Shape Grammer


We are after an area of knowledge which concerns with the development of natural forms, it have many names such like Morphogenesis and Emergence and self-organization, and it became an area of interest for many researchers in the areas of biological science, physics, generative science and mathematics. These kind of forms we find in the smallest building cells of the living substances and the smallest tectonics of Structuring systems. It’s the field concerns with using the simplest shape rules to create complex patterns and structures.


Recently, these kind of knowledge became an area of interest for Architects, but before them the scientists and computer experts, they built programs and algorithms which simulate the natural life patterns govern the form emergence. I help architects to  build innovative geometries and tectonics, they  wasn’t able to build before, it also inspire designers to create structural and fabrication systems that have extraordinary behaviors and characteristics, it push the exploration process for new material systems that can work better for Architecture.


From these systems of production, is Shape Grammar, it’s a computer algorithms developed to create geometries using simple Shape rules. good examples o shape grammar are L-systems and Cellular-Automata, these systems have been developed to build structures and forms in a generative way,  similarly to the natural forming way.



 It’s a grid of cells, with two status live or dead, the status of the game evolve with time or ticking, with each iteration a cell status is changing according to a specific rule, this rule is mainly related to the status of neighbor cells. e.g. if the cell is dead and three cells around are alive, it become a live.

There is 1-Dimensional CA type, such like the elementary CA by S. Wolfram. there is also the 2-Dimensional CA type, such like Conway’s Game of Life Algorithm, it’s a good example of Emergence and self-organization which simulate natural biological forms.

L- Systems & Fractals

L-Systems are a writing systems, use alphabetical characters  to build strings using formal grammar,it’s a system use iteration and recursive-ness to reproduce an algorithm in a way simulate natural growth. An example for Lindenmayer Systems is the Tree growth simulation, the system start with an axiom, an initial status and initiating alphabetical characters. It starts to add branches to each initial axiom  using a rule, this rule could be flipping the first alphabet to another(A-B), or to generate two new alphabets(A-AB). Each iteration repeat the previous rule to each alphabet. each  iteration become a process of growing a punch of branches for the initial axiom(branch).

good examples for the L-Systems are the cantor dust, the Sierpinski triangle, space filling curves such like dragon curve and also the tiling (tessellation) systems.

Shape Grammar in Architecture

You can see the success of using the shape grammar in Architecture in the works of (Stiny and Mitchell 1978) the Palladian Villas, and  (Night 1981) the Japanese Tea Rooms, in addition to Alvaro Siza Malagueira Housing project.




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