Portrait of Dr Timothy Ireland

Dr Timothy Ireland

Senior Lecturer
Director of Digital Architecture
MSc Bio Digital Architecture Programme Director
Director of DARC Research Centre


Tim is a UK registered architect who, having worked in small-scale private and large-scale international practices in the UK and overseas turned to focus on his interests in natural systems and computation. Awarded an EPSRC research grant in 2008 Tim completed his PhD (2013) in Architecture and Computational Design at the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, University College London. Tim’s research is a synthesis of algorithmic and biological design thinking. Taking an interdisciplinary approach his research is a combination of (1) synthesising several different strands of theoretical work on conceptualising, representing and analysing space and spatiality, and (2) developing computer codes that simulate bio-inspired spatial self-organisation. The purpose of these two endeavours is to (a) probe and improve the concept of space for architectural practice, and (b) make a case for the use of such computational tools as creative stimuli for early-stage design processes. Understanding space to arise from the interplay of dynamic habitual agencies, he proposes architects may benefit from embracing a decentralised approach to configuration in order to mediate and articulate inhabitation.

In 2011 Tim became a senior lecturer at the Leicester School of Architecture, De Montfort University where he taught design and theory at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. He became Programme Leader of the MA Architecture course, through which he instigated the Motive Ecologies programme (a computational design initiative amalgamating architecture and computing with biological and semiotic theory). In 2015 Tim became Programme Leader of the MArch Architecture course and the Motive Ecologies programme became a research oriented studio within the MArch encouraging computation and code as a means to stimulate a biological approach to design thinking.

Tim has a boutique architectural practice in London, where he lives.

Research interests

My research stems from an interest in how organisms interact with their world and construct niches to enhance their existence, as well as how shape, form and structure arise in nature. 

The task of configuring buildings spatially is complex, yet traditional approaches tend to flatten and quantify such problems to make them manageable.  My research looks at how the complexity of such problems may be used as an engine to drive the process of configuration, using the computer as a tool to emulate natural phenomena to capitalise on their productive pattern-making properties.

  • Computational design
  • Analysis of architectural space and form
  • Digital design methods
  • Generative design
  • Natural architecture
  • Understanding morphology and structure in nature
  • Algorithmic and biological design
  • Swarm / collective intelligence and distributed cognition
  • Understanding space and spatiality


Module CodeModule TitleInformation
AR836Design 4ATutor
AR838Design 5aTutor
AR839Design 5b


PhD Supervision

  • Seyedeh Alavi



  • Cárdenas-García, J. and Ireland, T. (2020). Bateson Information Revisited: A New Paradigm. Proceedings [Online] 47. Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.3390/proceedings47010005.
    The goal of this work is to explain a novel information paradigm claiming that all information results from a process, intrinsic to living beings, of self-production; a sensory commensurable, self-referential feedback process immanent to Bateson’s difference that makes a difference. To highlight and illustrate this fundamental process, a simulation based on one-parameter feedback is presented. It simulates a homeorhetic process, innate to organisms, illustrating a self-referenced, autonomous system. The illustrated recursive process is sufficiently generic to be the only basis for information in nature: from the single cell, to multi-cellular organisms, to consideration of all types of natural and non-natural phenomena, including tools and artificial constructions.
  • Cárdenas-García, J. and Ireland, T. (2019). The Fundamental Problem of the Science of Information. Biosemiotics [Online] 12:213-244. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-019-09350-2.
    The concept of information has been extensively studied and written about, yet no consensus on a unified definition of information has to date been reached. This paper seeks to establish the basis for a unified definition of information. We claim a biosemiotics perspective, based on Gregory Bateson’s definition of information, provides a footing on which to build because the frame this provides has applicability to both the sciences and humanities.
    A key issue in reaching a unified definition of information is the fundamental problem of identify ing how a human o rgan ism, in a self-referential process, develops from a state in which its knowledge of the h uman-organism-in-its-environment is almost non-existent to a state in which the human organism not only recognizes the existence of the environment but also sees itself as part of the human-organism-in-its-environment system. This allows a human organism not only to self-referentially engage with the environment and navigate through it, but also to transform it i n its own image and likeness. In other words, the Fundamental Problem of the Science of Information concerns the phylogenetic development process, as well as the ontogenetic development process of Homo sapiens sapiens from a single cell to our current multicellular selves, all in a changing long-term and short-term environment, respectively.
  • Ireland, T. and Garnier, S. (2018). Architecture, Space and Information in Constructions Built by Humans and Social Insects: a Conceptual Review. Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences [Online] 373. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2017.0244.
    The similarities between the structures built by social insects and by humans have led to a convergence of interests between biologists and architects. This new, de facto interdisciplinary community of scholars needs a common terminology and theoretical framework in which to ground its work. In this conceptually oriented review paper, we review the terms “information”, “space” and “architecture” to provide definitions that span biology and architecture. A framework is proposed on which interdisciplinary exchange may be better served, with the view that this will aid better cross fertilisation between disciplines, working in the areas of collective behaviour and analysis of the structures and edifices constructed by non-humans; and to facilitate how this area of study may better contribute to the field of architecture. We then use these definitions to discuss the informational content of constructions built by organisms and the influence these have on behaviour, and vice versa. We review how spatial constraints inform and influence interaction between an organism and its environment, and examine the reciprocity of space and information on construction and the behaviour of humans and social insects.
  • Ireland, T. (2018). Frederick Kiesler: From life to architecture - to life. Signs and Media Journal [Online]. Available at: http://www.semiotics.net.cn/userfiles/images/a92b9669e6a777f2d730815ae4f1888d.pdf.
    This paper argues there is a correlation between the architect Frederick Kiesler and the biosemiotic project. In so doing it proposes this coupling establishes a framework leading to an architectural-biosemiotic paradigm that puts biosemiotic theory at the heart of cognising the built environment, and offers an approach to shaping the built environment that supports (and benefits) human, and organismic, intelligence.

