What is digital architecture? Is it legitimate to apply the term to any design made with the assistance of a computer, or should it be reserved to productions that put to real use the capacity of the machine to be more than a drawing tool? For the past ten to fifteen years, in order to distinguish the term from the rapidly increasing use of computer-aided design, digital architecture has been often characterized by an experimental dimension more pronounced than in mainstream production. As a result, there has been a tendency to confuse digital and experimental. Because of this tendency, noticeable in exhibitions like ArchiLab or the Venice Biennale, many innovative practices that undoubtedly belonged to the latter category have been deemed digital. The vagueness of the term has been further increased by the series of offices that have pioneered the use of computer-aided design, where the senior partners have little actual familiarity with the machine.
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What is digital architecture? Is it legitimate to apply the term to any design made with the assistance of a computer, or should it be reserved to productions that put to real use the capacity of the machine to be more than a drawing tool? For the past ten to fifteen years, in order to distinguish the term from the rapidly increasing use of computer-aided design, digital architecture has been often characterized by an experimental dimension more pronounced than in mainstream production.
As a result, there has been a tendency to confuse digital and experimental. Because of this tendency, noticeable in exhibitions like ArchiLab or the Venice Biennale, many innovative practices that undoubtedly belonged to the latter category have been deemed digital.
The vagueness of the term has been further increased by the series of offices that have pioneered the use of computer-aided design, where the senior partners have little actual familiarity with the machine. In these offices, programs are usually run by younger designers who have benefited from an early exposure to computer culture.
To what extent is their production, which closely follows the intuitions and ideas of their employers, really digital?
The question has been raised by the architecture of Frank Gehry. Frank Gehry, model for the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, As we have stressed it, digital architecture, in the narrow sense of a production using the computer in an experimental perspective, is inseparable from broader trends at work in the contemporary architectural world.
As for the argument based on the generation gap between architects trained before and after the spread of digital tools, its relevance is undermined by the enduring character of the relation between architecture and computer culture. For almost half a century, this connection has influenced theorists and practitioners beyond the mere use of software.
Despite the diversity of research directions revealed by this halfa-century-long history, the architectural uses of the computer in an experimental perspective have generally privileged form: the investigation of shapes in complete contrast with the limited vocabulary of modern architecture.
The result has been a proliferation of alternative geometries that are calling for new criteria of evaluation. However, this focus on form should not lead to the reduction of the quest to a mere stylistic obsession. Above all, formalism is to be understood here as syn-. In the long history of the connections between digital culture and architecture, the postmodern turning point with its formalist dimension stands clearly as a key to present developments.
Although the smooth forms of contemporary digital architecture are in complete contrast with deconstructionist violence, they have inherited from them the project to address with lucidity heterogeneous and often conflicting conditions. Typical forms of digital architecture are, above all, indebted to the reaction against deconstruction that arose in.
Photo: ESTO. Courtesy Eisenman Architects. The conflicting geometries are typical of the deconstructionist phase of postmodernism. One of the most telling episodes of this reaction was the enthusiasm for folding — understood sometimes literally, most of the time as a metaphor — that characterized a whole range of architectural productions around that period, especially in the United States.
For architects like Peter Eisenman, the book opened new perspectives on the question of complexity. These perspectives were theorized in an influential collection of essays edited by Greg Lynn. Interestingly, computers remained marginal among the sources of inspiration he evoked such as topological geometry, morphology and catastrophe theory.
They were only mentioned en passant, dealing with the defense industry and Hollywood early morphing effects. Thus, the folding trend was announcing the formal investigations of digital architecture while remaining extraneous to early computer-aided architectural experiments.
There is perhaps no better illustration of the necessity to interpret digital design within the broader frame of contemporary architectural evolution than this convergence that technology cannot explain by itself.
One can use computers to design boxes or folds, indifferently. From the mids on, the computer became an essential tool in this exploration. Lynn himself soon became an enthusiastic proponent of the machine and one of the most influential theorists of the new design principles it seemed conducive to.
Based on continuity, these principles were at odds with the common perception of the digital as fundamentally discontinuous. More generally, digital architecture is often based on an idiosyncratic interpretation of the scientific and technological principles it claims as a source of inspiration. Its use of topology represents another instance of this idiosyncratic interpretation.
Whereas for mathematicians topology corresponds first and foremost to the study of invariants, architects tend to give precedence to the geometric discontinuities it reveals. In other words, for designers invariance does not matter so much as dramatic change. The machine has been nevertheless instrumental in the direction taken by digital architecture.
Since the early developments of computeraided design, all sorts of new and spectacular forms have appeared on screens. Some of these forms have even begun to transform the built environment. On the connection with early digital architecture, see John K.
Critic Charles Jencks considered the building paradigmatic of a new architectural era. Despite this mixed reception, blobs rapidly became a built reality. Blobs were not the only direction taken by digital architecture, far from it. For a start, they were part of a broader inquiry regarding the topological properties of surfaces and volumes and their link to geometric operations that could be modeled on the computer.
The Moebius strip and the Klein bottle questioned for instance the boundary between exterior and interior and more generally the notion of clear-cut thresholds between spatial and functional sequences.
Whereas blob architecture has stalled in recent years for reasons we will evoke later in this chapter, these singularities have retained their appeal. Moreover, just like folding, the smoothness that digital designers were looking for could be understood either literally or metaphorically. Taking it metaphorically allowed for a broader range of shapes than the amoeba-like blobs. However, alike blobs, they contrasted.
Courtesy Jake Davies. As with the Graz Kunsthaus, the smooth curves of the project are typical of what has been sometimes dubbed as "blobitecture".
