First Advisor

Wayne Wakeland

Date of Publication

Fall 10-1-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Systems Science


Systems Science




Fractals, Architectural design, Organic architecture, Algorithms, Computer-aided design, Generative programming (Computer science), Architecture -- History



Physical Description

1 online resource (xiii, 226 pages)


The design profession is responding to the complex systems represented by architecture and planning by increasingly incorporating the power of computer technology into the design process. This represents a paradigm shift, and requires that designers rise to the challenge of both embracing modern technologies to perform increasingly sophisticated tasks without compromising their objective to create meaningful and environmentally sensitive architecture. This dissertation investigated computer-based fractal tools applied within a traditional architectural charette towards a design process with the potential to address the complex issues architects and planners face today. We developed and presented an algorithm that draws heavily from fractal mathematics and fractal theory. Fractals offer a quantitative and qualitative relation between nature, the built environment and computational mechanics and in this dissertation serve as a bridge between these realms.

We investigated how qualitative/quantitative fractal tools may inform an architectural design process both in terms of generative formal solutions as well as a metric for assessing the complexity of designs and historic architecture. The primary research objective was to develop a compelling cybernetic design process and apply it to a real-world and multi-faceted case study project within a formal architectural critique. Jurors were provided a platform for evaluating design work and weighing in as practicing professional architects. Jurors' comments were documented and discussed and presented as part of the dissertation. Our intention was to open up the discussion and document the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the process we presented.

First we discussed the history of generative and algorithmic design and fractals in architecture. We begin with examples in ancient Hindu temple architecture as well as Middle Eastern architecture and Gothic as well as Art Nouveau. We end this section with a discussion of fractals in the contemporary architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Organic school.

Next we developed a cybernetic design process incorporating a computer-based tool termed DBVgen within a closed loop designer/algorithm back and forth. The tool we developed incorporated a genetic algorithm that used fractal dimension as the primary fitness criterion. We applied our design process with mixed results as discussed by the jurors whose feedback was chunked into ten categories and assessed along with the author/designer's feedback. Generally we found that compelling designs tended to have a higher FD, whereas, the converse was not true that higher FD consistently led to more compelling designs.

Finally, we further developed fractal theory towards an appropriate consideration of the significance of fractals in architecture. We articulated a nuanced definition of fractals in architecture as: designs having multi-scale and multi-functional representations of some unifying organizing principle as the result of an iterative process. We then wrapped this new understanding of fractals in architecture to precedent relevant to the case study project. We present and discuss fractals in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright as well as Dean Bryant Vollendorf. We expand on how a theory of fractals used in architecture may continue to be developed and applied as a critical tool in analyzing historic and contemporary architecture as well as a creative framework for designing new architectural solutions to better address the complex world we live in.


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