Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape

Architectural Intelligence:  How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape available at American Swedish Institute.

Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape

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Architects who engaged with cybernetics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies poured the foundation for digital interactivity.

In Architectural Intelligence, Molly Wright Steenson explores the work of four architects in the 1960s and 1970s who incorporated elements of interactivity into their work. Christopher Alexander, Richard Saul Wurman, Cedric Price, and Nicholas Negroponte and the MIT Architecture Machine Group all incorporated technologies—including cybernetics and artificial intelligence—into their work and influenced digital design practices from the late 1980s to the present day.

Alexander, long before his famous 1977 book A Pattern Language, used computation and structure to visualize design problems; Wurman popularized the notion of “information architecture”; Price designed some of the first intelligent buildings; and Negroponte experimented with the ways people experience artificial intelligence, even at architectural scale. Steenson investigates how these architects pushed the boundaries of architecture—and how their technological experiments pushed the boundaries of technology. What did computational, cybernetic, and artificial intelligence researchers have to gain by engaging with architects and architectural problems? And what was this new space that emerged within these collaborations? At times, Steenson writes, the architects in this book characterized themselves as anti-architects and their work as anti-architecture. The projects Steenson examines mostly did not result in constructed buildings, but rather in design processes and tools, computer programs, interfaces, digital environments. Alexander, Wurman, Price, and Negroponte laid the foundation for many of our contemporary interactive practices, from information architecture to interaction design, from machine learning to smart cities.


In March 2023, Dr. Molly Wright Steenson was announced as the next President and CEO of the American Swedish Institute. Dr. Steenson will join ASI in July 2023, succeeding retiring president and CEO Bruce Karstadt, who has led ASI for more than 30 years.

Dr. Steenson is an internationally recognized author, academic leader and keynote speaker. She is tenured in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon, holds an affiliate appointment in the School of Architecture, and was previously senior associate dean for research in the College of Fine Arts. Prior to Carnegie Mellon, she was an assistant tenure-track professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a visiting researcher at the Umeå University HUMLab in Umeå, Sweden, and a professor at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy. Dr. Steenson is the author of Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape (MIT Press) which explores the history of design, architecture, and AI. Dr. Steenson holds a PhD in architecture from Princeton University and a Master’s in environmental design from the Yale School of Architecture.

Before her career in academia, Dr. Steenson worked in San Francisco, New York and Munich with the Web in the 1990s and early 2000s as one of the first user experience designers.

A "convergence of many strands of leadership"