A recent symposium sponsored by the
Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania
began with a promise. This is not going to be about blobby
forms, said Branko Kolarevic, associate professor and
director of Penns Digital Design Research Laboratory,
in his opening remarks at Designing and Manufacturing Architecture
in the Digital Age, which took place in late March [Note: record
publisher McGraw-Hill was a conference sponsor.] The audience
of 150 smiled knowingly at his comment, perhaps even sighed
with reliefblobs are so passé.
The two-day event was an international assembly of cutting-edge
practitioners and researchers who discussed the role of digital
technology in design and practice. The presenters went beyond
merely marveling at innovative architectural forms (hence,
the no-blob promise) to bring forth examples of new fabrication
technologies, CAD/CAM innovations, mass customization, and
other digital tools put to use on current and planned projects.
Above all, architects were urged to harness the power of technology
for all stages of design and construction; in other words,
to reassume the role of the master builder.
A technological crossroads
The old Chinese maxim May you live in interesting times
applies today to architects with respect to computing. CAD
software and other productivity tools have automated some
laborious tasks over the past two decades, but they havent
fundamentally changed the way architects practice. But new
tools offer that promise, and Kolarevic wants designers to
overcome their ambivalence about technology. Architects
have a chance to regain ground theyve lost to contractors
and other parties, he said. We can overthrow traditional
construction techniques, with profound consequences.
A column from Gaudí
s Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona (above).
Computer modeling illustrates the development of a single
eight-sided column (top right), which shows a gradual
addition of sine curves in cross section (bottom right).
The sine curves undergo phase shifts as the column rises
from base to capital.
Photography and Images courtesy
William Mitchell, dean of MITs school of architecture,
framed the event by envisioning a future of information-rich
design worlds linked to fast, programmable construction machines.
MITs Media Lab is exploring design tools with unique
interfaces; one of the most intriguing is called Illuminating
Clay, which lets designers analyze free-form clay models.
The models geometry is captured in real time with a
laser scanner; using this information, computer simulations
of conditions such as shadow casting, land erosion, or visibility
are calculated and projected back onto the clay model. A designer
can change the models shape and see the effects of those
changes right away, which allows design options to be explored
rapidly without having to type in data. Think about it: Would
you miss your CAD software? Your keyboard? Your computer screen?