1976

Cedric Price & John Frazer

The Generator Project

image 1: The Generator Project, Plan of Service and Structure with Key, source: MOMA online archive

The Generator Project, conceived and designed by Cedric Price in 1976 and John Frazer as computational consultant, is mentioned in the bibliography as the first “intelligent” building that “ knew itself” and was readjusting to user’s desires, while was also capable to generate new solutions to trigger their reactions. As an unbuild speculative study of multiple design levels, Generator was manifesting many revolutionary ideas, such as the embedded intelligence and behavior in the building itself and the isomorphism of model structure and the processor configuration. The project weaved together a systemic conception of architecture with a syntactic approach and a computer program with a physical interface for the manipulation of the various possible configurations.

Both Price and Frazer were British architects educated during the ’60s in Cambridge University and Architectural Association in London. In a period where the computer was gaining ground and there was a fervent discussion around cybernetics and the computational interpretation of natural processes, the two architects were explicitly influenced by cyberneticians, like Nobert Wiener and Gordon Pask. Around that time, their fellows in the University of Cambridge, like Lionel March, were also working on syntactic relationships between spaces described in code. In Generator project we see the all these seeds of cybernetics, automata and syntax growing into one project.

image 2: Initial design network showing three starting points, source: CCA online archive/ Cybernetic-like diagram of the system of relations between factors
image 3:

The project was designed for the CEO of the Gilman Paper Company. “Sited in Florida, the Generator’s services and structure respond to the user’s wishes with help from both carnage and computer”. There was no fixed program, just a “desired effect” .“A menu of items caters for individual and group demands for space, control, containment and delight”. Price’s cybernetic diagram of initial design network, that resembles that of the electronic circuit of homeostat, illustrates the relationships between people (user’s desires and patterns of use), site and finance (image 2). Spatially, the need for a continuous readjustment was translated to a grid, a scheme of 150 12’ by 12’ mobile, combinable cubes.

image 4: “menu 23" layout, source, source CCA online archive / Visually it resembles with Conway’s “Game of Life”
image 5: The Generator project,Plan of Menu 25, detail of S.W. Zone 1, source: MOMA online archive

When John Frazer was assigned the computer consulting of Generator, he took the project a step further. In order to trigger users to see potential in the existing configurations, he proposed that the building would make suggestions for its own significance (see concept of boredom also in Gordon Pask’s Musicolor). Although the recent discussion around the use of computer in design was focusing mainly on interactive computer graphics, Frazer introduced the idea an interactive physical interface. “As parts are added to the three-dimensional model the microprocessor control unit interrogates the structure to discover the present state of its configuration. A television monitor screen displays statistical data, analysis or just shows projections of the current state of the model. The tape recorder stores the image of the model for future use for further calculations and the production of working drawings” .

image 6: interactive physical model , source:

The way Frazer explains the relation of architecture to computer script in his text “A Natural Model for Architecture” published in 1995, explains how, in his hands, architecture becomes machine-readable. He thinks in terms of language with vocabulary and syntax. Generative rules defined not by form but by processes constitute the genetic code that is then mapped in a virtual model. An important part of the design process it the definition of criteria for selection, which, according to Frazer, should form hierarchical structures with a binary condition in each step. This reminds us of similar approach of other computational architects and in particular Christopher Alexander’s diagrammatic tree structures.

Overall, in the Generator project the iterative design process and the building itself become one with the aid of the computer, almost like a game that triggers user participation.


References/Bibliography:

-Neil Spiller, Cyber_Reader: Critical Writings for the digital era, Phaidon, 2002

-Molly Wright Steenson, Cedric Price’s Generator, Article, 2010 (available here: http://www.girlwonder.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/crit-piece.pdf)

-Molly Wright Steenson, Architectures of Information:Christofer Alexander, Cedric Price and Nicholas Negroponte & MIT’s Architecture Machine Group, Phd Thesis, Princeton, April 2014

-Furtado C. L. , Gonalo M, Cedric Price’s Generator and the Frazers’ systems research, Technoetic Arts,2008

-CCA online archive of Generator Project: http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/search?page=0&query=cedric+price+generator&_=1491601704982&filters=%7B%22forms_collection_library_bookstore%22%3A%5B%22drawings%22%5D%7D

-http://www.interactivearchitecture.org/the-generator-project.htm

-https://www.moma.org/collection/works?locale=en&utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=cedric+price&classifications=any&date_begin=Pre-1850&date_end=2017&page=1&direction=fwd