To Become or Not to Be

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Matt Weinberg - Too Digital?
Are the techniques explored in Becoming Digital ones that could actually be used in architectural design? The internal discussion session of Curtis Roth’s workshop raised this question. Roth, said no. Instead, he thought these techniques serve as tools for illustrating the processes of technology that operate hidden in the shadows. This view differs from that of Taubman’s own Ellie Abrons and Adam Fure. In Postdigital Materiality, they posit that postdigital architecture is “less interested in the creation of newness than in studying and developing the hidden aspects of computation.” They go on to claim that “Though seemingly trivial, such processes constitute the foundation of architectural design today.”1
As designers in the current age, we have absolutely turned digital. We have traded rulers and pencils for the shift key and the mouse, charcoal and pastels for V-Ray, scissors for photoshop, and knives for laser cutters. However, I disagree with Abrons and Fure’s claim that the foundation of architectural design has become digital. Like Roth, my view is that technology now serves as the foundation of architectural representation and not architectural design. Architectural design involves the iterative process of developing an idea and then translating that idea into a built object or environment. Digital processes assist in the representation of the idea and its translation, but digital techniques still have to be informed by good design thinking.
Studying in the academic setting of Taubman and scrolling through my Instagram, it is not difficult to see why Abrons and Fure have conflated technology with design itself. My view is that the school and the young architectural community often privilege work that is more representational than designed. This represents a potential problem for an institution charged with teaching students how to design built environments. Representational work has an important place in architectural discourse, but I would urge for a more balanced approach. If we become too digital, architectural design may suffer.

References:

  1. “Postdigital Materiality”, Ellie Abrons and Adam Fure in Lineament: Materiality, Geometry and Representation in Architecture , Routledge (October, 25 2017).

Malcolm McCullough - Information Overconsumption
“Is there no place to hide from this great flood of books?” So lamented Desiderius Erasmus, the first modern editor, early in the 16th century. Perhaps there has always been information overload. Yet relative to today, and indeed even just a short decade ago, there may never have been quite so much information overconsumption. Never has quite so much of the human perceptual field been filled with phenomena that have been placed with a purpose, reverse engineered for cognitive appeal, and fed on for the dopamine squirts. Consider some analogy in food. The natural instinct is to take on salt, fat, and sugar whenever possible because through the ages those were always scarce – except now they are not. Likewise for brightly colored objects, flickering lights, and incoming images. No longer scarce, a new proliferation of these gets consumed indiscriminately, more or less fulltime. So it is time to mind the overconsumption. Seek fascination not entertainment, individual choice not group identity, things occurring to you without having been sent to you, architecture as sensibility to surroundings. To become digital is to admit that you will miss almost everything, and to take better witness of what it is that you do notice. For as the writer Rebecca Solnit has explained, “The alternative is grim, with a grimness that would be hard to explain to someone who’s distracted.”

Charles Weak - Post Becoming Digital
The following conversation may have taken place after the Becoming Digital conference between two Taubman students:

Tanner Quinn: … I don’t think I understand the objectives of Post-Digital work.
David Xu: What do you mean?
TQ: I feel that architecture must participate in the political/cultural realm more. It seems like we have discussions in school that are unrelated to our current moment in politics, or culture. The work associated with the Becoming Digital conference seems like another intradisciplinary conversation.
DX: But do you really feel that the conversations that happened around the Becoming Digital conference were divorced from any sort of interdisciplinary conversation? Many of the panelists who gave presentations during the day were from other disciplines, which seemed to add a lot to the round table conversations.
TQ: I suppose that’s true regarding the panelists. However, Post-Digital work seems like it’s missing a dimension in architecture, which is a relationship to physicality or materiality. Focusing on digital environments seems to be rooted in another representational project.
DX: I think you’re misreading the intentions of the projects that are going on. As I understand it, the Becoming Digital conference, and the work being done that’s considered Post-Digital is interested in trying to understand the ways in which software, and digital infrastructures influence the ways that we interact with the physical world. There’s an earnest intention for Post-Digital work to find its way into physical environments. It just takes time for new ideas to be translated into built work.
TQ: … I’m still unsure of what Post-Digital built work will mean. DX: I suppose that’s fair. I didn’t really think I’d be able to convince you in 300 words.
TQ: So... Have you written your theory paper yet?
DX: Yes! I discovered that I really enjoy writing Socratic dialogues.

Christopher Campbell & Oliver Popadich - -hedron
Platonic solids have already become digital. Platonic solids have a rich history, spanning more than 2,500 years, over which they have been the focus of the disciplines of mathematics, geometry, astronomy and philosophy. Contemporarily, they, along with an assortment of primitives (the sphere, cylinder, cone, torus, etc.), are most commonly associated with the toolbars in modeling softwares. Day after day designers see and inevitably click the icon avatars on these toolbars, triggering the trivial process to populate mathematically predetermined forms. The ease, and as a consequence, ubiquity of this process is so great that it has forced Platonic solids to all but shed their previous histories, retaining little more than their name as a trace of their storied past. In turn, they have become digital; thus they have also become material.
As toolpath on foam, ink on a page or projection on a wall the digital manifests as surface. Tim Ingold, in his 2007 essay Materials against materiality, summarizes the concept of material in three parts: medium, substance, and surface. He concludes that medium is the ethereal matter that enables perception; substance is the physical thing; and surface—the component between medium and substance—is the piece that defines nearly all perceivable qualities of the material, from texture to shape to color. Thus, whether the G-code for a 3D print, the signal on a multimeter or the image on a screen, the supposed divide between digital and physical is blurred; the digital input is also the material output.
As designers’ tools evolve, new methods of creating form are made accessible. Once beholden to the constraints of NURBS or polygon modeling, designers can now simulate, control, and sculpt the effects of gravity, smoke, fluid, and cloth. The simulations make possible an entirely new set of forms, uncanny in their novel familiarity. Yet if simulation proves to be the future of form-making, how long is it before water, too, becomes digital?