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A new school of thought

An education conference shows how digital media in the twentyfirst century could change the face of architecture and design

Designers' and architects' work has been transformed in recent years.

The ever-moving imperative for this change has been the whirlwind evolution of the computer. These changes are nowhere more apparent than in design and architecture schools. It is here that the next generation of digital design practices is being honed.

Most students have some level of dexterity on the computer and a smaller, but significant, percentage have breathtaking representational and developmental skills based on the use of these machines.

It is not surprising, then, that architecture and design will be a key theme in one of the world's principle forums for digital creativity in art and design education. CADE 2001 (Computers in Art and Design Education) will run from 9 to 12 April at Glasgow School of Art. It aims to cross the borders of creative disciplines in order to help delegates understand the interdisciplinary and international character of digital media in the twenty-first century.

This theme of 'crossing' will intersect papers and discussions on art, architecture, media, performance, craft, animation and music from differing cultural perspectives, differing levels of education and disciplines. The conference is divided into categories that include networks and collaborations, new information landscapes, creativity, redesigning design, new generations, theory and identity, and, architecture and design.

Speakers in this last category will include Rudi Stouffs, Sevil Sariyildiz, and Bige Tuncer from Delft University of Technology, talking about 'information communication technologies' influences on design creativity'. The trio believe that, 'as a result of these developments in 3D modelling software, and their use for architectural design, there is a growing gap between what the architect or designer can envision on one hand and what the building technician or product architect can materialise on the other. It is a fact that the designer dares to create more complex forms when confronted with the new possibilities these tools offer.

'The developments in the field of building technology and building materials have not followed these advances in modelling software, so much so that they can no longer fulfil all the requirements and demands of the new architectural shapes.

Information communication technologies may play an important role in narrowing this gap.

'CAD/CAM already counts heavily in the realisation of such complex buildings as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. At the same time, it requires the designer to have the skills to integrate the various disciplines. Besides the artistic form expression of the building, this also involves building physics, applied mechanics, building materials and techniques. In the architectural curriculum at the Delft University of Technology, this dual focus on creative design and constructibility already takes centre stage. The same applies to digital design.'

Stuart Macdonald will describe the development of The Lighthouse's Virtual Architecture Centre. Here he sets out some of the methods adopted for its feasibility study. 'In June 2000 The Lighthouse, with support from the Scottish Executive, instigated the idea of developing a virtual architecture centre. The Lighthouse is, of course, Scotland's first real architecture centre but it is seen as important that the debate about architecture and the built environment involve as many people as possible. This is a major theme of the Scottish Executive's consultative document on the development of a policy on architecture for Scotland. And, with the advent of the Internet and digital technology, reaching a wide audience becomes ever more possible.

'Eccentri-CITY, comprising awardwinning architect Gary Johnson and Lita and Muir Khazaka-Simpson, was commissioned by The Lighthouse to develop the proposal. The study investigated existing provision through an extensive Internet search. Communication was also established with the Netherlands. Workshops were set up in a range of urban and rural areas to explore the idea of what a virtual architecture centre might be. These workshops were held in July and August 2000 in Dundee, Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The audience was drawn from all walks of life and included professionals and nonprofessionals.'

Dr Raid Hanna from Glasgow School of Art will present a paper on 'Computers and creativity in architectural design.'This reports on a series of studies conducted during the past five years with students using CAD programmes intensively in their designs.

The findings are generally positive.

Students were interviewed and given questionnaires that encapsulated variables related to creativity.

This research based itself on Runco's two-tier model of creative thinking.

'The primary tier relates to three issues: problem identification, ideation and appraisal, ' writes Hanna. 'The secondary tier is concerned with two issues: knowledge (procedural and declarative), and motivation. In addition, two further measures of creativity were culled from the literature. These were:

divergent/convergent thinking and a preference for complexity/simplicity.

'Questionnaire returns, interviews and direct observations were compiled, coded and statistically analysed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). The datacollection process and analysis is still going on, but early results suggest that CAD has positively influenced and enhanced students' ability on two fronts: the fluency of creating architectural design ideas, and the evaluation/appraisal process of design concepts.'

Could it be that architectural students benefit creatively from using computers which somehow make them better designers? I'm not sure.

Students' aspirations in relation to creative thought, ambition and representation are much the same but their problems are different from those of 20 years ago. They can now invent forms that twist and turn, but they still have problems of cladding, structure and justification.

I might argue, even as an apologist for the computer and all of its advantages, that the advent of computer representation in student projects has created students less able to be highly analytical about the aspirations of their work. Much student work still has little or no philosophically rigorous intent. The computer at times augments this lacuna.

Indeed, as the Delft team recognises, 'while students can easily explore the formal aspects of free-form modelling on their own, we should be concerned with the fact that students may lose themselves in formal exercises that do little to enhance the quality of their design'.

Instead, we should aid students in exploring form as a reflection on intent, as an expression of an idea that takes shape in a process which at the same time explains the idea. For example, Lars Spuybroek describes a strangely (ir)regular composition of houses as inflected by the sound patterns from a nearby highway, in an attempt to reconcile the disjunction posed by the highway and the existing neighborhood across the site.

The landscape is sonically shaped through compositions of wave patterns triggered by the sound of passing traffic in 'strings' derived from an existing noise barrier.

'As in traditional architecture, designers must develop their own methodologies for design, taking into account the goal, requirements, and context of the project.With respect to the use of advance modelling tools, this means that students should be introduced to a variety of techniques and methodologies that can serve the form-finding process. At Delft, Kas Oosterhuis is offering a design studio in which various methodologies and techniques are explored in the design of a transferium (eg. train station) with an emphasis on motion and interactivity through parametric representations.'

The conference should be as exasperating as it is inspiring and this is a good thing. Its wide remit will encourage all sorts of interpretations of what the digital is, what it has been and what it could be to creative practice. My preference is for the aspirations of the Delft team which, for me, is exhibiting the fundamental notions of what digital design should be about and that is, to create algorithms that create work that is to some extent out of our control: reflexive, ecological and beautiful.

More power to the elbows of the conference organisers. I'm all fired up and all I've done is read a few papers. Such conferences are crucial.

They give design professionals and teachers a forum in which to attempt to discuss the greatest phenomenon of our age and how it will affect us.

Keynote speakers at CADEwill include Wendy Alexander MSP, Simon Penny, associate professor of art and robotics at Carnegie-Mellon University, and Walter Stewart, director of global marketing, education and research for Silicon Graphics. Panels will be chaired by Stuart Cosgrove, head of programmes at Channel 4, and Fariba Farshad, head of the IT research and development unit of the London Institute. Associated events will include a visit to Glasgow School of Art's Digital Design Studio in the Charles Rennie Mackintosh House for an Art Lover, a civic reception at the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art and a reception at The Lighthouse, Scotland's National Centre for Architecture, Design and the City. For more information about CADE 2001, go to www.cade.ac.uk

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