• Nicole Reinders

Digital Technologies and Architectural Practice

Over the past few decades, architecture has moved away from the practice of making hand drawings and has shifted towards creating scaled models through computer programs. It was through this, that architects could get closer to their projects and spend more time in the design phase, or at least that was the goal.

Neri Oxman's Silk Worm Structure

As the years have moved on, new concepts have arisen from placing an emphasis on digital technologies including complex forms and geometries, new materials and construction styles, as well as a new responsibility to the response a building has to a specific site.

When BIM was first introduced through the program AutoCAD, the software was so expensive that most firms only had one person who specialized in the programming. This person did not have any input in the design and only translated what was shown to them on paper into the computer. This way made it difficult for manipulation of the program to occur and disallowed technology to make an impact on architecture as design and computation were on opposite sides of the spectrum. As the years went on, more BIM computers were placed in firms and as more architects became familiar with the programs, design strategies started to stem from the practical manipulations that could be induced easily. Today BIM is an integral part of an architects job and goes hand in hand with the design simulation.

The question is then raised, to what extent can digital technologies impact and change architectural practice?

New technologies have pushed to create a ratio in which the architect has more time to spend on the design rather than administrative work, to put more thought at the front end of the project rather than at the end. Parametric design allows the coordination of the project to happen simultaneously, “so that all sorts of modifications become easy even with an extremely intricate geometry.”[1] Algorithms and ingenious coding have made the process less time consuming, making it possible for these geometries to even exist as they do not take on any common shape. Through this, architecture becomes, “a generative process in design rather than just its physical execution,”[2] allowing for more innovative works to be produced.

Since computations are made to be quick modifications rather than complex processes, a focus on innovative materials and construction styles has become the new focus. In recent years, new research has come out that ties in other disciplines, such as molecular biology with architecture. Neri Oxman makes use of conceiving, “the ability to integrate unrelated elements within a new continuous mixture,”[3] as seen with her silk woven dome structure, the use of biodegradable hydrogel composites for exterior wing-like cladding and making use of the Digital Construction Platform to do large-scale digital manufacturing. Through the idea of using, “material systems as individual constructs rather than derivates of a given type,”[4] new construction styles can thus emerge and change the common practice of architecture into something more complex.

With the introduction of new design techniques comes the reality that now, more than ever, architects are responsible for the impacts their building incurs on the surrounding environment. The designer is not just judged based upon the complexity or efficiency of design but is critiqued on the, “environmental and social responsibility”[5] they carry; the way the architectural piece fits into the built environment and how it plays out in the environmental, social, and cultural spheres demonstrates the excellence of design.

Overall, as architecture has moved into a world of technology, the practice has evolved to encompass more complex designs, new materials and construction modes, and a responsibility to carry these out in a responsible manner towards the built environment.

Now, architects can use technology to advance their designs by allowing them to create things with new materials and assemble them in ways previously unknown such as constructing buildings in difficult access locations or developing new materials for stronger walls.

Complex geometries add into a new elegance of the era which allows more criticism to be placed on how well the building works in its environment.

[1] Antoine Picon, “The Seduction of Innovative Geometries” in Digital Cultural in Architecture (Basel: Birkhauser, 2010): 70

[2] Achim Menges (ed.), “Introduction” in AD: Material Synthesis: Fusing the Digital and Computational:15

[3] Greg Lynn,” Architectural Curvilinearity: The Folded, The Pliant and The Supple,” and “Shoei Yoh, Prefectura Gymnasium,” in Architectural Design 102 (March/April 1993):8-15 & 78-81. [Reprinted in Mario Carpo, The Digital Turn in Architecgture 1992-2012 (West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2013): 30

[4] Achim Menges (ed.), “Introduction” in AD: Material Synthesis: Fusing the Digital and Computational, Profile No. 237 (London: Wiley & Sons, March/April 2015): 12

[5] Antoine Picon, “Will Robotization Take Command,” in Digital Culture in Architecture (Basel: Birkhauser, 2010):164

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