Karl Chu X Phylum project records

Karl Chu X Phylum project records

Part of


  • Karl S. Chu (archive creator)
  • Karl S. Chu (architect)
  • Afsheen Rais Rohani (assistant)


Karl Chu X Phylum project records

Dates of creation



  • archives

Level of archival description


Extent and Medium

  • 364 digital files (6.5 GB)

Scope and Content

Karl Chu project records, 1998-2014, document the conceptualization and design of the X PHYLUM project. The records consist exclusively of born-digital records relating the different stages of design of the X PHYLUM project.

The X PHYLUM project consists in the first attempt to explore spline-based topological digital modeling and used the most powerful digital technology available for the geometric visualization of mathematical principles. Chu’s commitment to equipment made him the first architect to purchase a Silicon Graphics Indigo workstation and a license of Alias software, which allowed him to explore the potential of spline modeling in his Los Angeles office. X PHYLUM demonstrates the crossover between digital modeling and drafting common at the time.

His focus was not on buildings but on systemic research into serial families of topological surfaces. Chu generated surfaces with a branching line system in three-dimensional spaces, based on the Lindenmeyer System, a formal grammar that models the growth processes of plant development. The endpoints of these L-System branches were connected with splines and these splines were then lofted into surfaces. In this context the algorithm itself is the object of the design which consists in inventing new process of algorithmic design that will define the geometry of the outcome.

The X PHYLUM project stands in the trajectory of Karl Chu theory about a genetic architecture. He argues that computation is “enabling us to think for the first time of a new kind of xenoarchitecture with its own autonomy and will to being”. Genetic is not perceived by Chu in a traditional sense which mean as a “representation of biology [or] a form of biomimesis” rather than an “interconnected logic of recursion and self-replication”. Applied to architecture, this takes the form of “the art of putting two bits together, at least bits that are programmed to self-replicate, self-organize and self-synthesise into evermore new constellations of emergent relations and ensembles” that will eventually “produce meaningful architecturally discernable project”.

The result of Chu’s theory is visible in the X PHYLUM project where it is possible to understand the different stages of the design process he envisioned, first with the diagram files that show how Chu programmed the logic that takes form through the different wireframes, renderings and images within the fonds.


Chu, Karl: “Metaphysics of genetic architecture and computation.” In Constructing a New Agenda: Architectural Theory 1993-2009. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010, p.427 – 431.

Chu, Karl and Lynn, Greg. X Phylum / Catastrophe Machine, Montréal : Canadian Center for Architecture, 2015.

Reference Number



The fond is arranged into one series:

Series 1, X PHYLUM

The arrangement of the directory and subdirectories replicates for the most part the original order established by Chu himself. However the files originally named “7. X_P Misc_Etc” and “10. X_Ph Misc_Renders1” have been regrouped in AP176.S1.007. Also the items of accession AR2014.0039 that were gathered in one folder were redistributed, according to their content, in corresponding directories.

Biographical notes

Karl Chu is principal of the architectural studio METAXY. Former professor of Pratt Institute School of Architecture, he is the founder of the Institute for Genetic Architecture at the GSAPP, Columbia University, New York. Chu is also a Co-director of the Biodigital Architecture Program at ESARQ, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, Barcelona. He is involved in the research and development of genetic architecture and the ontology of the architecture of possible worlds. He has taught, lectured, published and exhibited internationally.

Conditions governing access

  • Access by appointment only. To inquire about potential access to this material, please contact Collection Reference (reference@cca.qc.ca).

Conditions governing reproduction

  • For copyright information or permission to reproduce material from the fonds, please contact the CCA (reproductions@cca.qc.ca).

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

  • Gift of Karl Chu in 2013 and Afsheen Rais Rohani on 19 February 2014.

Custodial history

Material arrived through two accessions: AR2013.0039 and AR2014.0010.

The majority of the digital files in the archive were kept by Karl Chu at his firm’s office in New York City and transferred to CCA on a USB thumb drive.

A group of 12 TIFF images and 2 DXF drawings of wireframes were sent to CCA by project assistant Afsheen Rais Rohani on a single CD-R. These records had been kept in the personal possession of Rohani in Las Vegas prior to their transfer to CCA.

These records were acquired by CCA as part of the Archaeology of the Digital project. Selected items were displayed in the show Archaeology of the Digital: Media and Machines, May-October 2014.

Archivist's note

  • A single-level record for this archive was created by Digital Archivist Tessa Walsh in July 2016. Processing and description was completed by Digital Processing Archivist Justine Couture in January 2019.

Credit line

When citing the collection as a whole, use the citation:
Karl Chu X Phylum project records,
Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/
Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal.
When citing specific collection material, please refer to the object’s specific credit line.

Language of material


Related units of description

  • A new Catastrophe Machine was designed by Chu in 2014 and constructed for the exhibition Media and Machines. Though the built machine was not maintained, documentation of the construction of this machine can be found in the CCA Institutional Archives. As part of the Archeology of the Digital series of exhibitions, interviews were conducted with the related architects and published in an ePub format: Lynn, Greg. Archeology of the Digital 08: X Phylum / Catastrophe Machine. Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2015.

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