“The Combinatorics of Architectural Democracy” at the DHS2015, San Francisco


I participated in the 2015 Design History Society Conference panel Computing Futures: Three Episodes in the Postwar Imagination of Design with my paper “The Combinatorics of Architectural Democracy: An Episode in the Life of a Mathematical Object”. The panel was organized by Daniel Cardoso Llach (CMU) and joined by Molly Steenson (MIT). In my talk I explored the function of graph theory in Yona Friedman’s participatory design propositions.

Abstract: In 1964 renowned utopian architect Yona Friedman left the drawing board to dedicate himself to a kind of theoretical and mathematical askesis. Instead of architectural drawings, Pour Une Architecture Scientifique (the 1971 book that marked the culmination of Friedman’s endeavors) featured numerous hand-drawn portraits of graphs – mathematical entities consisting of lines, points, and labels. Friedman tasked these entities with “remodeling” the process of architectural design, reforming the designers’ professional identity on the basis of scientific ideals, and granting the “future users” of domestic and urban spaces the power to choose and change their living environments. By following the graph in Friedman’s texts and their respective production contexts, I trace the modes by which the graph’s fluctuating mathematical, epistemic, and cultural properties generated thinking about design, ultimately bridging scientizing with democratizing visions.