This article has been originally published as part of the column FABBRICATION in XXI magazine, vol.159, May 2017. This article can be accessed here in Turkish.
In an interview conducted by Demet Mutman, Derya Yorgancıoğlu and Mehmet Saner of the research group “Alternative Approaches & New Routes in Architectural Education” formed in the 42nd MOBBIG1 meeting, we had the chance to share our observations and thoughts on architectural education and its relation with digital fabrication in the scope of their valuable research.2 We believe that this interview’s edit with sub-titles is a good point to continue from where we left off in the last article3 – a glimpse into how to develop innovative pedagogies to combat bullshit.
computational design & architectural design curriculum
Architectural education’s strict curriculum and its over-complicated relation with computational design methods is a statement of the obvious. As architect and its formation was ripped apart from the locale which place making took place, it forced the architect to solely take top-down decisions as architect transformed into the fabricator of the scaled representations of design. Our strong reflex to take top-down decisions is the reason why architecture is the profession in which the God-Complex is most common. Top-down decisions have well defined, strict boundaries with end product in focus. A certain accumulation of experience is a must for produces that are coherent. In short, ideally suited for a professional to proceed with pragmatic decisions. However, a total nightmare for learning or discovering new knowledge.
Computability of anything hints at the construction of a whole through a process which regards the properties of its components and their relations in between. Computational design methods and their tools embrace design as a process with a bottom-up approach. We are speaking of the externalization of the production of information which architects already internally / intuitively carry out in order to internalize and enhance. However, the production of information as such is a method which the architects are not accustomed to and cannot adapt that easily.
Expecting these methods to be comprehended thoroughly solely through a last minute addition to an existing educational curriculum merely shows how far off architectural educators are to these methods. The terrible (bad/cliché) “parametric architecture” productions in courses mended to existing curriculums are due to lack of familiarity to these new methods. Unfortunately, seeds of deeper problems are sown while we save the day through taking the shortcut in a limited time with the re-production of decontextualized bad examples with models and images that look cool.
digital fabrication & computational design
Of course it is possible to conceive digital fabrication as a fantastic tool that provides the production of design representation, such as the automation of scaled models with high precision. Yet, if we are to shape our perception solely towards this direction while pushing over new methodologies with high potentials, we only end up with glorified model makers.
Digital fabrication methods should neither exist as an isolated elective course nor should run parallel to architectural design studio in the curriculum of architectural education. Ideally, digital fabrication methods should be embedded with computational design and architectural curriculum. Digital fabrication methods with design of the process as the priority can lead to new discoveries. It can overcome the vicious creative cycle based on forms, and innovative productions can be researched.
Digital fabrication experience blended in computational design methods demonstrates process design. Generative design becomes the core as process is the main focus of design. We are speaking of a transition from a definitive end-product design under the hegemony of the designer to a process that can be customized by different actors within the borders outlined by the designer. Although we tend to resist change as architects, this is the new paradigm.
Usually students, and sometimes teachers, failing to affiliate the connection between the design with the ultimate aim of producing a full scale material production and its representations in various scales is one of the hardest challenges we encounter in the education of architecture. It is impossible for an educational mind-set with a priority for generating architectural representations to realize any spatial design fabrication with material information.
As design representation tools enable the abstraction of the final material output in different scales of information, it can be profoundly confusing for the students that are introduced to these tools recently to synthesize information produced in different scales. It is at this point that digital fabrication tools allow us to produce the design defined by various architectural representation tools as a 1:1 scale prototype with embedded material information. Digital fabrication provides an invaluable opportunity to comprehend the essence of the design for teachers / architects / architects-to-be lost in the process of understanding design through representations.
Primarily, digital fabrication will enable students to relate with the professional working environment and advance their personal practice. What is material dimensioning in reality? What can and cannot be done with a material? What is structural, and what is not? How can a complex assembly detail be visualized so as to make it easier for the people who are going to fabricate this piece? How to manage a profession which indeed relies on transference of information? What is the real outcome of a design with no tolerances? Aren’t there a lot of test, trial and errors to figure out the answers to these questions? With necessary feedback loops, design as a process will evolve the design to its final state.
