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Chaos architecture


This text is published in the book « The case for subtle ar(t)chitecture » by the Editions HYX.


You must have chaos to give birth to a dancing star.

(You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star. Friedrich Nietzsche)

N.B.: The « chaos » architecture referred to here is deterministic chaos, in other words a complex system whose behaviour may appear random but which actually follows rigid laws.


In the notion of chaos, it is the unpredictability factor that strikes us the most.
« The flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas. » Lorentz
In our case, unpredictability is seen from the perspective of the passer-by. It may be likened to the unexpected.

Architecture should move in the n dimensions and should surprise, in other words it should not be predictable. This is why we need to strive to free our minds of all (aesthetic) preconceptions.
The purpose is not (in the Derridian sense) to deconstruct existing systems to understand their workings and reproduce them. Instead it is to:
1- deconstruct the system
2- construct a new non-apprehendable system by adding a measure of unpredictability – in other words a case-by-case response – in addition to the same and/or different basic axioms.
Adding unpredictability, particularly via aesthetic – apparently arbitrary –, criteria, is a way of creating an unexpected system capable of surprising at all levels of perception.


Geometric architecture is a form of architecture governed by the « laws » of simple geometry (symmetry, golden number, etc.). It produces shapes rarely found in nature (right angles, cubes, etc.).
Organic architecture is architecture that is governed by « laws » that imitate or are inspired by nature.
Chaos architecture will be architecture governed by « laws », possibly geometric and/or organic, including the notion of chaos, in the sense of creating an impression of apparent disorder, unpredictability in the eyes of the observer. It also includes subjective data that is neither random in nature nor the result of chance. – Unpredictability, in the mind of the onlooker, the observer of space, will be the result of new and contextual aesthetic factors – A chaotic system can only be partly deconstructed because it is composed of a new type of internal structure that is impossible to measure scientifically.

Design / representation process

Such architecture not only changes the overall perception of the final product at all levels but is also the culmination of a different conceptual process.
This can never be just one single all-englobing process but is more the result of a series of different procedures in response to the local context of the passer-by. The architect’s overall vision then serves to avoid repetitions and create an organisation (urban or other) that forms a consistent whole at full scale. The starting point is, and must in all cases be, the actual architectural structure and not the plans on the basis of which it is built. Plans are simply one of the ways commonly used to represent architecture. But architects should always focus on the end result, the full-scale structures that will be viewed by a stationary or moving observer at a given level. It would be wrong to design architecture via the instruments used to represent it, since these are no more than vehicles to facilitate understanding. A « beautiful » plan does not mean that the architecture itself will be « beautiful ». We must not confuse a beautiful representation with the representation of a beautiful « thing ». Plans are just diagrams representing the actual work. The architecture, once built, will be that work. It is this latter, first and foremost, that interests the architect at all stages of the design process.


The objective of the chaotic system is to create new architecture impossible to apprehend, unexpected and aesthetically multiple, yet compliant with a series of underlying rules such as adaptation to the particular context, allowance for different environments, n spaces and perspectives. This new system may surprise but it does not propose structures obeying over-restrictive rules. Nor does it propose a system completely without rules. Instead it proposes the unexpected, originality, individuality, and is therefore separate from all the different artistic movements that, in their turn, have gone before (classical, baroque, modern, etc.). It breaks away from a whole series of strict, formal, partitioned and often random rules yet obeys a number of axioms.

The only real rules are:

  1. allowance for context (flows, climate, history, geography, culture, geology, various constraints, general environment, etc.)
  2. architecture not expressable by means of a single mathematical model
  3. choice of a final form that is both considered and deliberate. It must not be the result of organisations, functions, machines or random computer output but correspond to aesthetic criteria that, at first sight, can be neither quantified nor apprehended – It is not the computer system or its software that produces the design – they are merely tools –
  4. the whole thing must be new on one or several scales and levels
Sources (non exhaustive)

Looking back, it is possible to find systems that could, at least partially, be described as chaotic:
Slum neighbourhoods and the various types of vernacular architecture (chaotic in function through haphazard development and not the result of design/thought/overall concept).
Some of the work of certain architects or artists may also show similarities: Claude Parent, Lebbeus Wood, Coop Himmelb(l)au (in their early period), Gordon Matta Clark, etc.
Chaos architecture has its roots in architectural history.

Relationship with contemporary society, when chaos has meaning

The word « chaos » (or « chaotic ») should not be understood according to its normal meaning. Chaos architecture cannot stem from a roll of the dice – which will never abolish chance2 – or any other random factor (software or other). It is a considered response, albeit new in the way it is expressed (although it may not be new as such), initially reflecting the world in which we live, itself a hotchpotch of disparate elements, where there are so many random and/or conformist proposals that striking, innovative concepts are unable to emerge. But it is very soon clear that this reflection is deformed. Chaos architecture will, by contrast, condense and transcend our era by bringing a new form of organisation, composing to offer a new direction. It must always adopt a critical stance in relation to the surfeit of proposals. To give a (purer) meaning to the works of the tribe3.

