[Editor's Note: The following review was authored by Gideon Fink Shapiro and Phillip M. Crosby.] A generation’s worth of experimentation with generative digital design techniques has seemingly created a “new normal” for architecture. But what exactly are the parameters of this “normal” condition? On November 14th and 15th Winka Dubbeldam, principal of Archi-Tectonics and the new Chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, called together some of contemporary architecture’s most prominent proponents of generative digital design techniques for a symposium, The New Normal, examining how these techniques have transformed the field over the past twenty years. According to Ms. Dubbeldam and her colleagues in Penn’s post-professional program who organized the symposium, digital tools have “fundamentally altered the way in which we conceptualize, design, and fabricate architecture.” Participants were asked not only to reflect upon the recent past, but also to speculate on future possibilities. Even among this select group of practitioners, the shared enthusiasm for digital techniques does not imply an affinity of beliefs or approaches. While Patrik Schumacher (who, notably, lectured at Penn one week later) would have us believe that parametric techniques will triumphantly lead to a New International Style, what the New Normal symposium revealed was not a singular orthodoxy, but rather a rich multiplicity of approaches. On the one hand, one perceives a renewed sense of craftsmanship in which computation and robot-assisted fabrication can "extend the potential of what the hand can do," in the words of Gaston Nogues of Ball-Nogues Studio. On the other hand, ever-increasing computational and 3D-modeling power have nourished a whole field of virtual "screen architecture" that follows in the tradition of conceptual and utopian proposals. In his opening keynote address, Neil Denari discussed several contemporary artists—from Gerhard Richter to Tauba Auerbach—who use or misuse tools to elicit unexpected results. Similarly for architects, the computer should be seen as a filter or intermediary tool between author and work, rather than a seamless executor of authorial will. More pointedly, Roland Snooks of Kokkugia asked, "What are the behavioral biases of digital design tools?" He then suggested that contemporary architects might need to invent and design their own tools (software plug-ins and algorithms) in parallel with the architecture. Simon Kim of IK Studio went so far as to attribute to machines an agency once reserved for humans. And Francois Roche of New-Territories Architects said, "We have to torture the machine" to stretch its conventional functions, teasing out new "erotic bodies" and "ways to tell a story" through playful cunning. Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Jimi Hendrix were all invoked, but not by the speaker who wore sunglasses during his talk—Jason Payne of Hirsuta. Citing previously published remarks by Jeffrey Kipnis and Greg Lynn, Payne urged architects to test the assumed limits of their digital instruments, just as Hendrix pushed the limits of his guitar by playing it upside-down and incorporating electronic feedback in his radical performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1969. However, Payne cautioned, as he cued a slide of Eddie van Halen, the pursuit of technical virtuosity alone can lead to manneristic excess. Indeed, what made Hendrix's Woodstock performance great was not only his innovative guitar work but also his subversive and liberating rendition of the national anthem at a time of social upheaval, sharpened by his insider-outsider status as an African-American rock star. The point is, instrumentation cannot necessarily be isolated from the substance of a work and the social conditions in which it is produced. Tobias Klein gave voice to the digital zeitgeist in declaring, "We [human beings] are soft, malleable data sets." Yet if everything is now data, including bodies and buildings, how and to whose advantage is that data analyzed and applied? Selection criteria are inevitably human constructs that may take the form of artistic judgment, energy metrics, economic models, or political values. Ben van Berkel of UNStudio hinted at the conundrum of data analysis in his concluding keynote, in which he listed "different scales at which information comes together"—namely the diagram, the design model, and the prototype. But alas the Dutch architect, an acknowledged master of the diagram, did not elaborate on how, exactly, his office wrangles messy information into a clear design mandate. One notable absence from the slate of participants in the symposium was a critic or historian to situate the New Normal within both the history of architectural practice and the wider milieu of contemporary culture. While one of the most prominent theorists of generative design, Manuel De Landa, made important contributions to the discussions, his comments focused not on situating the discourse, but instead on the artistic repurposing of non-linear, morphogenetic tools developed by scientists to create more personalized digital form-finding devices. Also lacking were the voices of women, who numbered only three out of twenty speakers and moderators, including Ms. Dubbeldam. What the relentless experimentation among the symposium’s participants suggests is that, while there may be a new normal for the practice of architecture, it has yet to become normative—and that is a sign of its vitality.
