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My grandmother’s house, computation, and the universe

I remember the first time I saw computational art, it felt vaguely familiar. I quickly realized that my grandmother’s house was filled with generative art, and this innovative new artistic medium was actually very old.

Geometric tiles adorning the floor, Persian rugs, arced windows diverging infinitely into fractal arcs, floral patterns creeping up velvet couches and pouring into the pillows, as a child I was enchanted by these patterns.

I have dreamed geometry.
I have dreamed point, line, plane, and volume.
I have dreamed yellow, blue, and red

Mesmerized by their syntactic consistency, mathematical prose and aesthetic complexity, I remember spending hours studying these patterns, trying to simplify them into a core pattern, a generative equation. I loved the idea that this house, extravagant in decoration, was so low in entropy.

On some shelf in some hexagon, it was argued, there must exist a book that is the cipher and perfect compendium of all other books, and some librarian must have examined that book.

I grew up, and these patterns branched out of my grandmother’s house, diverged into roads, buildings, relationships, philosophies. Under all the clutter, I loved to extract patterns and visualize a simple world. Everyday designers simplify, trying to bring their vision of an elegant solution to life, an image of how things should be.

My favorite souvenir from first trip to New York in 1976 was my very own copy of the Vignelli map, straight from the token booth at Times Square: gorgeous, iconic and cerebral, it represented a New York that didn’t care if it was understandable to a kid from Ohio. It hung on my wall, in all its mysterious unknowability, for the next three years. That was the city I wanted to live in.

I think computation in design will be incredibly valuable. Rather than designing solutions, we can design systems and processes that generate solutions in varying contexts. At its core, the DNA of my grandmother’s house was just a few simple patterns. Similarly, a few strands of structured, parametric design patterns can generate universes, breathing life into design.

A scenic world where the sunsets are all breathtaking

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