A new interactive installation by School of Architecture faculty and students explores the role of the SoA in the history of computing at Carnegie Mellon University. The installation reconstructs “CISP,” an early system for generative urban design developed by Christos Yessios in 1972. The installation will be on display throughout the month of April at the Posner Center as part of a larger exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first computer at CMU.
Drawing from archival materials from the CMU archives, the team reconstructed Yessios’ “CISP,” a software based on a “linguistic model” of design that allows users to define basic urban conditions, a repertoire of architectural units, and spatial constraints — such as access, views, and distance. Using a backtracking algorithm, the system iterates through alternative placements of the units until it finds an optimal solution.
In a forthcoming article, Professor Daniel Cardoso Llach explains that CISP “offers a glimpse into the role architectural researchers at Carnegie Mellon played in pioneering computational approaches to architectural and urban design. Its author, Yessios, was the first doctoral student in architecture at CMU — a degree then granted by SUPA, the predecessor to Heinz College. His doctoral committee included Charles Eastman and AI pioneer Allen Newell.” CISP thus illustrates CMU’s distinctively interdisciplinary spirit, with researchers across fields combining methods from computer science, urban planning, and architecture in order to expand our ability to understand and shape the built environment.
The installation is part of Llach’s ongoing research project “Experimental Archaeology of CAD,” which combines historical research and technology prototyping in order to reconstruct early computational design systems and explore their gestural and material dimensions. Other installations from this project have been exhibited in the Miller Institute for Contemporary Art (formerly Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon) (Pittsburgh, 2017) and at the SIGGRAPH Art Gallery (Vancouver, 2018).
The CISP reconstruction project team includes students Harshavardan Kedia (B.Arch ’19), who played a leading role in the implementation of the CISP reconstruction and Erik Ulberg (MSCD ’20), who made important technical contributions.