Essay: Topological architecture

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Architecture becomes with the development of technology more dependent on digital environments, and gets detached from the physical tactility of paper. The process of digitalization in architecture follows the principles of coding and decoding. By reducing the world into dissembled data it becomes easier to manipulate it within the virtual realm, without the inconvenience of constrains in the ‘real-world’ conditions (Savaskan, 2012). As a result, architects get unlimited parametric exploration. Rooted in digital techniques, new styles as Topological architecture, with a long wave of systematic innovations, globally unfolds (Carpo, 2013).
Within parametrical based architecture like Topological architecture, form and space is formed through; computation (based on scripting methods, parametric design systems), which allows on customization and individuation.

Apprising everything around us, from our daily life, architecture, products and urban spaces, we can see topological architecture as a new paradigm. This new mode of thinking eco-logical suggests that humans, like any other constituent component of the earth’s ecology, are continuously in exchange with one another. Any other parameters constituting the system (Rocker, 2011).

The potential in parametric design hence the mathematical aspect of topological architecture, lays in its ability to produce a meaningful and hyper inclusive network consisting of parameters and relationships and at the same time managing variability (Sakamoto & Ferré, 2008 )(Carpo, 2013).

Nonetheless, also criticism is brought upon Topological architecture today. Although, parametric architecture aims for full control of design at all scales (Carpo, 2013), architecture is more complex than a person can singularly ‘map out’ with a computer. Not all relationships can be quantified or geometrical translated. Instead, architectural design requires cultural, social engagement and relevance, and is considered, primarily, a cultural socio-political form, not technological determinism. “It is not the parametric the relentlessness malleability of form, nor is it complexity for its own sake, but rather a complex of complex relationships that produce architecture” (Sakamoto & Ferré, 2008).


Parametric design can be seen as a discipline that is simultaneously searching for a unified organizational clarity (through diagram, parti, etc.) and visual complexity (Venturi).

With new methodologies, supported by computed (cinematic) techniques, the exploration of architectural form and experience is revised. By using relationships, interaction, diagram, program and movement, unpredictable forms and spaces are unfolding (Savaskan, 2012). “With this methodology, parametrising architecture, creates a new era in the understanding and creating the phenomena of spatiality” (Schumacher, 2009).

“Space can be seen as the purest, irreducible substance of architecture – the property unique to it, that sets architecture apart from all other artistic practices.“ (Forty, 2004). When we look closer at the term ‘spatiality or space’ there was until modernism, little agreement on what ‘space’ means.

Since the eighteenth century, architects used words as ‘volumes, voids, void spaces, loss of space’. Modernist architects, tried to give notion to the word ‘space’ and by 1920 the word was well established as a category in the architectural vocabulary (Carpo, 2013; Forty, 2004).

However, we can still find a large ambiguity within the descriptions of the term ‘space’. The ambiguity of the word starts within the field in which we discuss the term ‘space’, for example philosophy or architecture. While architecture sees ‘space’ as a physical property of dimensions or extent, ‘space’ within philosophy can also be a property of the mind. Thus, on one hand we talk about a ‘physical space’ – produced by architecture, while on the other hand we talk about the ‘lived space’ – a mental construct through which the mind consumes a space (Lefebvre and Denari and Lasdun in Forty, 2004).

The second cause of ambiguity lies within languages, in which the term space has different translations (Forty, 2004). The awareness of the effects of translation upon the meaning of the term ‘space’ should however, also be placed within time. Therefore, we cannot assume the meaning of space is fixed.

Modernisms’ notion of space was based on the concept; ‘universal space’. Parametric architecture however, does not differentiate spaces, but fields. Space is, within parametrical architecture, considered as empty, while fields are considered full or filled with something fluid. “We might think of liquids in motion, structured by radiating waves, laminal flows and spiralling eddies” (Carpo, 2013). Within Topological architecture, topology is a hidden spatial relationship. Topological architecture tries to capture flows, complex conceptions and interactions. This results in fluid non-Euclidian shaped architecture, that creates the impression of ‘seamless fluidity’ related to the natural system (Carpo, 2013; Savaskan, 2012).

