Disciplines & Disruption

A preview of ACADIA 2017, where disciplinary boundaries are blurred

East Other Technology
Augmented Coral by Ming Tang and Mara Marcu (Courtesy ACADIA)
Augmented Coral by Ming Tang and Mara Marcu (Courtesy ACADIA)

On November 2-4, ACADIA will host its annual conference at MIT. Ahead of the proceedings, The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) spoke with one of this year’s organizers, Skylar Tibbits, Assistant Professor of Design Research in MIT’s Department of Architecture and director of the Self-Assembly Lab—to get a preview of what to expect from this year’s impressive lineup.

AN: The theme of this year’s conference is Disciplines & Disruption. What are the prime disruptors you’ve identified and what types of research are you expecting to see?

ST: If you asked this question in previous years, everyone’s attention was on robots. We had a robotics arms race for a moment and robotics has spun off into its own architectural conferences. The submissions this year are more about AI and Machine Learning, Visualization like AR/VR, and advances in HCI demonstrating the wealth and breadth of tools now available and the velocity of technological change.

AN: The most disruptive thing is really the acceleration of technological change, is it not?

ST: It’s a given that people participate in ACADIA for the latest and greatest research in technology for the architectural field and yet we are struck also by the context. Disruption isn’t about just rapid change in markets but about people, their contexts, and concerns and the feeling of cultural and technological shifts happening concurrently.

AN: Can you speak more to these shifts and how you define disciplines in increasingly co-located and overlapping fields of research?

ST: Disciplinary shifts look like convergence and hybridization. Boundaries between disciplines shrink and we ask what are the limits of the discipline today. Is ACADIA a Materials Science conference or a Computer Science Conference? Of course, the work comes out of architecture practice, but we need to ask those disciplinary questions in a bigger way. When everyone is a hybrid, you can get quite existential about what you are doing. We have a great line-up of keynotes from Neri Oxman and Thomas Heatherwick to Nervous Systems and Ben Fry that I think embody these hybrid practices.

AN: What has changed in the course of ACADIA’s history?

ACADIA started back when CAD was a novel idea and now every architecture student uses tools in really advanced ways. The technologies are now so ubiquitous and yet there is always room for innovation. The pressing questions become about testing the limits of the disciplines and how we can understand and elevate the social/cultural/political impacts while we innovate.

AN: What makes hosting the conference at MIT special?

The organizers and myself wanted to bring the MIT ethos to ACADIA. I want attendees to come away with a sense of the real MIT, not just that we are tight-knit group of techies, but that there are people here looking seriously at the big picture and developing hybrid research practices.

ACADIA kicks off this weekend with a Hackathon at MIT Media Lab followed by three days of workshops at the newly opened Autodesk BUILD Sspace. The conference is happening at MIT November 2-4. Visit 2017.acadia.org

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