The Influence of Digital Fabrication Technology on Contemporary Architecture

Dana Tănase

The PhD Thesis of Dana Tănase, with the title: The Influence of Digital Fabrication Technology on Contemporary Architecture, developed in ”Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism, under the scietific coordination of prof. dr. arh. Dorin Ștefan.

Defining the Research Domain

The PhD research is focused on studying how digital fabrication technologies are intervening in the contemporary architecture design, from concept to materialization. The purpose of this thesis is to evaluate to what extent the digital tools exploration, both in design and manufacturing, is influencing architecture practice and the materialization of the architectural objects.

The Legitimacy of the Theme in the Contemporary Context

Addressing the digital fabrication domain, in terms of implications for design practice transformation, is still in its early state. These digital methods of design and fabrication are relatively new to the architecture practice, but are beginning to be explored. Most of these technologies are currently starting to be addressed, applied and developed, in academic research. There are research projects within architecture universities; also this subject is addressed at conferences and workshops, which focus on digital design in relation to the method of fabrication. Besides these academic developments there is an obvious increase of use of digital fabrication methods in architectural projects.
Information about digital fabrication in the creative industries does exist, and researchers, designers and architects present their explorations in this field, documenting their processes. Often the use of digital technologies has been interpreted as an excuse for obtaining forms without substance. In these cases, the capacity of the fabrication technologies to achieve increasingly more complex geometries was the most valued. These approaches have been criticized as superficial, mainly due to the fact that these emphasize the value of the technology itself.
Another approach was the one in which fabrication and digital design was seen as part of the theme of sustainability. The discourse on digital fabrication mainly focused on technical and economic aspects, while its implications beyond the field of engineering and industry were ignored. Thus they were interpreted as methods for achieving efficiency, as a means to control the use of raw material supply. In this context digital technologies had a limited area of influence on the design concept.
However, a more advanced discussion in architectural design that extends beyond matters of form or efficiency, which has a richer content, only recently started to emerge. Current interest focuses on how the digital environment transforms the way we think about architecture. It also shows the design domain reorientation towards materializing architectural artifacts and in this context digital fabrication becomes part of the project.

Research Objectives

The research starts by seeking the factors that led to the development of digital, following the relationship between society, historical context, needs and technological developments. It examines the transformation of production processes from traditional craft, mechanized production of the industrial revolution, reaching the current context marked by exploration in the digital fabrication domain.
The research looks at how the design and the materialization processes were transformed over time, analyzing the relationship between creator, artifact and tools.
The thesis examines the relevance of adopting digital design and fabrication technologies from other industries, in construction and architectural practice. The focus is on how the involvement of these new tools transforms the architecture practice, on the creative level, but also on researching new methods of materializing architectural artifacts.
It examines to what extent the defining characteristics of digital tools are being transferred onto the materialized objects. Through case studies, the thesis aims to identify how digital fabrication tools leave their mark on the architectural artifacts.
An important goal of the paper is grounding, from the theoretical standpoint, of digital fabrication related concepts. The aim is to assess the potential of digital fabrication tools in architecture, by going beyond the endless possibilities achieved through technology, increase efficiency or developing complex forms.
An important objective is to test digital fabrication tools through the author’s personal explorations. The aim is to discover how these new tools influences the design process.