(The following review is written and edited by Zenovia Toloudi).

What is the relationship between Game Design and Architectural Design? Those familiar with the old-fashioned game-board Monopoly, and other strategic games, or the futuristic web-based SecondLife may guess the connections between game-making and city-making. Either advocators, skeptical or simply curious, approximately 40 academics, practitioners and scientists gathered at Harvard Graduate School of Design to listen and discuss with Ann Pendleton-Jullian on games, systems and architecture, as part of the FWD Talks, last Monday.

Figure 01. FWD Talks: Ann Pendleton Jullian. Image courtesy: FWD Talks

According to the event organizers:

FWD Talks is a series of fast-pacing talks followed by discussions presenting ideas at the intersection of design, technology, and policy. FWD Talks are organized into three thematic areas: new objects, new systems, and new methods.”

Figure 02. FWD Talks events so far with topics (from left to right): Smart homes, Game design, Open Source electronics, Concurrent design, Robotics and Fabrication. Image courtesy: FWD Talks

Unlike typeical lectures showing a series of projects one after the other, FWD Talks focuses on the presenting the ideas, using the simple thesis-style format known as the “what, why and how.”

For their 4th event, FWD Talks had invited Ann Pendleton-Jullian, to talk about “Game design as a way to approach complex systems.” Dimitris Papanikolaou, one of the event organizers, says about the event:

“From smart cities to electronic markets, complex systems theory is rapidly emerging into the disciplines of architecture, planning, and technology. While understanding behavior of such large-scale multi-agent organizations is essential not only for designing but also for operating them, it often becomes prohibitively complex to study them through existing analytical tools of mathematical modeling. Game design and game play can provide new intuitive yet exciting ways to empirically study complexity since the designer must understand the underlying rules and structural constraints of the system without having to describe them analytically.”

With 20 years of experience teaching game design in the architectural studios at Cornell University, Princeton University and MIT, and a fresh collaboration with the Secretary of Defense on issues of security and Intelligence, Ann Pendleton-Jullian, comfortably began presenting WHY she has been dealing with games for so long time. Her inspiration initiated with an almost anthropological study of the Pacariqtambo church wall repair. The wall, with its “patchwork” character reflecting its repairs by different “clans” of the town, was at some point replaced by a concrete wall with the purpose of creating a unified style. As Ann Pendleton-Jullian described, this replacement, was the reason for the whole town to fell apart. In “What makes people work,” Olivia Harris writes about this community:

“… Gary Urton has shown in his study of Pacariqtambo (southern Peru) that collective work is an important sense constitutive of the ayllus of which the village is composed. In daily life, ayllu organization is evidently apparent. However when some task must be undertaken for the benefit of the community as a whole – for example cultivating the field with barley to sell for improvements to the school or repairing the section of the church wall- it is usually divided up between the ayllus, into units of work known as chhiutas. The communal organization of these tasks ensures that the work is distributed equally both between constituent groups and within a group. Crucially, each community is differentiated, composed of sub-units that complete fiercely with each other and perform similar tasks in alternation.”

Examples like this, but only, inspire Ann Pendleton-Jullian to view “architecture, urbanism, landscape, and technology” as an ecosystem. With a similar framework Ann Pendleton-Jullian experiments with workshops, courses and case studies like Venice and Shanghai. In these places, one can find emerging urbanism and similar phenomena that are good instances to create a definition of complexity.

This direction was also nurtured by her studies of places like Akbar (the Great) city, where the whole city was created based on mathematical rules; and the Venice Hospital by Le Corbusier, and the rules of operation; and games like Alice and the looking glass as a chess game. Ann Pendleton-Jullian is interested in simple rules, the nesting of which, creates fascination; and where every move feeds back to the system; and everything is interdependent.

Figure 03. Starcraft Mapping. Image courtesy: Jiwoon Kim/ Ann Pendleton-Jullian

There are 5 things involved in the design of the games: the narrative, the objects, their attributes (rules of definition), and the logic of game-play (rules of inter-relationships). And lastly, how can one disregard the role the environment, the space of these game-plays? Ann Pendleton-Jullian writes about games, in “GAMES.4.SHANGHAI / SHANGHAI.4.GAMES:”

“Games – both as game design and game play – provided the theoretical and operating methodological environment for the pedagogical inquiry of this advanced Level III architectural studio, which focused on an edge site in Shanghai; a ‘messy’ site in which many different constituencies participate, and in which there are complex spatial and infrastructural relationships existing as a result of historic ad-hoc decisions. It was our interest to focus on the dynamics of this context and to specifically approach the design of complexity as an emergent proposition within this dynamic field of behavior as opposed to a static formally imposed and planned response. As an ‘emergent’ proposition, I am specifically referring to one that employs embedded low-level information to form higher-level sophistication. Game design – its theory and methodologies – and game play – its theory and methodologies – served as agents for, FIRST, designing ‘design spaces’ as interactive systems in which parameters from multiple directions, often seemingly disparate in nature, translate into a network of low-level rules, and then, SECOND, for playing through specific situated problems iteratively, improvisationally, with the goal of discovering unforeseen spatial, formal and operational propositions that can then be critiqued.”

