Swarm Urbanism


Annie Chan, Yikai Lin, Ant Urbanism, MArch, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 2009. This project creates a radically new urbanism for an inner city area of Taipei currently occupied by an airport. Pathways are generated using ‘swarm logic’ processing techniques based on the principle of the pheromone trails of ants. Rhino scripting and Grasshopper are then used to generate the building themselves.


‘In his book, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Cities and Software, Steven Johnson presents the city as a manifestation of emergence. The city operates as a dynamic, adaptive system, based on interactions with neighbours, informational feedback loops, pattern recognition and indirect control. ‘Like any emergent system’, notes Johnson, ‘the city is a pattern in time’. Moreover, like any other population composed of a large number of smaller discrete elements, such as colonies of ants, flocks of birds, networks of neurons or even the global economy, it displays a bottom-up collective intelligence that is more sophisticated than the behaviour of its parts. In short, the city operates through a form of ‘swarm intelligence. . . . Importantly, Johnson extends the principle of emergence to the operations of certain software programmes. If cities and software programmes display a similar emergent logic, how might we make use of digital technologies to model a city?’ Neil Leach, ‘Swarm Urbanism’, Digital Cities, Architectural Design, July 2009.

The logic that informed this studio was one of ‘swarm intelligence’. This is the theory that multi-agent systems of various kinds – from flocks of birds and shoals of fish to neural networks, software programmes and even cities themselves – all begin to display similar forms of behaviour. How then could we use software programmes to generate urban design proposals according to the logic of ‘swarm intelligence’? By developing from analogue to digital techniques, and shifting in scale from urbanism to individual buildings, this studio sought to offer a comprehensive understanding of the way in which ‘swarm intelligence’ could inform architectural and urban design. All work in this studio was generated through a series of digital techniques from Processing to Rhino scripting to Grasshopper.

This studio was run in parallel with a scripting workshop on ‘Swarm Intelligence and Algorithms’ led by Roland Snooks. It also ran in parallel with a theory class on ‘Deleuze and New Scientific Thinking’ led by Neil Leach, where the theory of ‘Swarm Intelligence’ was explored in greater depth. The idea was that these three components would together offer a comprehensive approach to understanding how digital technologies could inform urban design.

Studio Instructors: Neil Leach, Tom Reiner


To view video of ‘termite logic’ processing script running click on the above


To view video of ‘termite logic’ processing script running click on the above

Xiaoqin Chen, Runqing Zhang, Ying Liu, Juhi Dhar, Termite Urbanism, MArch, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 2009. This project attempts to establish an environmentally responsible approach to urban planning using techniques of scripting. Following the principles of the traditional wind-towers, the project employs a ‘termite logic’ processing script to cut ventilation shafts through the buildings.

Be Sociable, Share!
Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.