Such architecture is therefore not an ode to our times but more a criticism of an era incapable of combining the rational with the irrational, of following a specific direction; an era stifled by a succession of mini-waves (fashions) randomly following different directions from the past. A period hallmarked by precisely the sort of chaos we are out to condemn, chaos that is the result of chance, disorganised, limp, without interest… where all things are equal, with neither relative values nor tastes; chaos masquerading under the banner of fairness and democracy. Since, to my knowledge, there is nobody capable of producing a vision [leaving aside ecological architecture, for all architecture should be ecological, whether biomorphic or computer-designed (a computer is an instrument and instruments alone cannot give birth to a new vision)].
The aim of chaos architecture as defined is not that of accepting this era, nor that of simply juxtaposing different styles or micro-movements. Its aim is to transcend the status quo and create surprise by offering both constant and isolated cohesion – even if this is difficult to recognise at first glance, since it is not based on conventional rules –.
Such architecture sets out to rationalise chaos. « Setting a scene comprising potentially conflicting elements, placing them in position, uniting them and creating harmony among them. » Claude Parent. Reorganisation is necessary so that the chaos is merely apparent. The aim remains to offer something new and unpredictable, namely the inability to imagine the whole project from seeing any one of its individual parts.
The system, building or urban development thus achieved is something that will be constantly renewed through movement through the nspaces. It may be expressed by means of a variety of architectural currents.


The objective sought offers no easy options. It is simpler to create order than deliberate, considered disorder, symmetry rather than dissymmetry, since our minds (unless we make a determined effort) are conditioned by shape, image, culture(s).
We must deconstruct the aesthetic structures of the past and dare to cast them off.
This means that we will need to decondition our brains, rid ourselves of preconceptions, return to an original state, devoid of all knowledge yet possessing (with a well-developed critical sense) all the different cultures. We need to create meaning. We must respect, intelligently enrich, enhance the context where our architecture will be sited; use poetry to transform its potential (climate – wind, rain, snow, cold, heat, sun, shadow, etc. – perspective, geography, culture, etc.), in order to release new ecological, poetic and social forces. We must find ways of adapting to this environment without reproducing. We must deconstruct, add and/or subtract, to put things back together again in different ways and create a succession of perceptions within the nspaces (time, space, n dimensions); we must reach out to the very soul.
At the same time, we need to deconstruct all the aesthetic concepts known throughout the history of the art of the different civilisations to understand their context (historical, geographical, etc.) so we can then assimilate them and use the intrinsic yet non-apprehendable mechanisms of past beauty to create new beauty independent of chance (and not reproduce poor imitations of the past). « Beauty is always bizarre ». Baudelaire’s words may not apply to all forms of beauty but they do apply without a doubt to the new. And surely creating something beautiful and new has to be the goal of any great creator? We must appeal to the passer-by’s senses, offer him stimulating sights that will raise questions in his mind. He must be made to feel, to Live.
« Art only exists in as much as it defies all rational explanation and its meaning escapes us in some way ». Arthur Danto

All contexts are bound by a number of intrinsic constraints: climate, gravitational pull, culture, geology, geography, flows, programmes, environment, etc.
These form the matrix, the framework in which architecture will develop without preconceived structures, away from conventional patterns. And, as with general relativism, matrix and content are mutually dependent. Chaos architecture differs from architectural deconstructivism, the process of deconstructing to reconstruct using another structure. Chaos architecture is developed within a specific context but with no predefined structure (matrix). Its structure (matrix), insofar as it has one, is multifaceted and ever different.
Chaos architecture is an architecture that reinvents itself all the time. From each different context, the Works of the past, the rational and the irrational, it draws the energy it needs to create a work that is a poetical combination of the unknown, the pragmatic, sustainable development, the social dimension and beauty.
This architecture will surprise, be ever new, ever original. Multifaceted, it will no longer be designed to be viewed from a single perspective but will cater to an infinite number of different perspectives in the n dimensions.


Chaos is a notion used to define a system that is irrational but contains a measure of rationality. It is never inconsistent with the notions of calm and flow. Its contrasts can leave nobody indifferent.

Past structures can be made to disappear by shifting these structures in apparently random fashion to make them blend with their site and adapt to light and shade.

Blowing on the waves to move in unexpected directions

Architecture is not the « petrification of a moment of culture » (Jean Nouvel) but must occupy a particular place at the meeting point between the contemporary and the eternal.

Eric Cassar  2008  -  (Translated from french by Christine Cross)


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