Extruding Architecture

This journal is devoted to a quest that I began in 1969, the object of which was to create the built environment with construction robots rather than people. It has been a lifelong quest for me.

Monday, February 20, 2006


In any case, this was a deep human prejudice. Human beings expected to find a central command in any organization. States had governments. Corporations had CEOs. Schools had principals. Armies had generals. Human beings tended to believe that without central command, chaos would overwhelm the organization and nothing significant could be accomplished.

From this standpoint, it was difficult to believe that extremely stupid creatures with brains smaller than pinheads were capable of construction projects more complicated than any human project. But in fact, they were.

African termites were a classic example. These insects made earthen castlelike mounds a hundred feet in diameter and thrusting spires twenty feet into the air. To appreciate their accomplishment, you had to imagine that if termites were the size of people, these mounds would be sky scrapers one mile high and five miles in diameter. And like a skyscraper, the termite mound had an intricate internal architecture to provide fresh air, remove excess carbon dioxide and heat, and so on. Inside the structure were gardens to grow food, residences for royalty, and living space for as many as two million termites. No two mounds were exactly the same; each was individually constructed to suit the requirements and advantages of a particular site.

All this was accomplished with no architect, no foreman, no central authority. Nor was a blueprint for construction encoded in the termite genes. Instead these huge creations were the result of relatively simple rules that the individual termites followed in relation to one another. (Rules like, “If you smell that another termite has been here, put a dirt pellet on this spot.”) Yet the outcome was arguably more complex than any human creation.

Michael Crichton, PREY (2002)


Post a Comment

<< Home