Figure 04. Order 4. Image courtesy: Ann Pendleton-Jullian

In her game design studios, Ann Pendleton-Jullian explores the game play and mapping and the game design. When she describes the specific projects of her students, she reports interesting stuff like the fact that the students are given a narrative from a movie, like the example of “Let your lover in” where students had to construct the house or game-board or simply set-up, to choose the rooms for the different characters. In “Let your lover in” game, the complexity is being created by both the design of the game-board and rules themselves. In the workshop she conducted at Souzhou river, Shanghai, the games were not interesting just for the purposes of strategy, but there would be beauty in materiality and social involvement through the gestures the players would trace when playing side by side. After taking these studios, her students become re-wired; they are equipped with a new way of thinking where everything is about relationships.

Figure 05. Global Set-up. Image courtesy: Ann Pendleton-Jullian

Figure 06, 07. Global mapping (left) and Global Inplay (Right). Image courtesy: Ann Pendleton-Jullian

Through the interesting examples, Ann Pendleton-Jullian stimulated the audience to generate an exciting Q&A session with questions that had to do with the methodology itself, the evaluation of the whole process (Jonathan King); the relevance of this process to architectural studio (Andrew Payne); and the educational aspect of the whole process (Dimitris Papanikolaou) among others.

Participants also discussed coding, scripting, and agent-based modeling as parallels to game design. In a way, one can find in game design, an easy to follow recipe, a very prescriptive set of rules that do not allow unpredictability. Play is not-rarely accompanied with cheating, or the changing of the rules. How can the game design integrate such anomalies? Can these rules be global? What are cultural perspectives one can include in this algorithmic process? How does perception and personal differentiation affect the game design? Are these complex systems flexible enough?

Ann Pendleton-Jullian, in game design, uses ambiguities, with a reference to the “Seven Types of Ambiguity” book by William Empson. She says: “We use more ambiguity compared to the programmers (a single rule can have 4 reasons), we give meanings.” One can also find temporality in games. Games are understood as having goals in mind, but there is a shift from goal to conditions. Game may be both about achieving and maintaining conditions.  This somehow breaks the repetitive pattern (of a beginning and an end) one finds in games. Games are cultural artifacts; one can construct identity through game. The visceral character of the game-design process is also very exciting. Sound and other components like laughter and screaming become part of the game-space and the experience of both designer-user. According to Ann Pendleton-Jullian, the “freak-out” moment of the game is once its designers start to play!

Figure 08. Ophelia. Image courtesy: Ann Pendleton-Jullian

And what happens with the 3dimenionality of the games? This depends on the constructivism of each student. “This is not an ideology. It is not for all kinds of architecture. It is not about making a museum. It is an evolving concept.” The game is based on the narrative (sometimes more than one). The narrative can be prescriptive and general. However “the narrative is a scaffold (not a framework) that merely creates the thing.”

Game, for Ann Pendleton-Jullian, “is a way of learning that is passes very quickly from analytical to intuition. Intuition, is a cognitive process just as serious like thought, it happens quicker and in a manner that we cannot understand. We get familiar to this process. To operate like this, without making charts, and graphs in order to take decisions. It is a meta-skill that becomes a conscious process.”

>> Next FWD Talk 5: David Mellis on Monday February 28th, 6:30pm, at Harvard GSD

Ann Pendleton-Jullian:

Ann Pendleton-Jullian is an architect, educator, and writer of international standing. Her design work negotiates the overlap between architecture, landscape, culture, and technology and is motivated towards internationalism as both a concept and a reality. Pendleton-Jullian took up architecture after a brief but serious attempt to adopt astrophysics as a career choice. She obtained her B.Arch degree from Cornell University and her M.Arch from Princeton. She began her professional apprenticeship in Chicago and in the mid eighties, opened her first professional office in Los Angeles. After three years in practice there, she returned to the east coast to establish a partnership with Guilllaume Jullian de la Fuente from 1986–1996. Back on the east coast, she also began teaching at Cornell University, Princeton University and then later at MIT for fourteen years. Currently, Director of the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University, her most recent work has focused on furthering the use of game design as a way to approach complex and emergent systems within architectural, urban and landscape design, both theoretically and in practice. And seeing education as its own design problem, she is also involved in thinking and writing about education for the 21st century, in practice. Pendleton-Jullian maintains ongoing working affiliations with the MIT Media Lab, the School of Architecture at the Catholic University of Santiago, Chile, The University of Porto Alegre, Brazil, Tongji University in Shanghai, the New University of Singapore, and the London School of Economics.

FWD talks team:

Dimitris Papanikolaou

Matan Mayer

Andrew Payne

Jonathan King

Stefano Andreani

Aurgho Jyoti

Jose Luis Garcia del Castillo y Lopez


GAMES.4.SHANGHAI / SHANGHAI.4.GAMES by Ann Pendleton-Jullian

Four (+1) Studios

Communal Values, Collective Action, and Social Change in the Andes by Steve Froemming

Questions of anthropology, edited by Rita Astuti, Jonathan P. Parry & Charles Stafford

FWD Talks

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