Jul 24, 2013

The Fathers of Digital Architecture Are Reunited In a New Exhibition


Frank O. Gehry & Associates, Inc. Lewis Residence, Lyndhurst, Ohio: Elevation rendering from Catia 3D model,1989-1995. Image provided by Gehry Partners, LLP.
There’s something novel about the Canadian Center for Architecture's latest exhibition, “Archaeology of the Digital,” on view in Montreal through October. Rather than focus solely on the use of digital media in architecture, the show, curated by American architect Greg Lynn in collaboration with the CCA, calls for the development of a history of digital art and design, and an archive of the technology employed in its creation.
Among the challenges that present themselves when cataloguing and preserving digital art is the rate at which technologies and media are rendered redundant and are obsolete, a challenge that makes preserving the tools used to create digital art forms as important as preserving the art itself.
Another challenge to establishing a history of digital art is rethinking the relationship between digital art and our own time. Greg Lynn, one of the first architects to use vector animation technology, explains that “in architecture, the expression ‘in the future’ has too often been held synonymous with the term ‘digital,’” and vice-versa. But what happens after we've been living in a digital age for the past 20 years? In other words, it’s worth considering that digital technology has been around long enough in the world of architecture to benefit from analysis and documentation. 
Through its focus on architecture, “Archaeology of the Digital” documents one facet of digital art history and pays tribute to the use of digital tools in building development--from conceptualizing a design to making it a reality. As they explore the most avant-garde projects from the 80s and 90s, viewers discover the evolution of architectural experimentation, from the development of new software to the adoption of new techniques, all in the aim of finding out how digital technology negotiated the architectural obstacles and challenges present in a given time period. 
Peter Eisenman, Eisenman/Robertson Architects. Biozentrum, Biology Center for the J.W. Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Study Perspective,1987. Peter Eisenman fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture.
To get an idea what kind of challenges digital technology has helped architects overcome, viewers can examine theBiozentrum (1987) project by Peter Eisenman and his team. This JW Goethe University building in Frankfurt incorporates geometric shapes inspired by the structural complexity of the ADN. The project’s blueprints were tailor-designed and perfected thanks to CRAY, a supercomputer comprising modeling software like Archimodos andFormeZ.
Frank Gehry worked on the Lewis Residence, a laboratory for experimenting with new 3D modeling technologies, from 1989 to 1995. Acting as a bridge between concept sketches and digital simulations, the technical drafts produced by the project allowed for new technology, materials, and techniques to emerge. The project also led to the development of a new, complex language of design developed mostly thanks to the Computer Aided three-dimensional interactive Application program known as CATIA.
Frank O. Gehry & Associates, Inc. Lewis Residence, Lyndhurst, Ohio: Fish, Geometrical frame of the conservatory from Catia 3D model, 1989-1995. Image provided by Gehry Partners, LLP.
Frank O. Gehry & Associates, Inc. Lewis Residence, Lyndhurst, Ohio: Elevation rendering from Catia 3D model,1989-1995. Image provided by Gehry Partners, LLP.
A side-by-side analysis of architectural projects from the period shows that a wide array of tools already existed for the production of digital art in the 80s and 90s. Although digital technology was commonly used at some point in the development of architectural projects in this period, it didn’t always appear at the same stage of development.
That was the case for Chuck Hoberman (1988-1992), the creator of the expanding sphere, a polyhedron that can expand and contract, and the Iris Dome, a ceiling that opens and closes like an eyelid, which only employed digital technology in the final stages of his production. Through his work on geometry, movement, and robotics, Hoberman created an origami-like architecture with the capacity to react and adapt. Before making his projects a physical reality, Hoberman turned to technical tests to simulate the mechanisms in his structures, developing his ownAutoLISP scripts.
Chuck Hoberman, Hoberman Associates. Expanding geodesic dome, 1991. Hoberman fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture © Hoberman Associates.
Chuck Hoberman, Hoberman Associates. Views of an Iris Dome model, 1993. Chuck Hoberman fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture © Hoberman Associates.
Finally, Shoei Yoh’s interest in phenomenology led him to develop designs for roofs that would react to fluctuations in outdoor conditions, a project lasting from 1990 to 1992. The infrastructures of the Galaxy Toyama gymnasium roof and of the Odawara sporting complex roof, which was never constructed, were designed to respond and adapt to the weight of snow, to the pressure of wind, and to light, creating hybrid buildings in-tune with nature.
By inputting the diverse possibilities of his structures to manifest new shapes and forms into tools permitting digital analysis, Yoh obtained codes which, once translated and tested digitally, produced a new, minimalist structural language.
Shoei Yoh + Architects. Odawara Municipal Sports Complex, Odawara, Kanagawa, Japan: Computer-generated images of deformation of roof, 1990-1991. © Shoei Yoh + Architects.
Besides its mandate to educate the public at large, the Canadian Center for Architecture’s “Archaeology of the Digital” exhibit is the first page in an expansive history of digital design that lies ready to be discovered by a new generation of emerging theoreticians and historians of the digital age. It is also a part of the Canadian Center for Architecture’s long-term project to create an archive that will facilitate the research and critical consideration of the development and use of digital tools in architecture.

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