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The Digital Crafting of Architecture by Andrew Edge

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The AJ Writing Prize 2014: Entry

Digital design

Architecture as a field has developed at a rapid pace over the last twenty years. Some may say more so than at any other time in architectural history. The base position from where designs originate today has shifted. Architecture now exists in a digital world with the design and construction process becoming ever more virtual. This virtual design space offers endless possibilities and infinite solutions for any given scenario.

However, in a state of infinite flux eventually parameters and variables have to become fixed. They have to become static in order to turn designs from virtual concepts into physical realities. Decisions have to be made how, when and where to freeze the evolution of the design before the bringing them into the real as visible entities made from physical matter can begin.

These decisions are determined by creative intuition and craft of the architect. Their underlying layer of expertise, knowledge and technical ability needs to assembled before any design or design framework is generated. Only then can design solutions be created, evaluated and rejected by the architect.

Feeding information into a digital design space that offers unlimited solutions requires a great understanding of the power available. There has to be an awareness of the results that could be generated and an understanding of parameters from which they originate.

The architect has to be able to regulate and manage the infinite design solutions through a ‘digital’ craft. They have to control the flow of information within the design space allowing for refinement packages are like pianos - they can either be played very well or very badly.’

As part of this ‘digital craft’ human considerations have to be implemented into the virtual design. Perceived visions of the physical experience of the end user have to be evaluated in the varying arrangements and grouping of the forms generated

Digital construction

However, ‘digital craft’ reaches far beyond generating an endless supply of meaningless and sporadic geometrical forms. Architecture is built in the physical world with the traditional final state of the design process being construction. With an ever increasing digital construction process architects have to extend their ‘digital craft’ into this phase.

There has to be an intent that the design generated will ultimately be built. Realistic expectations of the physical limitations of materials in terms of performance and behavior have to be applied. Architects have to have an awareness of substance and material but more importantly on sensory and tactile qualities that materials possess.

Once the materials are chosen a more intelligent human understanding is required to control and manage the automated fabrication machinery. The right information from the design model has to be extracted, translated and entered into the machines to allow fabrication to take place.

The controlled digital fabrication allows high levels of accuracy and precision eliminating human error and construction tolerances before the elements are skilfully arranged and grouped on site forming the finished building.

Digital experience

Once created as a physical entity the navigation and the process of experiencing a building can be equally virtual as it is physical. Technology today allows unlimited 360 degree access of certain buildings. In a digital environment these buildings can be experienced at any time day or night.
Unlike the physical world where human restrictions such as closing times for example can curb the physical experience these digital representations of the real allowed uninterrupted

For example the Heydar Aliyev Center designed by Zaha Hadid allows virtual tours of the completed building. (albeit from the outside only and limited to Mac users) However, the point is that the virtual tour allows the virtual visitor to clearly see the ‘digital craft’ in the architecture. The virtual
visitor is able to see the overall form and composition of the building and see the sweeping curvature of its unique form as they navigate around it with the click of a mouse. The virtual visitor is also able to see the ‘digital craft’ in the fabrication and the assembly of the doubly curved cladding
panels through zooming in and out. The virtual visitor can navigate through the

Digital future

The digital has opened up new avenues of exploration in all areas of architecture. The traditional conversation on the crafting of architecture has now progressed. New high performance plastics and polymers are moving away from the traditional tectonic natural earth materials. New tools are required to cut and fabricate these materials. The human hand has been replaced with a more accurate laser. How these fabricated elements are arranged to form finished buildings is also changing creating spaces and sequences of spaces not previously achievable. Digital technology is changing the way humans interact and experience buildings allowing virtual unrestricted access.

However, at the heart of both arguments there is a constant and that constant is the architect. The underlying argument for what ‘craft’ is still the same. After all the ‘digital’ is only changing the way architecture is practiced not what architecture is.

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