An Evoltionary Architecture - John Frazer

View pages from the book


Download PDFs
Introduction (15.5 mb)

Section 1 (29 mb)
Section 2 (26 mb)
Postscript (7.5 mb)
Appendices (7.5 mb)

Generative System
Co-operative Evolution

Electronic version of An Evolutionary Architecture
An Evolutionary Architecture was published in January 1995 to coincide with an exhibition of the same name at the Architectural Association. It concentrates on the work of Diploma Unit 11 run by John and Julia Frazer (with Pete Silver and Guy Westbrook) between 1989 and 1996, but includes formative work by the author dating back to his diploma prize-winning project at the AA in 1969 and related research work at Cambridge University.

The book investigates the fundamental form-generating processes in architecture, considering architecture as a form of artificial life, and proposing a genetic representation in a form of DNA-like code-script, which can then be subject to developmental and evolutionary processes in response to the user and the environment. The aim of an evolutionary architecture is to achieve in the built environment the symbiotic behaviour and metabolic balance found in the natural environment. To do so, it operates like an organism, in a direct analogy with the underlying design process of nature.

The book also proposes a fundamental change in practice …
The role of the architect here, I think, is not so much to design a building or city as to catalyse them: to act that they may evolve.’
Gordon Pask in his foreword to the book.

The exhibition accompanying the launch of the book was unique in not only having a virtual version available on the internet, but also in achieving the first ever online virtual interaction with the development of an evolving form in a remote exhibition. A model of the system, called the Interactivator, allowed both virtual and actual visitors to make selections or propose (via a bank of switches) genetic information to influence the evolution of the form. The development of specific instances of the form was also influenced by the physical environment of the exhibition space, as detected by data from sensors of temperature, humidity, noise, smoke level and so forth.

The Interactivator could also reproduce itself by allowing the program of the model to be downloaded to remote sites. As it replicated itself each replication took on a divergent evolutionary path, the results of which could also be fed back to the central model to contribute to the gene pool.

The internet experiment was made possible by the generosity of Ellipsis publishers who hosted the website. Parts of this site can still be visited at

Following the exhibition the unit went on to demonstrate the application of this thinking to city planning in Groningen in collaboration with Chris Moller of S333. The influence of the work of Diploma Unit 11 can still be seen in many areas of the AA School.

The book received excellent reviews, is 5 star rated on the Amazon US website, and has been widely commented upon in books, lectures and scientific papers. It is now regarded as a seminal work.

See Further Development

An Evolutionary Architecture has been out of print for some time and is now made freely available on the web.

You are welcome to download and copy this material so long as every instance, illustration or quotation, bears the acknowledgement:
From John Frazer, An Evolutionary Architecture, Architectural Association Publications, Themes VII, copyright John Frazer and the Architectural Association 1995.
However, you may not reproduce the work in part or whole for publication without the permission of the copyright holders.


Thanks to Dr Thomas Fisher and Christiane M. Herr for scanning and preparing images.

Layout top of page