Digital Design Process



Ionuț Anton, Dana Tănase
ICAR 2015: Re[Search] through Architecture proceedings, International conference on Architectural Research

Keywords: digital process, algorithmic architecture, parametric design, scripting, custom design tools, digital craft

From the survival need, or driven by his thirst for knowledge, Man has always build himself prostheses that would intensify physical strength, increase sensorial capacity or that enhance the brain functions: memory, judgment, information processing, communicational capacity. Digital technologies were originally used as prosthesis, not in the sense of replacing human involvement in the processes, but acting an extension of human abilities. Gradually, the computers became an associate of our intelligence, a space for developing our imagination and curiosity (Toffler, 1984, 173). The computer’s algorithmic logic is insinuating in our behavior, in our logic and in the way we view the world, starting from the auxiliary role of prosthesis (Marcus, 2011, 112).
Technology is not only technical, but an active entity that transforms due to the new and different cultural effects (Feenberg, 1999). Technology, in this sense, is not an efficiency oriented practice measured quantitatively, but a qualitatively set of relations that interact with cultural stimuli (Rahim, 2005, 179). Digital technology influences the design of objects, which have an effect that influences the human behavior and thus causes the production of new tools. The computer is affecting its users, which are influenced by interaction with it and, in turn, have an impact on their environment. This cycle of emerging effects influence our cultural environment (Rahim, 2005, 182).
The computer offers the opportunity to designers to combine experience and intuition with logical reasoning, to combine their skills with the rational. As a tool, the computer can help us to achieve a more meaningful process, by helping us give shape to our ideas.
The conventional Computer Aided Design concepts, that mimic pen and paper with the mouse and computer screen, constrain the architectural language through libraries of predetermined architectural elements. The result was limiting architectural expression, using the excuse of increased efficiency and excluding an approach that uses less conventional components and configurations. The current parametric design tools bring more abstract building elements, a system that can modify, adapt, so that designers can make their own vocabulary of components. Now designers have the opportunity to define their own set of tools, but only after having understood and configured the algorithmic and geometric abstract (Aish 2010, 24).
Until recently the architects were waiting for other disciplines to develop tools and select from a catalog of possibilities. By doing so, they are not active individuals and they could lose their culture and characteristics, based of professional experience and knowledge (Kohler & Kara, 2011). By integrating software programming into architecture practice, digital tools are becoming themselves designed, and the whole process shifts towards materialization of the project.
Digital technology offers an alternative that has the advantage to use highly generic, adaptive and customizable tools. If the traditional architect had to work within the limits of the available means to manifest their creativity, the contemporary architect has the opportunity to design also his tools and to use them creatively in the design process.

The involvement of digital tools in the architecture practice transforms the core of the creative process. Through computation, the architect no longer designs the form to be produced, but the production process itself. The computational design product is no longer a building’s representation, but the process of developing a logical sequence that generates an architecture object, which can be materialized through digital fabrication tools. Thus the design is addressed in abstract terms, in the sense of making connections that link the design principles, from symbolic aspects to materializing methods. In this context, scripting becomes a tool of the mind, evolving from a strictly technical action; it can be applied in architecture practice as a method of communicating the symbolic intentions (Reas and McWilliams, 2010, 15).
Through computational design, the project incorporates the idea and method of manufacture from the moment of its conception. This means that the building materializing process is integrated into the design process, as it was during the traditional craftsmanship period. Mathematics has effectively become an object of manufacture (Cache, 1998, 67). Through computation the project information is translated into data and linked together into algorithmic structures, processed and finally passed to the digital fabrication tools that are producing the physical object. Computation brings together both the creative thinking and the materialization process, and transforms the design and building process, moving toward a digital craft.
Digital design software today offers the opportunity to encapsulate design thinking in the form of algorithms and code. Architects are therefore able to translate their way of creating architecture into a form making logic. The latest developments in software, such as Grasshopper for Rhinoceros, offer a visual environment for designing algorithms, in which architects are not forced to learn coding, but can work with visual elements. By using such software, all the coding is hidden behind graphical representations that can be linked to form associative and algorithmic designs. The authors will present their own digital design process and their direct experience from working with digital tools.
Today’s architects become more that just digital tool users, by using custom built fabrication tools and writing code, they become tool makers, involving themselves even deeper into the process of design and making.

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