August 5, 2002
6:25 PM   Subscribe

ACADIA Design Competition: an exploration of the use of computer aided design in architecture, not just as a representation, but as experimentation. My personal favorite. Also, a pretty cool Digital Media Exhibit. One of the participants made a realtime city generator, inspired by one of Italo Calvino's books. Warning: The site pretty slow and some of the projects make extensive use of flash
posted by signal (3 comments total)
Great links Signal, The ACADIA Conference was at the university about four years ago, and even then [with the more limited computing programs] was amazing. Lets discuss the current state of architecture and the rise of the so-called "Blobatecture". As computers became more and more powerful, and rendering programs improved, firms started to use programs such as AutoCAD to speed up their construction documents. As firms needed more visualization tools, more and more programs sprouted up. But what people don’t understand is the immense theoretical underpinning to many of the current practitioners work.

The root of this vein of study is the difference between seeing the world as a straight line or a curve. The line or the segment was the principal design element throughout architectural history. The architectural break with the segment started in the Baroque Period where the ellipse and circle started to dominate the plans of cathedrals, civil spaces and most prime monumental structures. This then disintegrated back to the segment during and after the building of Versailles. Architecture is influenced by society around it, and by the other professions. So it is not surprising that Darwin's Origin of Species and later Einstein's Theory of Relativity had an affect on architecture [not to mention society as a whole]. The switch from the Classical {Newtonian] way to view the world to the Quantum way of looking at the world [along with other factors] changed society and architecture. Now instead of the world as a determinate system, a great machine that we observed running, we were in an indeterminate system in which we were the machines. Therefore the Renaissance way of looking at the world, not segments but of arcs, circles and spheres rebounded wholeheartedly. The difference this time around is that we are adding time into the equation, bringing all four dimensions into the design. This is where the computer comes in. With programs like 3d Studio, Form-Z and my favorite Maya, we are able to bring a whole new dimension to design.

There is a concerted effort to test the bounds of the computer, materials, site and sometimes clients to try to open up the closed system of architecture. I am not even talking about Frank O. Gehry, but of the hundreds of firms that are on the cutting edge of design research. We strive to create juxtapositions, layered systematic design and classical orders together to form a design that exists on many different layers and scales. If it sounds like I am one of the converted, I am. No more singular dogma of Modernism, nut the "both-and" world of Post-Modernism, albeit without the stereotypical classical/traditional styles.

That is why this work is important, and I am up every night working on it. It doesn't necessarily have to be a blob, but more often it is. Some practitioners run amok with their newfound power. I see it as a tool that can help exploit the power of serendipity and the power of the artist.
posted by plemeljr at 8:15 PM on August 5, 2002

On the other end of things i would say that the changes in recent architecture are not as much a result of cultural changes as a result of technological changes; and i would say the ACADIA contest is another example of technology allowing the reformation of thought. Quantum theory has less to do with the latest developments then finite element analysis. Without the latest in computer methods the designs of today may have been possible to think of 100 years ago, but they would have been impossible to build (the reason i think architecture is so entertaining is that the end product is more then a concept, it is a working device, and so many archy's forget that).

historically the architecture is directly related to the abilities of the current structures to support them. the egyptians threw rocks on top of each other, the greeks made posts and beams, the romans had concrete and arches, the goths (he he) had gothic arches, the development of steel frames led to the modern big box skyscraper, and the development of computer analysis, drafting, and fabrication led to the wonderful (?) blobs we have today.

To me the architect can draw all night his greatest visions but the final product is always limited by the technical abilities of the day. Then again i'm going to school for a masters of structural engineering, and not an archy degree.
posted by NGnerd at 9:28 AM on August 6, 2002

plemeljr: great links, thanks.

Both Eissenman and Zahid have spoken about the change in the way we think about and design architecture. Plans, elevations and sections have historically been the easiest way to represent and think about a construction, so Architecture has been taught, invented and criticized through them. With current technologies, this is not neccesarily true anymore.

I don't think this is a rejection of Modernism as much as an extension of it, a realization of its potential. When the Bauhaus and the early moderns spoke of the building as machine (as aopposed to the pavillions the neo-classicists where designing), they were using metaphors from their experience, i.e.: early 20th century machines. Gehry and Morpheus are still building machines, just early 21st century ones.

I am at this moment very interested in applying complexity theory and machine learning to architecture. I've found a few papers online, but for the most part they use exceedingly simplified models of urban life and don't even stray near the building.

NGerd: you're right of course, but the full realization of the technical abilites of an era needs the vision of somebody able to go beyond the traditional design processes of the previous one. Two examples.

If anybody wants to continue this conversation offsite, my email address is signal AT
posted by signal at 9:48 AM on August 6, 2002

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