Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Response to “Computing in Architectural Design”

In chapter four of his book Architecture’s New Media: Principles, Theories, and Methods of Computer-Aided Design, author Yehuda Kalay begins by describing computation as it has related to the field of architecture throughout various times in history. Intelligent and efficient computational methods were most certainly necessary for the construction of architecture in pre-Renaissance times; however, computational methods and tools became particularly crucial during the Renaissance, when architects obsessed over “perfect” architectural forms and how they related to the geometry of the human figure (expressed in the Vitruvian ideal). Hand tools such as compasses and straightedges were critical in the execution of precise work.

Computer-aided design emerged in the twentieth century and was first applied to architectural purposes as a means for engineering analysis. Gradually, the role of the computer evolved to become not merely a tool to simplify and expedite the design process, but also a way to visually represent design deliverables such as construction and perspective drawings. Most importantly, computer technology has matured to become a crucial contributor to the nature of finished designs. In other words, it has been advanced to the extent that it can actually influence the development of a designer’s thought process and work. This decades-long transformation can be seen in the development of first-, second-, and third-generation computer-aided design systems. The author explains an interesting phenomenon in CAD developmental history by observing a distinction between first-generation systems as “building design systems” and second-generation systems as “drafting and modeling systems.” In other words, “the emphasis on the unique attributes of buildings was sacrificed for the sake of generality. … Architects thus gained computer-assisted drafting and rendering capabilities but lost the analytical capabilities that formed the basis for the introduction of computing into the profession in the first place” (Kalay, 70). Third-generation CAD systems have since resolved this problem with the reintroduction of these analytical capabilities, and have far surpassed the influence of first-generation systems as computer technology has become increasingly more capable and intelligent.

In addition to providing historical information on the development of CAD systems, the author analyzes the various roles of computing in architectural design. The author observes two basic ways of viewing the development of computer-aided design as it relates to architecture; it can be viewed firstly as “the search for technology that can fulfill certain preconceived roles” or secondly as “the search for the most appropriate role, or combination of roles, that technology can play in the architectural design process” (Kalay, 74). As design tools, computers cater to a designer’s needs by operating as instruments that enhance his or her ability to execute work in an accurate and timely manner. As a means of communication, computers are invaluable as tools to provide connections among individual designers and therefore ideas. Computers as design assistants contribute to the simplification of the design process, replacing human minds in the execution of tasks considered more “mundane;” as an extension, they can also exceed the capabilities of human designers. The author also explains three ways in which computer technology has altered various environments. More than simply tools, computers have become design environments, indicated by a designer’s need to work “within” the computer. The influence of computer technology has also continued to seep into the physical realm by constituting habitable physical environments via “computer-controlled temperature, humidity, and lighting, security systems, elevators and doors, even electronic building ‘skins’ … creating seamlessly networked and ever changing electronic landscapes” (Kalay, 79). Thirdly, computers have played a unique role in the development of virtual environments, exemplified by the Internet phenomenon known as “cyberspace.” This role of computers represents a radical shift in the way human beings have come to experience the world and their interactions with others. We exist at a unique position in history as observers of and participants in a new iteration of metaphysical existence, one that continues to have a profound effect on numerous aspects of our everyday lives.

Source cited:

Kalay, Yehuda E. Architecture’s New Media: Principles, Theories, and Methods of Computer-Aided Design. The MIT Press, 2004.

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