Architectural forms put on many styles with time, each of them being faithful to certain beliefs or even philosophies. Today, we can no longer talk about architectural styles, rather about trends. The most obvious of them is the emerging use of computers in the design process. At first, computers were merely used as drafting instruments, and, therefore, they did not have much influence on the overall architectural form. Yet, soon after that, its use started to push forward the boundaries of what could be done in terms of architectural form, one reason why today we can talk about digital morphogenesis.

Brief Overview of Digital Morphogenesis

Although it may sound quite abstract at first, “digital morphogenesis” is used to refer to designs (be them art, architecture, modeling, or any other) whose form/ shape (morpho) was produced (genesis) using a computational approach (usually carried out digitally). The focus is now put on the idea of finding the most suitable form that answers specific input constraints, rather than simply making “a form” to fit a specific place.

Now, the famous words “form follows function” may be taken to a whole new level, ensuring spectacular, unconventional approaches to answer certain needs and performances. The examples listed below not only emphasize the developments in the field of digital morphogenesis but only a few of the endless possibilities available. 

A Pioneering Form-finding Approach for Digital Morphogenesis

Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia 

Similar methods to today’s approaches were conducted even long before what is now called the “digital era.” Designed in the 19th century, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia is one such example of an architectural piece whose form may challenge lots of practices today. By simply understanding the principles of catenary curves and experimentally applying them to physical models, Gaudí was able to shape the complex silhouette of the cathedral without any digital aid. His work, which took years to complete, gave him a complete overview of the concept of “physical recomputation” -a thing that Grasshopper, for instance, can nowadays analyze within seconds.

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Form-finding of La Sagrada Familia ©Elliot Williams

Today’s Forms

Great Court Roof, British Museum

A more contemporary project is the one designed by Foster + Partners, for the covering of the Great Court of British Museum. The main aim of the intervention was to create a structure that would be “optimum” in the sense that it would exert the minimum structural stresses possible on the pre-existing building of the museum. Chris Williams was the one who formulated the algorithms, which later on resulted in the final look of the glass covering. The triangulated steel tessellation was one of the features set from the earliest stages of the design process, and their completion is also a result of digital computation.

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Aerial photo of the Great Court ©

Maya Somaiya Library

The beauty of design morphogenesis lies in the fact that it can be applied to all sorts of materials, even to those traditional ones, thus reinterpreting and valuing their unique properties. One such example is located in Kopargaon (India) and was designed by Sameep Padora & Associates. The Maya Somaiya Library project takes bricks to a whole new level, by creating a sinuous fluid shell covering the entire space. The shell serves both as covering and lateral walls, as well as exterior circulation. Such approaches were, indeed, done before in Catalan vaults, yet, today, by using computational software, one could reinterpret things and give them a little twist.

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Maya Somaiya Library by Sameep Padora & Associates ©Metalocus

Pillars of Dreams Pavilion

If there is one particular name that comes to everyone’s mind when talking about computational design, for sure, Marc Fornes is the one. His studio is one of the most well-known practices to experiment with generative design and push the limits in both fields of imagination and creativity. 

Pillars of Dreams is a pavilion located in North Carolina and was envisioned as an “experiential icon” on the plaza of Valerie C. Woodard Center. As it had to offer both shading and an intricate play of light on the ground, the pavilion was conceived having as inspiration a “bubblegum blown just to the point of popping” where the most inflated parts are the most porous ones.  

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Pillars of Dreams pavilion by Marc Fornes ©NAARO 

Future Perspectives

When thinking of the future possibilities of using computational design in architectural projects, one may become rather overwhelmed by the potential it. Computers unleash endless opportunities for experimentation and ultimately for a better future in terms of architecture. 

As Norman Foster stated in one of his interviews regarding his exhibition (‘Common Futures’), “today’s dreams are tomorrow’s realities.” What was once referred to as “utopia” can now be erected as a tangible solution to contemporary problems, if one only dares to take the risk.

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Norman Foster – ‘Common Futures’ exhibition ©

As technologies grow faster and faster, it is natural that they challenge the world around them to adapt accordingly, and architecture makes no exception from this statement. Some may argue that these changes happen too fast, yet the presence of technology in today’s design processes is undeniable. Architects have to see this computational way of answering nowaday’s problems as an opportunity and not as a threat, as a chance to evolve and test the limits of what architecture can be and eventually look like. 

References of Digital Morphogenesis


Ștefan is a resourceful and professional young architect. Thirsty for innovation and knowledge, he is always willing to share his passions with the ones around. He finds himself intrigued by the tinniest of wonders and considers words just another material to build up with endless, brand-new possibilities.

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