Say, somehow academia managed to integrate computational design as a theoretical exercise into its typical curriculum – it will need to further integrate the process based on actual space, material, and detail which is a stark contrast to its modus operandi.4 In an attempt as such, learning by making has become incredibly popular these days. Yet, we call for more! In development by Jean-Pol Martin since the ‘80s, with a background dating to Seneca’s docendo discimus5, those who teach can become those who learn in the meantime. Although this approach might seem challenging at first, it is an extremely rewarding approach that contributes to the systematical thinking ability of its practitioner. Those that manage the leap will dissolve the difference between teaching and learning as generative designers. Who knows, we may need to elaborate on this notion in our upcoming articles.
interdisciplinary approach & collaborative environments
Stevens Institute of Technology is one of the few schools to be able to integrate digital technologies to its curriculum. Curriculums with Beaux-Arts traditions infused with computational design education cannot exceed a level where students work individually to design follies. On the other hand, Stevens’s Product-Architecture Laboratory (PAL) two-year engineering master’s program offered an interdisciplinary environment which students can work together to tackle real-life problems and projects. The aim of the program was working on projects with providing consultations on technology with a regard for the balance of the following: working environment that ever-increasingly digitalized (an abstraction of sorts), actors from other disciplines that they will encounter in real life scenarios, and the material reality. This program is under the faculty of engineering, and the university does not even have a faculty nor a department of architecture. Yet, the interdisciplinary working environment and the collaborations yielded in graduates that can fabricate what they design that does not ignore the energy and material efficiency, and realize that process itself can be generatively designed rather than just producing one end-product. This is a role model for collaborations and interdisciplinary working environment.
As we have mentioned in our numerous previous articles6, projects formed through collaborations between dfab/NCCr and ICD/ITKE are similar to the Stevens example on a larger research/development scale. Projects in which the details are designed after the conceptual phase or to cover up material faults have perished. The myth on detail design not being as much fun or creative as conceptual design is dead! We are also nearing the death of the know-it-all architect. The architect that supposedly loves to work interdisciplinary must have realized that he indeed has to act interdisciplinary in the fabrication of the design. It is compulsory to work with people from the fields of mechanics / electronics / robotics / computer science in the process of developing new digital fabrication tools. This phenomenon brings a new definition for the architect as a premise. The architect is dead, long live the new architect!
temporary installations & workshops
Skipping examples which justify their beings by only producing end products with cool complex looking geometries, we will only focus on workshops with a focus on the process. FAB Fest is a relatively fresh event organized by the fablab of the Westminster University. Every participant team has one month to develop and present their conceptual design after the annual theme is announced. Selected proposals are given two months to further develop and generate 1:1 production files of their installation or pavilion. Components fabricated from recycled lightweight materials are brought to the event hall where it is assembled by the participants throughout five days. Let us examine some decisions from material choice to the process management. Planar materials (cardboard) are machined by numerically controlled machines (with embedded integration details). You can update your production files and designs if you wish to make some test cuts and get feedback. In its last stage, you assemble your pavilion which its components were packed a la IKEA style, stacking two-dimensional cuts in a dense package. No matter what the end product is, it is really valuable to create the instructions for bringing all of these steps together, test through working prototypes and integrate a feedback loop in the design process.
There is a lot in store for the architect as he transforms into an even more of an interdisciplinary actor as design fabrication and fabrication design converge. It is important to convey the right message in the curriculum of the ones just joining the ranks of the profession or the process of bringing the current architects up to date. As we have discussed in our earlier articles7, the education of the architects has undergone a series of transformations starting with the apprenticeships of the first master builders. 20th century witnessed the alienation of the architect and the construction site or the workshop. We must keep renovating ourselves to adapt the new paradigm. It is high time to step down from our crystal palaces and get our hands dirty. We cannot speak of a definitive end product, but rather a definitive process.
- Mimarlık Okulları Bölüm Başkanları İletişim Grubu. (Communication Group for the Department Heads of Schools of Architecture)
- “Alternative Approaches & New Routes in Architectural Education” research group presented its findings in the 43rd and 44th MOBBIG meetings as well as “No Boundaries Design – XII International Conference on Design Principles & Practices” conference which took place between 5-7 March 2018 under the title “Within Blurred Boundaries: Three Case Studies of Changing Pedagogies in Architectural Education”, and in DAKAM V. International Architectural Design Conference in 13-14 April 2018 under the title “Alternative Approaches to Architectural Design: Pedagogical Perspective of Extracurricular Activities”.
- We have discussed bullshit in the context of digital fabrication in academia in Corrupting Conscience (XXI, April 2018).
- mode of operation.
- Docendo discimus (latin), “by teaching, we learn”.
- Does “orange” Dream of Electric Brick? (XXI, May 2017), How to Train Your Robot? (XXI, June2017)
- helloWorld (XXI, February 2017), Private Class Architect (XXI, March 2017), Void Main (XXI, April 2017)