Archeology of the Digital: Complexity and Convention
On May 10, at the Canadian Center for Architecture, was held the opening of the last of three exhibitions called Archeology of the Digital. The exhibition, curated by Greg Lynn, explores the position of new technological tools in the architectural conception. Archeology of the Digital raises awareness on changes caused by digital technologies in the last decades, changes that are likely to be forgotten by young architects of the 21st century, due to their constant use of technological tools. While the two first shows focused on innovative and experimental projects, like the H20expo of Lars Spuybroek or the Lewis Residence of Frank Ghery (two buildings that were among the first to try to include new technologies), the exhibition Complexity and Convention extends its research to a much wider range and for most of them, newer projects. These projects allow us to see new technologies as being more than a step in some isolated project, becoming ubiquitous and more important in the actual eld of architecture.
The exhibition is organized around five themes that put in perspective the way all the projects are linked ; High-Fidelity 3D, Topology and Topography, Photorealism, Data, and Structure and Cladding. By showing the extant and the complexity of technologies' influence in all the aspects and the mandatory steps to a building's conception.
Digital technologies generated new ways to communicate with clients and theoreticians. The exhibition in itself is also contributing to proving the importance of those modern ways of communication, since everything in it consists of new types of documentation and archives that revolutionize the way we present buildings today. New softwares allows architects to see some elements that would otherwise be almost impossible to imagine. The diffusion of light or the impact of wind on buildings are now easier to plan in more quantifiable manners.
Even if it seems like the use of new technologies is becoming a standard in big architecture firms around the world, it is not always linked to the same part of the process. During the Greg Lynn show on May 11, discussion between the curator and most of the guest architects, Neil M. Denari talked about the fact that all architects in the exhibition used softwares in their conception, but they were not all software driven. Only a few projects, like the Chemnitz Stadium of Peter Kulka and Ulrich Königs, were conceptualized in a non-determinist way, leaving the choice of the final form to the digital tools.
Some tendencies can be observed in a majority of projects presented at the exhibition. First, it seems like their conception is all more based on abstract concepts than on a formalist or aesthetic desire. The traditional ways of practicing architecture, as well as the architects' role are really different since the finality of the form is partly taken in charge by digital tools. The Carbon Tower of Peter Testa and Devyn Weiser, for example, has been shaped by computer code, allowing the architects to fasten the conceptualization of the complex structure. In the Greg Lynn Show, Patrick Schumacher also talked about the fact that most of Zaha Hadid Architects projects, including the Phaeno Science Center, were first elaborated using 3D softwares. What comes out of these two buildings and of the majority of those presented at the exhibition is a monolithic aesthetic that, a couple of years ago, would have been qualified as futuristic. Though this word is no longer valuable since those morphologies are becoming more and more present and will soon be part of the usual urban landscape.
A New Type of Creativity
Even if we could be worried about the future of the architect's role in a world where technology is becoming more automatized and deterministic, like Roemer Van Toorn wrote in an article published in 2004, it seems that the exhibition depicts the integration of digital in architecture as something way more exciting than threatening. Architects still understand their roles as something essential and their creative strenght transcended their words during the Greg Lynn Show conversations. What the exhibition and all the documentation around it shows is that new technologies open to a wider range of possibilities for young architects. The architectural creativity as presented in the exhibition can only be understood in an optimistic way, since it is the start of a new effervescence, where limits are yet to be anticipated.
Head image: Phaeno Science Center by Zaha Hadid Architects