    Uexküll’s understanding of the organism-in-its-environment is, perhaps, the keystone to the inside-outside problematic. Peirce’s sign model and semiotic theory emphasises how cognising, and the inside-outside synthesis, is a condition of sign interpretation. The principle of a difference, underpinning Bateson’s ecological standpoint brings these two positions together to distinguish what has become the biosemiotic project. In this paper I distinguish another individual, Fredeick Kiesler (1890-1965), an Austrian-American architect, theoretician, theatre designer, artist and sculptor whose lifelong project was the unification of the sciences with art, through architecture. I suggest Kiesler provides a theoretical and practical precedent delineating a concrete bridge from the humanities to the biosemiotic project. Kieslers central idea was ‘continuity’, through which he formulated the notion of ‘endless space’; in contradiction to his contemporaries whose formulation of infinite space underpinned the modernist ideal. Kielsers Manifesto of Correalsim is the bridge, which I propose provides a concrete means for applying biosemiotic thinking in the humanities, most significantly in architectural design and theory.
  • Cárdenas-García, J. and Ireland, T. (2017). Human Distributed Cognition from an Organism-in-Its-Environment Perspective. Biosemiotics [Online] 10:265-278. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12304-017-9293-8.
    The organism-in-its-environment is recognized as the basic unit of analysis when dealing with living beings. This paper seeks to define the fundamental implications of the concept of the organism-in-its-environment in terms of the biosemiotics concept of human distributed cognition. Human distributed cognition in a biosemiotics context is defined as the ability of a self-referencing organism-in-its-environment to interact with its environment to satisfy its physiological (internal and external) and social needs to survive and sustain itself. The ontogenetic development of the organism-in-its-environment serves as the backdrop to discover the implications of distributed cognition that have general applicability in organisms, but in this paper, are made relevant to human beings.
  • Ireland, T. and Cárdenas-García, J. (2017). A teleonomic distributed cognition approach to architectural design. Technoetic Arts [Online] 15:15-34. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1386/tear.15.1.15_1.
    The purpose of this article is to explore a newly defined concept of distributed cognition in a spatial domain and to propose how this conceptualization may be applied to how architectural space is organized. A novel view of distributed cognition is presented, which is concerned with the purposive behaviour of an organism-in-its-environment. We term this concept teleonomic distributed cognition. Teleonomic distributed cognition is the ability of an organism (including humans) to interact with its environment for the purpose of satisfying its physiological (internal and external) and social needs in order to survive and sustain itself. An implication of this approach is that the sensory capabilities that drive the teleonomic distributed cognition of the organism define its spatial domain.

Book section

  • Ireland, T. (2017). Leveraging nature to envision (functional) space: An Architecture of Machinic Abduction. In: Visioning Technologies: The Architectures of Sight. Routledge, pp. 207-222. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Visioning-Technologies-The-Architectures-of-Sight/Cairns/p/book/9781472454966.
    The emphasise on the visual manifestation of space has determined how architects comprehend the correlation between society and the environment, and ultimately influenced if not dictated the manner in which they perceive, manufacture and develop their ideas into built form. The objectified notion of space – as visually prescribed – prevails in contemporary techniques of representation with, for example, computation being utilised to fuel hyper-real visualisation of projects or produce mute virtual reality environments that visually mimic the physical world. In this chapter a significantly different approach is proposed involving firstly, a challenge to the prominence of sight in our conceptualisation of space generally, followed by the argument that the manner in which computation is employed as a tool in design needs to be reconsidered to account for this challenge to the limitations of the visual. It suggests that the most recent potentialities offered by computation in the field of spatial design conceptually draw on issues of semiosis and the abductive (non-anthropocentric and non-materialistic) nature of living systems that free our understanding of space and the role of computation in its creation and representation. In doing so, it will be suggested that the next steps for the role of technologies in the evolution of architecture may not be visual at all, but rather more fundamental, involving an ever greater potential to mimic, learn and engage with natural systems at a level much deeper than any human sense, most of all the purely visual.

Conference or workshop item

  • Ireland, T. (2017). Teaching architecture students to code: Thrills and spills. In: 35th Annual International Conference of ECAADe – Educational and Research in Computer Aided Architectural Design in Europe.. Available at: http://ecaade.org/?s=proceedings.
    This paper will present the introduction of computer programming for design to students at the Leicester School of Architecture (LSA). It will describe the course and teachings, explain the trials and tribulations, and illustrate the results. An important weight on students of architecture, when it comes to the inclusion of coding into their architectural education, is the pressure of meeting certain professional criteria. The MArch Architecure course results in a professional level award that is prescribed by the ARB, and accredited by the RIBA for Part II exemption from their examinations. Consequently, students are required to articulate through their design work that they have met the learning outcomes associated with the stipulated professional criteria. Given the task of meeting the learning outcomes is challenging enough, the pressure of then learning to code, and to apply that skill to the design process in the course of the traditional process is a pressure few students of architecture seem willing to take on. The paper will conclude with a discussion as to the merits of coding and reason why students of architecture should learn to code.
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