UNStudio, Klein Bottle, mathematical design model. Courtesy UNStudio. An intriguing topological singularity. The development of digital architecture has undoubtedly benefited from the seduction exerted by forms that were impossible to obtain using prior design tools. Until the early s, sophisticated geometric researches were generally synonymous with the presence of paraboloids or hyperboloids, like those used for concrete shells or tensile structures, or with the smooth but loosely defined forms of plastic casts and pneumatic structures.
What is new is not only the variety of the shapes themselves, but also the possibility to define them rigorously using computer modeling. This change is inseparable from the development of a wide array of geometric modeling techniques. More than other techniques, they allow designers to interact with curves, surfaces and volumes in a highly intuitive way, to produce and visualize complex deformations as easily as if they were compressing, elongating, twisting or pinching real objects in space.
In this regard, despite their limitations, NURBS are emblematic of the creative space opened up by modeling. Even more emblematic is the recent development of parametric design that coordinates the different aspects of a project so that all sorts of modifications become easy, even with an extremely intricate geometry.
Antoine Picon ed. On a stylistic standpoint, the consequence of this freedom has been often assimilated to a new baroque condition because of the dynamic appearance of projects and the importance taken by deformations. Other digital productions. The project combines a deconstructionist agenda with a baroque-like inclination for geometric intricacy. Claiming inspiration from the philosopher, folded and fractal surfaces have been interpreted not only as distant cousins of baroque undulations but as expressions of an intellectual kinship based on notions such as complexity, multiplicity and movement.
For a designer like Preston Scott Cohen, the relation to the spirit of mannerism and baroque follows, however, a totally different path based on the use of sophisticated projective geometry and on the interest taken in optical constructions like anamorphoses.
But the parallel, as we will see in a moment, must not be taken too far, for significant differences remain between the baroque approach to form-finding and the morphological explorations that are currently going on. Just like Beaux-Arts or modern architects addressed again and again the same fundamental issues, designers of the computer age tend to concentrate on recurring problems like the smooth transition between heterogeneous subparts that was at the core of the folding program exposed by Lynn.
Such an agenda is linked to the project to anchor architectural form into something that goes beyond the pure seduction of innovative geometry. Contrary to other arts, architecture is rarely at ease with plastic gratuity. There must be reasons, even rules guiding the form-finding process.
Indeed, their warped forms seem to follow no other. Etienne-Jules Marey, Man walking, clothed in black and white stripes, circa In Marey's studies of motion, the animal or human form is already "animated". The longing for reasons or rules is reinforced by the fact that architectural form appears less and less as an isolated and static entity. Modeling software and its underlying calculus-based frame produces usually a continuous series of forms, something more akin to a geometric flow or film obtained from direct deformation or parametric variation than to a fixed configuration.
Form is also, as we will see, commensurable to something that happens, an occurrence or an event. Another way to envisage the. With the use of sensors, the positions of which are captured by photography throughout the motion, they generate almost continuous streams of dots, thus making explicit, in an almost cinematographic way, the intimate connection between form and flow. Since architectural form should not result from the mere quest for the new and pleasurable — even.
Greg Lynn, House Prototype, Courtesy of Greg Lynn Form. A series of images showing how the project evolves according to a "gradient field of attraction and repulsion.
If form is a frozen moment or a still in a continuous flow, what equivalent to the laws of hydraulics can be proposed in order to allow designers to orient geometric flows in the most efficient way? In other words, what kind of principles may be invoked to describe a process of formation that should not rely on the arbitrariness of isolated artistic creation?
A second set of questions has to do with the definition and choice of particular moments within these geometric flows. Confronted with architectural forms to which traditional functional and aesthetic criteria do not apply easily because of their novelty, forms above all inseparable from a continuum of alternatives obtained from direct deformation or parametric variation, how is the architect to determine the most appropriate solution — like Faust asking time to stop in a moment of perfect happiness?
Is the notion of a most appropriate, not to say perfect, solution even valid? The traditional architectural form-finding process was inseparable from the implicit belief in an optimum reached gradually through a complex design process. The computer has jeopardized this belief by confronting architects to a much more fluid world of dynamic entities, the evolution of which could very well never stop.
Whatever the answers brought to these two questions, it is striking to observe how the concern with form that characterizes digital architecture is accompanied by the simultaneous abandon of any kind of belief in its potential perfection. Nothing is more opposed to computerinduced formalism than Platonic idealism.
There lies probably one of the major differences between baroque and digital attitudes towards form. Whereas baroque remained, despite its transgressions, the inheritor of High Renaissance Platonic beliefs in the principles and rules of order and proportion, the observation of which was supposed to give architecture a perfection imbued with metaphysical resonances,17 digital architecture distances itself from the quest for plenitude or perfection.
The baroque metaphysical dimension also contrasts with the strong material-. With his archeological projects, Eisenman tried to reveal the existence of a.
Digital Culture in Architecture: An Introduction for the Design Professions
I am sorry it has been almost two months since my last post. Spending every day writing my PhD has killed all my desire to blog when I get home. In the future I think I will do a series of interview posts if you know any interesting subjects get in contact but for now I would like to share a book I came across whilst writing:. No one has ever written a full history of digital architecture but this promises to be the book.
Digital Culture in Architecture
Domus Domus. Digital Culture in Architecture Antoine Picon's new book argues that the real digital revolution in architecture lies in new tools for critique, not mere form-giving. Digital Culture in Architecture. Almost a century later, if we replace the word "machine civilization" with "digital civilization" we might say that architecture finds itself in a similar situation. In fact, there is no doubt that we are at the beginning of very deep change—at least to hear Antoine Picon in his latest essay, Digital Culture in Architecture.