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New MoMA show plots the impact of computers on architecture and design

Art Technology
New MoMA show plots the impact of computers on architecture and design. Pictured here: “Menu 23
New MoMA show plots the impact of computers on architecture and design. Pictured here: “Menu 23" layout of Cedric Price's Generator Project. (Courtesy California College of the Arts archive)

The beginnings of digital drafting and computational design will be on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) starting November 13th, as the museum presents Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–1989. Spanning 30 years of works by artists, photographers, and architects, Thinking Machines captures the postwar period of reconciliation between traditional techniques and the advent of the computer age.

Organized by Sean Anderson, associate curator in the museum’s Department of Architecture and Design, and Giampaolo Bianconi, a curatorial assistant in the Department of Media and Performance Art, the exhibition examines how computer-aided design became permanently entangled with art, industrial design, and space planning.

Drawings, sketches, and models from Cedric Price’s 1978-80 Generator Project, the never-built “first intelligent building project” will also be shown. The response to a prompt put out by the Gilman Paper Corporation for its White Oak, Florida, site to house theater and dance performances alongside travelling artists, Price’s Generator proposal sought to stimulate innovation by constantly shifting arrangements.

Ceding control of the floor plan to a master computer program and crane system, a series of 13-by-13-foot rooms would have been continuously rearranged according to the users’ needs. Only constrained by a general set of Price’s design guidelines, Generator’s program would even have been capable of rearranging rooms on its own if it felt the layout hadn’t been changed frequently enough. Raising important questions about the interaction between a space and its occupants, Generator House laid the groundwork for computational architecture and smart building systems.

R. Buckminster Fuller’s 1970 work for Radical Hardware magazine will also appear. (Courtesy PBS)

Exploring the rise of rise of the plotter and production of computer-generated images, Thinking Machines provides a valuable look into the transition between hand drawn imagery and today’s modern suite of design tools. The sinuous works of Zaha Hadid and other architects who rely on computational design to make their projects a reality all owe a debt to the artists on display at Thinking Machines.

Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–1989 will be running from November 13th to April 8th, 2018. MoMA members can preview the show from November 10th through the 12th.

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