Margarita Didychenko, architect: "A city is a set of processes that we need to handle critically and with understanding"
Margarita Didychenko, architect and instructor at Kyiv National University of Civil Engineering and Architecture is working on a dissertation addressing the composition and spatial development of cities. At one point during her study Margarita began to investigate how algorithms could be employed to parse the data she was amassing in her research. The idea originated at the workshop in the laboratory InfAr (the Bauhaus University, Weimar) where Margarita was able to consult thanks to a Culture Bridges grant.
About the project idea
I became acquainted with InFar team several years ago. I was interested in their approach to studying the city using algorithms. At some point in my thesis research I realized that my database was too large to be used in analysing each city individually. I considered how it would be possible to process the data more efficiently using algorithms. I'm using multivariable data related to the historical development of cities: maps and general architectural schematics from different years, city panoramas, topographic data, the height and area occupied by individual buildings and sociological data.
I opened a dialogue with InFar about how to integrate their capacity into my research, and how they could assist me. We decided to put together a specialized workshop. I've found them to be very open to any idea and they responded with "Great. Please come, and we're ready to work with you during our regular schedule. We'll set up a workplace for you." I had to laugh when I saw that they'd given me a desk that was larger than the one I have at my university in Kyiv. Also, within the workshop there were two study trips, to Dresden and Erfurt.
About the projects of other participants
One project was about Ethiopia. It's important and has a real client interested in the result. They've been working on it for about a year and at the time I was visiting they were simulating approaches to developing small towns, working with all the required elements and social criteria. For example, their models need to include reliable access to water but also to a church because the local people are very religious. For me that provided an interesting, wide view of what deserves consideration in urbanized space. The algorithm works in such a way that each criterion's influence can be adjusted on a sliding scale to see how this affects a particular stage of development as well as the end result.

Another project uses an algorithm that automatically applies all legislative restrictions and issues touching on construction volumes that can be brought to bear. At a certain point the algorithm becomes a substitute for the architect's work. It's assumed that this algorithm will be able to calculate immediately details down to the number of flats that can be included. It calculates for the optimum planning result, yet, it's still in the development stage.
About Grasshopper
Grasshopper is a graphical algorithm editor (integrated into a 3D modelling programme called Rhinoceros 3D), which is mainly used in parametric architecture. It allows you to create a 3D model, just like in a 3D graphic editor like 3Ds MAX. Simultaneously, Grasshopper allows you to formulate the instructions to build the model and not just the model itself. You're able to calculate complex forms bearing minimal construction loads. In Ukraine Grasshopper is used mainly in design, for example, to create ornate ceramic tiles that are popular now.
On practice and theory in architecture
We lack sufficient debate that involves both practitioners and theorists
I'm not a working architect. I've had some design experience but it's not what I enjoy. I'm geared toward theoretical issues and the norms that spur the development of practice. These days it seems that research has caught up to practice. I mean that research foci are quite discrete, even bureaucratically oriented, what with all the established criteria we have to satisfy in the study so that it qualifies for a reading and an eventual defence. Of course, this doesn't always lead to a practical result.

Now, after three years of postgraduate study, I have developed a critical view on writing theses. We lack sufficient debate that involves both practitioners and theorists. The bulk of theoretical research conducted in Ukraine remains undiscovered in practice. The solution involves debugging our communication channels. Perhaps creating discussion platforms, off- and online where practitioners and theorists can listen to each other.
Too often, architects exist in a kind of rarefied bubble and lose contact with what's going on in other spheres. But we're not in a vacuum, haven't be, and can never be. The city is a process that needs to be handled critically and with understanding
Margarita Didychenko
On the features of urban planning in Germany
In Germany, the approach to town-planning is much more open and flexible, relying on compromise. They do have clear restrictions that the adhere to scrupulously. Yet, you see some fascinating connections, like when structures of different eras stand side-by-side reflecting their adherence to the Athenian Charter and the practice of not reduplicating earlier styles but putting up structures that are consistent with their own era and not stylized to reflect something from another time. The investment environment is also quite strong and clients ready to build are everywhere.

Another feature of the German architectural environment: competition. This is really important because of the competitive environment it fosters. Various bureaus can offer their unique solutions. In some cases, concepts are combined to achieve the most effective solution. Competition provokes dialogue and raises public awareness of what's going on.
About life after the workshop
"Hey, you went to Bauhaus! And came back!"
After returning home from the workshop, I visited a session of my Department. There was such a joke: "Hey, you went to Bauhaus! And came back!" It's unpleasant, because we need to go there to borrow their experience and once you're back you see that in Ukraine there is so much space where it could be applied. We've got this giant unplowed field. You've always got to work within our system, and it's entirely another question how much opposition you're going to face by doing that. If you're not ready to fight the system then you're not ready to change it.

I'm often asked: "why did you go to work in the university system"? It's true, I didn't like the way we were instructed but if we ever plan to benefit from our universities, we've got to change them. If we don't we'll just have another set of architects with petrified critical apparatuses. So we have to address this – go abroad for experience and come back to put it to work.
Photo by Margarita Didychenko, made during the workshop
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