Nonetheless, critics come forwards, supposing that the abstractness of the digitally created spaces, contradicts with the spatial understanding and reality of the human body and of buildings. The objection goes, that we do not find ourselves in a non-Euclidean space, and thus should not add topological geometries that are considered as too abstract (in Massumi, n.d.).

Massumi urges, that the objection that topological architecture is too abstract would however dissipate, if we would rethink the connection between the body and lived abstractness. “The life of the body, its lived experience, cannot be understood without reference to abstract-real processual dimensions, which cannot be conceptualized in other than topological terms” (Massumi, 2002).

Describing contemporary theory of architecture has seen the philosophy of space emerge within the context of architectural discourse. Worlds like ‘smooth, ‘space’, ‘abstract’, the ‘Fold’ and ‘fields’ are passed around, but the question remains, what space in Topological architecture actually entails?


‘Space’ has had different meanings through time. It was only until the time of Modernism, that a clear notion of ‘space’ was defined into the vocabulary of architecture.

With the rise of parametric architectural design, a new understanding and creating spatiality evolved. This switch raised the questions; how does our notion of ‘space’ change? Is ‘space’ as described in Modernism still recognisable in Topological architecture of fluid non-Euclidian forms/shapes generated by parameters? and, does space even exist in Topological architecture?

These questions lead to the main objective of this research; changing notions of ‘space’ and space perception of topological architecture (fluid non-Euclidian forms/shapes) created by parametric architecture.


To what extent does topological architecture – which generates fluid non-Euclidian forms/shapes, created by parametrising architectural design, change our notion of ‘space’?

Within the objective of this research we can distinguish 3 parameters, namely: topology architecture (recognisable on its fluid non-Euclidian forms and shapes), parametricism and space.

When we talk about space we can as we saw within the theoretical framework on one hand talk about production of space and on the other hand the consumption of space. Thus, to understand space within topological architecture generated by parametrising architecture, several steps must be taken, which are here listed.

Firstly, we will create a theoretical framework that will investigate the production of space in ´topological architecture’ which generated the fluid dynamic and non-Euclidian forms and shapes. The objective is twofold; (1) introduce and understand the process of parametrising architecture and (2) understand what space is within topological architecture.

Q1: How can we define Topological architecture?

Q1.A: Definitions of Topological architecture?

Q1.B: How is Topological architecture created?

Q2: How can ‘space’ be defined and understood within Topological architecture?

Secondly, we will investigate the consumption of space in ‘topologi
cal architecture’. The objective is how space is consumed/perceived within the physical reality and understand the topological aspects of space Perception.

Q3: How do we perceive space, within the physical reality?

Q3.A: How does a human being perceive a space?

Q3.B: With what geometry can we describe our perceptual experience?

Q3.C: To what extent can we find a topological aspect in space perception?



According to Spuybroek (2008), there is a huge misunderstanding nowadays about the word topology in architecture……

A new generation of form in architecture – morphogenesis (Deleuze). To understand how parametrising architectural design creates Topological architecture, it is important to first create an understanding what Topological architecture is, by looking at different definitions and theories. From these definitions, we will look into the influence of parametrising architectural design on the development/creation of Topological architecture.

Q1.A: Definitions of Topological architecture?

Let us start with a basic definition of the word Topology. Topology, bears comparison with calculus, probability theory and number theory. A handful of mathematically-minded intellectuals in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century discussed about the first ideas of the new field of Topology, as an Analysis Situs or Geometria Situs (Pointcaré, 1895). The mathematicians Gauss and Riemann, from Germany, conceived Topology (analysis situs) as a science dealing with the logic of quantity, shape and arrangement. Topology looks at systemacy instead of the physical features of an object. In other words; topology looks at relationships (Spuybroek, 2008).

Deleuze and Guattari (1987) refer to these relationship with haecceities – a set of relationships which results in a tactile space which is localized and not delimited, the nomad space (Teyssot, n.d.).

“The model is a vertical one; it operates in an open space throughout which things-flows are distributed, rather than plotting out closed space for linear and solid things. It is the difference between a smooth (vectorial, projective or topological) space and a striated (metric) space” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986, p.18 and p.125)

TOPOLOGY, TIME, MOVEMENT AND PARAMETERS…. Topology raise for the relationship between time and shape. Topological entities are defined with calculus and therefor are composed out of a continuous stream of relative values. Topological surfaces are defined as a flow.

