Digital Fabrication in Architecture – Making through Technology


Dana Tănase
ICAR 2012: (Re)writing history proceedings, International conference on Architectural Research

Contemporary architecture practice is influenced by digital technologies, from concept to materialization. Computational design offers the opportunity to integrate design, analysis, representation, manufacture and assembly as parts of the same collaborative process.

Using this common language, specific to the digital environment, makes possible to integrate many layers of information that generates an emergent system, where data interconnects and collaborates to offer an informed response. Current architectural projects aim to generate a specific response, which is no longer a byproduct of form and program, but it is generated by each unique situation.

In the traditional way of thinking identical copies and repetition were the goal, and variability was an impediment. However, nowadays variability is seen as a plus through its character to provide personalized responses. The long historical period characterized by mass production, standardization and identical copies can be considered a closed interval between manufacturing age and the present time characterized by digital technology. Therefore an approach devised by the digital environment can be seen as a continuation of the tradition of the manufactured product. However, it is necessary to differentiate between the two. Although both the manufactured object and the digitally produced one accept change, the ability to create and produce serial variation and difference is characteristic only to the current digital environment.

The traditional production strategies were based on standardization, prefabrication, and were guided on the principles of rationality: geometric simplicity, repetitive mass-produced components devised to maintain an efficient production. This rigidity in manufacturing is no longer necessary because the digitally controlled machines can produce unique items with complex shapes at a reasonable cost. Variety does no longer compromise the production efficiency and economy.

Now it is possible to generate any three-dimensional forms in the digital environment, and almost any such object can be built. In this context digital fabrication was seen, until recently just as the materializing of the digital generated architecture. Latest research and contemporary architectural practices are incorporating fabrication processes into the design from the concept stage. This approach reconfigures the relationship between concept-computation-fabrication, proposing a process of continuous feedback, which generates a final object determined by all these parameters.

The link between digital fabrication and design tools is reconfigured. The way that the digital tool is perceived has evolved from a simple executor of conventional orders to a generator with potential in the design process.  Therefore one can recognize the digital tool’s ability to incorporate information that might influence the concept. The tool becomes a creative mean when it gives the designers the opportunity to use their logic as a generating factor, even from the early stages of the project.

The author will argue that the importance gained by digital fabrication tools should not be understood as a one-way dependence of the object to the method of manufacture, since digital tools should not limit the design process. These digital tools have not been designed for specific architecture making, but they are highly customizable. The challenge for the today architects is to transform these adopted tools and to use them in the architectural process and to make them their own.