Research Through Digital Making



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

Keywords: digital fabrication, creative digital tools, research by design
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 the academic research (Kolarevic, 2005b, 29).
Often the use of digital technologies has been interpreted as an excuse for obtaining forms without substance (Picon, 2010, 70). 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, through the fact that emphasizes the value of the technology itself.
Another approach was the one in which fabrication and digital design were 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.
However, a more profound approach on digital architecture practice, only recently started to emerge. The research in the digital domain transcends the new expression of architecture and its dependence on digital tools, and goes deeper into substance, in developing new ways in which we think and make architecture and design using digital tools. 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.
This paper emphasizes the new focus of the architectural practice on materializing, arguing for the need to involve digital fabrication methods from the earliest stages of the design process (Kolarevic, 2005a, 205). Design and fabrication digital tools have evolved from simple executors to generating factors in the design process. Thus one can acknowledge the digital tools ability to incorporate information that can influence the concept. By involving digital design tools environment exploration reveals that encourage imagination.
The digital technology proofs its utility, not only by designing and producing unique and custom objects, but, more important by offering possibilities that creatively can contribute to the design (Glynn and Sheil, 2011, 20, 156). Thus the advantage that these digital tools provide is not the high-tech factor, but the fact that are highly customizable for a variety of processes. The challenge for today’s architects is they have yet to appropriate these foreign objects, migrated from different technologies, designed for other processes, and make them their own.
In the final paper, the authors will present their own applications, which investigate the creative potential of several types of digital fabrication tools. The abilities of digital tools were tested through three methods: workshops with a given topic, but without a predefined result, design objects as a personal interpretation and robotic fabrication as an exploratory research for future applications.
The workshops that the authors organized were designed to provide the professionals from the creative media with the opportunity to test the ability of digital tools in design and manufacturing. Participants interact with aspects of materialization and they understand that the digital environment does not provide automated tools that make it possible to achieve any form effectively. The whole process, from design to manufacture, has to be planned and abstracted by the designer.
Both the developing of the workshop topic and the creative process during the workshop became a research method. The workshop as a working method proves itself to be a suitable means of knowledge transfer between primary researches, which we as tutors are achieving, to the community of architecture practice. Thus we develop and test the working methods and make them available to the community that can further apply and adapt them to their own practice. The aim is to show that these new work tools are affordable, customizable and that can foster the imagination.
Object design
The making of objects with digital means, by the authors, intended to link computational design, digital fabrication methods and material. Digital tools were involved in the design practice in order to see how they can influence the creation and fabrication processes. The research had two parts, the first related to the working method and the second related to the analysis of the final object. The paper investigates the abstraction of design and fabrication process through code. It was also important to analyze the material outcome in order to observe what the digital influences on the final object were. Although the conceived objects are small, the working process and methods of fabrication can be retrieved and used for an architectural scale.
Robotic fabrication
The paper will also focus on the research of some very versatile fabrication tools, the industrial robots. It follows the development of applications that focus on the increased degree of flexibility of these digital fabrication tools.
The research is exploratory in the sense that seeks new fabrication processes for using industrial robots. Robotic tools were just recently involved in the creative domain, thus references to robotic applications are relatively few, but in constant growing (Brell-Cokcan and Braumann, 2012, 8-10). The interest for architecture in these tools is due to the fact that they are used for a large variety of applications.
The applications developed using industrial robots are experiments that explore a field with numerous possibilities of use in the architecture practice. Their characteristic as versatile tools enables the designer’s creative skills to involve them in architecture.

Brell-Cokcan, Sigrid and Johannes Braumann, 2012, „Introduction”, in Rob|Arch 2012: Robotic Fabrication in Architecture, Art and Design, pp.8-11, New York: Springer.
Glynn, Ruairi and Bob Sheil, 2011, Fabricate: Making Digital Architecture: Riverside Architectural Press.
Kolarevic, Branko, 2005a, „Towards the Performative in Architecture”, in Performative Architecture: Beyond Instrumentality, ed. Branko Kolarevic and Ali Malkawi, pp.205-213: Routledge.
———, 2005b, „Digital Production”, in Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing, ed. Branko Kolarevic, pp.29-55: Taylor & Francis.
Picon, Antoine, 2010, Digital Culture in Architecture: an Introduction for the Design Professions, Basel: Birkhäuser.

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