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City-Streets and Constructural Theory [FOR SERIOUS ARCHITECTURE NERDS ONLY!]
by Katy Purviance on 05/03/08 @ 11:36:52 pm
Categories: Observations | 688 words | 1010 views

As some of you know, I earned my undergraduate degree in microbiology. I tend to see all things as interrelated and had no problem switching my paradigm to architecture. Most of my family and friends did not see the connection between these two disciplines as clearly. When asked for an explanation, I replied, “They both deal with structure.”

I see structural similarities across phylum and scale.

A bare deciduous tree looks an awful lot like a dendrite…the tiny receptors of a nerve cell. An extreme close-up of a shark tooth looks like a million more shark teeth. The vein pattern of a leaf looks a lot like a river pattern across continents. The patterns of electrons are mimicked up through the scales: to atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, ecosystems, plants, solar systems…the universe.


I talk about these things, but I haven’t heard anybody else talk this phenomenon. Until I saw this article:

Constructal view of the scaling laws of street networks — the dynamics behind geometry

A. Heitor Reis

Physics Department and Evora Geophysics Center, University of Évora, R, Romão Ramalho, 59, 7000-671, Évora, Portugal


The distributions of street lengths and nodes follow inverse-power distribution laws. That means that the smaller the network components, the more numerous they have to be. In addition, street networks show geometrical self-similarities over a range of scales. Based on these features many authors claim that street networks are fractal in nature. What we show here is that both the scaling laws and self-similarity emerge from the underlying dynamics, together with the purpose of optimizing flows of people and goods in time, as predicted by the Constructal Law. The results seem to corroborate the prediction that cities’ fractal dimension approaches 2 as they develop and become more complex.

If you want to read the whole thing, you’ve got to go here and pay up. (Sorry.)

But my friends over at Archinect (hi friends at Archinect!) reported on this too, and they were able to get more behind-the-scenes on the 411:

Scientist have begun to understand that urban transportation and infrastructure networks grow like biological systems.

Key aspects of the finding include:
They found that cities’ road patterns have a lot in common mathematically, as well as looking similar to the eye. ‘Not just planning’

The researchers developed a simple mathematical model that can recreate the characteristic leaf-like patterns that develop, growing a road network from scratch as it would in reality.

The main influence on the simulated network as it grows is the need to efficiently connect new areas to the existing road network – a process they call “local optimisation". They say the road patterns in cities evolve thanks to similar local efforts, as people try to connect houses, businesses and other infrastructures to existing roads.

Evolution has ensured that local efficiency also drives the growth of transport networks in biology – for example, in plant leaf veins and circulatory systems.

“Cities are not just the result of rational planning – in the same way that living organisms are not simply what is in their genetic code,” Barthélemy told New Scientist.

Of course, next I had to learn more about Constructal Theory.

The constructal theory of global optimization under local constraints explains in a simple manner the shapes that arise in nature. It is the thought that flow architecture comes from a principle of maximization of flow access, in time, and in flow configuration that are free to morph.

The Constructal law proclaims a tendency in time about the generation of animate and inanimate flow systems: “the maximization of access for the currents that flows through a morphing flow system “. This theory replaces the belief that nature is fractal, and allow one to design and analyse systems under constraints in a quest for optimality.

This theory allows the design and understanding of natural systems, thermal dissipators, communication networks, etc.

I like to think that maybe I’m not really a nerd, but when I read stuff like that…and I feel the way I feel right now (kind of excited and intellectually…stimulated), I’ve confirmed it to myself (and you). But that’s okay. I’m cool too.

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