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alter ego: noun 1. a person’s secondary or alternative personality


The history of architecture contains several buildings considered sacred by historians. These built works can be found in the lectures of nearly all architectural history survey courses, are visited annually by student travelers, and are photographed/sketched/analyzed as a way to tap into their essence. Their presence is larger than life and, due to the often universally-used photos and representations, are elevated to a character of high status. They are revered.


What happens when these characters of high stature are sampled for their DNA, removed from specific stylistic indications placing it within a certain time period, and allowed to author alternative variations on a systemic logic? It might result in a traditional, academic precedent case study. But even further, what if this analysis and development of a source code were packaged in a way that empowered several designers to develop families of phenotypes demonstrating similar but varying character? “Blasphemy” began as a way to decipher the character development of a canonical work, in this case the Pantheon, and open access to those character traits for development of phenotypes demonstrating organizational and geometrical variations all based on the genotype. The result is not simply a parametric formal study, but the creation of toolsets which allow the work to carry on beyond this investigation. It is open-source.


Post-Renaissance design disciplines of the built environment are predicated on the Albertian model where conception and representation of built form occur initially, followed separately by construction of the artifact as represented without alteration. This relationship seeks to assure control of the content by the author; it is copyrighted. It is also being challenged in a shared, copyleft 21st century where evolution outweighs individual authorship. Enabled partly by a democratization of fabrication, the maker and end user are now authors in the process and the line between designing and constructing is increasingly blurred. Open-source design, a term first coined late 20th century in the context of software development and computer science, embraces the internet-connected, sharing community.


The phenotype families shown here demonstrate focused development of variation based on the question ‘What if the surface condition of the Pantheon manifested variation through changeable character lines?’ The automotive design technique called character line is, according to one source, defined as “an important feature line or crease which may be sculpted, or more pleasingly, created by the meeting of two planes on a car’s surface, and which gives or adds both definition and ‘personality’ to the form.”1 The Pantheon’s geometry shows variation in the vertical dimension as the coffers change size and orientation based on spherical geometry and a fixed vantage point near the center of the sphere. A slice of the half sphere containing 5 coffers vertically is replicated 28 times around the dome in plan about a central oculus to make the genotype. The introduction of character lines creates alternate privileged viewpoints, and variation in the surface geometry and structural organization. Developed out of the 4 parameters (oculus size, coffer count, orienting vantage point, and sequential sectional loft geometry) and parametrically-linked systemic logic were over 40 alter egos of the original Pantheon dome. Blasphemy engages digital practice, creative commons, and mathematics/geometry into a robust demonstration of genetic character variability. The intent of the investigation was not to create a clone, or even a better Pantheon. Even further, it wasn’t even really about the Pantheon itself. The research is situated in a position of open-source design based in historical precedent which challenges a traditional understanding of authorship in contemporary architectural design.

1 “Starting Out: Car Design Glossary – Part 1 Page 2,” Car Design News, accessed July 31, 2016, http://www.cardesignnews.com/articles/resources/2007/07/starting-out-car-design-glossary-part-1/page-2/

**Work conducted as part of the Killinger Professorship at the University of Nebraska with research assistant Pierce Tallichet.

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