cloud of subatomic particles. In
reality, molecules cannot be reduced to atoms, biological cells to molecules, organisms
to cells, or social structures to individuals. Each one of these entities has properties that
emerge from the interactions of components and that cannot be reduced to those
components. In this class the concept of emergence is applied to the four classes of
materials that have shaped human history: crystalline metals, glassy ceramics,
composites like concrete or ber glass, and polymers like rubber or plastics.
Required readings for the discussion:
Manuel DeLanda. Emergence, Causality, and Realism.
In Architectural Theory Review. Vol. 17, Number 1, April 2012.
Ivan Damato. Stuff: The Materials the World Is Made Of.
Introduction: Crystals, Glasses, Composites, and Polymers in History.
Class 4. The Importance of Scale.
Many load-bearing structures, from tall buildings to long suspension bridges, must
be tested in wind tunnels as scaled-down prototypes prior to actual construction. The
discipline of Dimensional Analysis studies how this scaling must be performed for the
experiment to yield correct results. In particular, the entire situation structure-plus-air
must be scaled down, so that the prototypes are both geometrically and dynamically
similar. The same is true for the design of submarines, ships, planes and other
structures that move through a liquid or gas medium. And similarly for living creatures.
Dimensional Analysis can also be useful when developing computer simulations of load-
bearing structures, such as in the use of Genetic Algorithms to evolve complex designs.
In the tradition of Frei Otto, virtual evolution can be used as a form-nding technique,
but the forms that are discovered must be tested for their tness in terms of their
structural integrity, aesthetic appeal, and functionality. Coupling genetic algorithms with
nite-element analysis, neural nets, and multi-agent systems can provide the necessary
measures of tness along these three dimensions.
Required readings for the discussion:
Thomas McMahon and John Bonner. On Size and Life.
Chapter Three: The Physics of Dimensions.

Creative Evolutionary Systems. Edited by Peter Bentley.
Chapter Twelve. Peter Von Buelow: Using Evolutionary Algorithms To Aid
Designers of Architectural Structures.
Class 5. Surfaces and Fractures.
Many materials derive their properties from their surface-to-bulk ratio. This is the
case, for example, of sponges. But all materials, solid and liquid, have surfaces that
behave differently than their bulk, possessing a specic surface tension and surface
energy. Fractures in architectonic structures are an example of these special surfaces:
they grow by adding fresh surface using the energy of deformation possessed by all
load-bearing structures. The discovery that there is a critical crack length beyond which
fractures grow explosively, and that this critical length is independent of scale, explains
why there are limits to the scale of structures of different types. This class explores the
eld of fracture dynamics and the role of crack stopping mechanisms in the design of
tougher materials.
Required readings for the discussion:
James Edward Gordon. The Science of Structures and Materials.
Chapter 4: Tensile Strength and Tensile Failure.
Class 6. Philosophy of Mathematics 1: Dynamical Systems.
The previous lectures illustrated the use of intensive and population thinking to
solve problems posed by load-bearing structures. This class introduces some of the
basic concepts used in the third reasoning style needed in the study of morphogenesis:
topological thinking. It discusses the notions of phase space, the space of possible
states for a dynamical system, and the point, cyclic, and chaotic singularities that
structure phase space. These abstract spaces are used in physics, chemistry, and
biology to model the possibility spaces associated with tendencies and capacities.
Unlike properties, which are always actual, tendencies and capacities can be real but
not actual if they are not currently manifested or exercised. In this potential or virtual
state they are nevertheless not vague or ill-dened because a space of possibilities can
have a denite mathematical structure.
Required readings for the discussion:
Ralph Abraham. Dynamics: The Geometry of Behavior.
Part One. Chapter One: Basic Concepts of Dynamics.
Class 7. Biomimetics 1: Bone and Muscle as Building Materials.
While some materials of organic origin, such as wood, have long been used to
create load-bearing structures, there are many other lessons to be learned from the
complex use of materials in biological structures. Vertebrates, for example, make a
brilliant use of bone to bear loads in compression and muscle for loads in tension. What
lessons can be derived from the study of organic strategies for the creation of
structures? This is the central question in the new eld of biomimetics. After examining
bone and muscle, and the interface materials tendon and cartilage, the design principles
are applied to one case study, smart concrete, in which the traditional material is
combined with piezo-electric crystals and shape-memory alloys in an attempt to
reproduce some biological capacities, such as self-healing.
Required readings for the discussion:
James Edward Gordon. The Science of Structures and Materials.
Chapter Six: Animal Soft Tissues.
Ivan Damato. Stuff: The Materials the World Is Made Of.
Chapter Five: Biomimetic Materials.
Class 8. Biomimetics 2: Nanotechnology.
The potential for designing new materials from the bottom-up by the detailed
manipulation of atoms and molecules, is one of the promises of the new eld of
nanotechnology. Today this eld is split into two areas: the design and production of
nano-materials like buckyballs and carbon nanotubes, and the more speculative pursuit
of programmable matter, that is, materials made entirely out of molecular-size
computers. The justication that such a program can be carried out involved pointing
out that within each of our cells such programmable molecular machines already exist
(ribosomes), a fact that makes this branch of nanotechnology a form of biomimetics.
Required readings for the discussion:
Eric Drexler. Engines of Creation. The Coming Era of Nanotechnology.
Chapter One: Engines of Construction.
Class 9. Philosophy of Mathematics 2: The Geometry of Space.
The second class dealing with formal issues will introduce students to the way in
which the different geometries that have been created by mathematicians are related to
one another by their symmetry characteristics. Topology becomes Differential geometry
by losing some symmetry, which in turn becomes Projective geometry by a further loss
of symmetry, all the way down to Euclidean geometry. Symmetry-breaking cascades like
this are essential not only for a proper understanding of the philosophy of space, but
also in contemporary cosmology and chemistry. In these elds, symmetry concepts are
the means to apply topological thinking to understand the structure of the possibility
spaces associated with the four forms of energy (and the evolution of the cosmos) and
with the distribution of electrons around the atomic nucleus, as part of the explanation of
the rhythms of the Periodic Table of the elements.
Required readings for the discussion:
Ian Stewart and Martin Golubitsky. Fearful Symmetry.
Chapter Two: What is Symmetry?.
Chapter Six: The Universe and Everything.
Class 10. Virtual Reality.
A variety of simulated materials have been made available to designers by digital
computers. There are several ways to model with solids, from humble polygons to
complex NURBS. Meta-balls, in turn, are ideal for the design of liquid surfaces. Particles
and their virtual physics, are needed to create gases, plasmas, and to model the
behavior of pulverized solids. These modeling resources, as well as rendering
techniques like ray-tracing, are linked to the history of science in a way that can be
easily understood using the concepts introduced in the previous class. These virtual
materials will be discussed to nish the semester on a practical note: how best to take
advantage of CAD for architectural design.