Topological geometry is generated by transformations, which can be seen, as continuous alterations that preserve geometric properties, as if it is a flexible and dynamic system able to curve, fold and twist. In other words; topology refers to spatial properties that are unaffected by changes of shape and size. Euclidean geometry considers objects as rigid bodies, whose motions are those of transfer, rotation, and reflection. Topology on the other hand also permits elastic motion of figures, which change shapes by virtue of continuous nonlinear transformation or deformation (Aguiar, n.d.; Emmer, 2005).


Topology becomes, when applied to logic, continuity or as Charles S. Pierce calls it; Thirdness. Continuity is a purely relational field without any parts/elements yet. In other words, we can say that the parts/elements are a result, a product of the relationships and not a priori given (Spuybroek, 2008; Pierce …. ).


It could be argued that any architecture (however Euclidian it may actually be) could be analysed topologically once the emphasis shifts from what it looks like to how it works. See my essay (on topology) written for Speculative Art Histories in the attachment. (Andrej)

How it looks versus the way it works…

Q1.B: What is the influence of digital technology on the creation of Topological architecture?

Within topology the behaviour of a structure of surfaces is studied. The structure undergoes as explained in Q1.A deformations, which the surface registers in differential space-time leaps of continuous deformations. By inserting differential fields of space and time into an otherwise static structure, topological architecture designs can be made.

Topological architecture, as the means of mapping architectural intention provoked the discovery of mapping parameters, with the help of computers, onto the frozen Euclidean moment in the physical world. As a result, developments of a new architecture, an architecture influenced and modulated by the infinite and provocative possibilities offered by these technological tools, beyond the simple promise of greater efficiency and production capacity, are emerging (Hana Rashid, 2014).

Eisenman utilises the computer to conduct what he calls ‘synthetic movements’. By computing variables and relationships (the known), new possibilities in architectural space and form are opened up as a result (the unknown) (Wong, 2010). For example; The mathematical description of form and space that architects have historically understood, involve mathematical descriptions from which time was eliminated……… However, with the rise of computer CAD software, along with the ability to use time-and force or motion-based modelling techniques – surfaces can be made, which are defined by U and V vector coordinates. By using time as a measure of changes in the form of an object; bending, stretching, twisting and folding of architectural forms with motion based modelling techniques, are now possible (Lynn, 1999; Mark Burry, year).

According to DeLanda in ‘Immanence and Transcendence in the Genesis of Form’, morphogenetic process of these physical assemblages occurs as “abstract machines”. Abstract machines can be defined as systems that control certain parameters, which create dynamic structure generating processes (Teyssot, n.d.).

When we take the diagram as an example of these abstract machines, we can compare the diagram to an; abstract map, a scripted procedure referring to the processes of morphogenesis. The aim is a modulation between natural components, physical elements and architectural design.

Deleuze’s notion on the diagram is based on the multiple forces that work upon the form, as two vectors of differences, referring to the entropic arrow between tension and matter (Teyssot, n.d.). He uses the metaphor of ‘the body without organs’ to refer to the notion of machine and of diagram. The body with no organs, is the notion of matter, which is not yet formed or represented (Deleuze, n.d.).

“Overcoming organized form, one is introduced to matter as a receptacle of forces. Beyond the matter-form opposition, beyond organized form, there is matter as a non-formal mix of forces and materials” (Teyssot, n.d.).

The diagram, deals with fluxes, fluids and functions and concerns the representation of forces that belongs to a stratified formation. The diagram should be seen, as a virtual problem – something that is real but not actual, and not as a permanent structure or form (Sauvagnargues in Teyssot, n.d.).

The concept of the diagram as an abstract machine, offers the tools to map and understand different types of strata in for example institutions, technologies and apparatuses.

These new processes and methodologies associated with history, theory, experimentation and production are radically changing the way we see and think about space. As Hani Rashid in the catalog of the Biennale states: “In one form or another, it is now within the reach of artists and architects to discover and evoke digitally induced s
patial deliria in which the merging simulation and effect with physical reality creates the possibility of a sublime digital metamorphosis from thought to its realization” (Rashid, 2009).