Posts tagged with "digital design":
Experts in digital design will lead four days of workshops and dialog at ICFF.The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) is expanding its program offerings with DesignX, its first ever series of digital design and fabrication training workshops conducted by leading experts in field. The four days of educational sessions will cover digital tools, cloud-based apps, 3D printing, and other related topics. Three-dimensional printing-related courses include Introduction to 3D Printing for Designers; Introduction to 3D Printing Marketplaces; Hands-On Desktop Prototyping for Designers; and 3D Printed Fabrics: Modeling Interlocking Elements with Rhino 3D. Workshops on digital design software and platforms include Introduction to Physical Computing for Designers; Introduction to Cloud-based Applications for Designers; Introduction to Cloud-based Design Platforms; Generative Design Apps: Product Customization Through the Web; Interactive Modeling: Responsive Design with Firefly; Parametric Design: Visual Programming with Grasshopper; Designing in the Cloud: Intuitive Modeling with Fusion360; Designing for Production: Integrated Fabrication with 123D Make; and Real Time Project Visualization with Showcase. Noted luminaries in the digital design field will conduct each of the seminars. Senior TED Fellow Skylar Tibbits will present Matter Programmers: 4D Printing & Bio-molecular Self Assembly. Jesse Rosenberg and Jessica Rosenkrantz of Nervous System will present seminars on 3D-printing and guide participants through the fabrication of a custom accessory with the firm's proprietary apps. Ronnie Parsons and Gil Akos of Mode Lab will help attendees navigate the sea of parametric design tools, from Grasshopper to Fusion360. Andrew Baccon and Erik Tietz will lead the Designing for Production discussion and show designers how to navigate their new web-based service, MachineMade. Andrew Payne of Firefly will walk designers through the platform's interactive modeling services, and Francis Bitoni will connect themes at Modeling Interlocking Elements with Rhino3D. For more information or to reserve your space at any of the workshops, visit designx.is.
Digital design meets traditional Chinese craftsmanship in a pavilion constructed like a paper lanternHong Kong-based architects Kristof Crolla (LEAD) and Adam Fingrut (Zaha Hadid) married traditional Chinese craftsmanship and digital design technology in their temporary pavilion, Golden Moon, which won the Gold Award in the Mid-Autumn Festival Lantern Wonderland last month. The 60-foot-tall structure was built in just 11 days atop a reflection pool in Hong Kong's Victoria Park, proof that "complex geometry can be built at high speed and low cost with the simplest of means," said Crolla and Fingrut, who sought to rethink digital design by "anchoring the paradigm in a strong materiality." To create the "fiery flames," a reference to the Chinese legend of Moon Goddess Chang, Crolla and Fingrut began with a geodesic dome structure made from steel and wrapped it with a bamboo grid made using traditional scaffolding techniques. In this case, however, that "highly intuitive and imprecise craft" was based on an incredibly precise computer generated grid designed to install and bend the bamboo rods into a specialized structure around the steel dome. The dome was then clad with metal wire and a translucent, flexible fabric, two typical paper lantern-making materials, which were then lit up by 10,000 LEDs. The flame pattern and bamboo structure is "based on an algorithm for sphere panelization that produces purity and repetition around the equator and imperfection and approximation at the poles." The dome is wrapped with a diagrid according to a Fibonacci sequence that produces order along the equator and randomness at the poles. Simple drawings of this code were made for the construction team so they could easily mark the intersections between the steel and bamboo structures. Golden Moon is the result of research into what Crolla and Fingrut call "building simplexity," or constructing complex geometries from the simplest means. For example, optimization scripts were used to reduce the amount of fabric "flames" from 470 different units to ten that could stretch and adapt to the curve of the dome. "Preconceptions of building methods and familiar construction techniques had to be abandoned by all parties as both the digital and the material world demanded a new design and building set-up to be devised."