“Topology is a mathematical way of conceiving of TOPOS; the place, a space, all space and everything included in it” (Kantor, 2005).

To understand how space can be defined within Topological architecture a more detailed description of morphogenetic processes is needed. When we are interested in morphogenetic processes, in other words; processes that generate form, we should start with the question, with what fuel these processes are generated.

This starts at the difference between the qualities extensive properties versus intensive properties (Deleuze’s ‘intensities’). While extensive properties can be defined as properties you can divide, such as length, areas, volumes – intensive properties such as speed, temperature, pressure, density and concentration cannot be divided (Perren & Mlecek, 2015).

By putting two intensive qualities that are opposed to each other and then put into contact, you create something that can drive a process. Thus, we can state that intensive differences drive flows and is the most basic form of fuel of a morphogenetic process (DeLanda, 2011).

Intensive properties exhibit critical thresholds – singularities, at which something morphogenic happens. Intensities come into relation with each other through repetition (Deleuze, …. By james Williams) This brings us to the second step in defining space within Topological architecture, which is to understand how Topological thinking works.

It is important to first mention the Virtual. Deleuze explains the interaction of creative experimentation and of changing intensity with the virtual and the actual. Virtual means real but not necessarily actual. In other words, the Virtual is the structure of the space of possibilities, which gives something that’s not actual, reality. To be able to think of these virtual spaces, we need mathematics, or geometry – topology.

Traditionally, in architecture, the abstract space of design is conceived as an ideal neutral space (vacuum) of Cartesian coordinates.

The abstract space in which we design, is traditionally understood as a neutral space (a vacuum), described with Cartesian coordinates. A two-dimensional (curved) space, would be inscribe, with the help of cartesian coordinates, in a space with one more dimensions then the object obtains. Every point of the object contains a set of points (neighbourhoods of points) plus a definition of one point nearby (DeLanda, 2011).

Deleuze rejects this method. According to Deleuze a space should be studies only with local information that’s on the space itself, not global or relative.

Gauss, invented in 1930 this new approach to inscribe an object in space, other than with Cartesian coordinates. By measuring the instantaneous value of curvature at each point, every point becomes a speed (speeds of becoming), that in its turn becomes a field of rapidities or slownesses at which curvature is changing at each point. With this a revolution geometry that was before extensive now became intensive.

This theory, further developed by Riemann, could now describe the N dimensional space as intensive field of rapidity and slowness’s, called a multiplicity of manifold.

It is important to mention that the discovery of this non-Euclidean geometry, the higher dimensions (from the fourth on) and topology, the new idea of space to summarize, is one of the most interesting examples of the profound repercussions that mathematical ideas will have on humanistic culture, art and architecture. This theory had direct consequences on science.

The original Newtonian absolute space, with cartesian coordinates, changed with the developed theory of Gauss and Riemann, into space-time theory, in which space is composed with local information.

Einstein saw real space in these terms and what can be curved is the amount of gravity of objects around it. Space in this sense is not a container, but is shaped by its contents that bend space, which is folded dimensional entity.

Deleuze adopts the earlier term multiplicity, and plays with his notion of the ‘fold’ a major role for setting up the groundwork for spatial understanding in topological architecture. In the notion of the Fold, Deleuze considers every feature a kind of folding, a smoothing, with a single expressive continuum. Folding can be seen, as a means of introducing another concept of space and time within conventionally conceived ‘spatial boundaries’. Spatiality as a ‘becoming’ with no external measures or ends within a complex repetition, no longer restricted to imitation.

Several folds creating a blurring of inside/outside, solid/void and space to space thresholds; reconceptualising traditional architectural notions of spatial connections and separations. Within the fold, the conventional architectural conception of spatial is itself problematized, no longer rendering the repetition of the same but a repetition of differences. An architectural process of spatial conception, where new and unanticipated possibilities occur without predetermined outcomes. A space which is no longer detached from program and event but where the folds become the events themselves as a product of possibilities (Deleuze, 2006).

Spaces in this sense, can be seen, as spaces of possibilities. If we need to think about the virtual (something that is real but not actual) then we need to think how the possibilities (singularities) are structures, in other words how to study the possibilities open to a dynamic system (Delanda, 2010).

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