Computation and material practice in architecture: intersecting intention and execution during design development by Jerome Frumar

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Abstract

It is generally believed that computation and computer numerical control (CNC) manufacturing technologies empower architects by enabling better integrated architectural design to production processes. While this is a tantalizing prospect, there is no clear strategy in place for achieving this goal. Furthermore, the extent to which design, engineering and construction might be integrated around digital technologies is currently limited as the computational processes architects use for design exploration are not typically informed by material logic and the logistics of materialisation.

My research explores whether computation and CNC manufacturing can support more informed design methods and better integrated production processes in architecture. I identify the critical factors involved in pursuing this goal and elaborate on an integral computational methodology capable of enhancing the bond between designing and making in architecture. My hypothesis is that digitally mediated design and manufacturing can strengthen the relationship between intention and execution by enabling closer engagement with fabrication during early design exploration, and by supporting more informed decision making via dynamic design representations with embedded material intelligence.

This hypothesis has been developed and tested through project led research. Although different in nature, the three investigations I have undertaken serve as complimentary vehicles of discovery and evidence for my claims. Each investigation was devised and carried out in response to practical observations, a critical review of literature focu¬sing on historical and contemporary relationships between design and construction, and a series of precedent studies related to materially informed design computing.

As a group they contribute to understanding how digital technologies might be employed by architects to enhance and expand design to production processes, and shed light on some of the technical, cultural and philosophical implications of a deeper engagement with materials and processes of making within the discipline of architecture.

My research concludes that new kinds of interactive simulation and evaluation tools, and access to digital fabrication technologies, enables an accelerated generation, evaluation and calibration process during early design exploration. This mutually informed digital-material feedback loop makes it possible to rapidly develop acute material intuition, and consequently to conceive new kinds of architectural systems and materialisation strategies which could lead to better use of available resources, more innovative design and a stronger bond between intent and outcome through more streamlined design to production processes.

The digitally supported materially informed methodology that I outline encourages a shift in design process and attitude, away from a visually driven mode of architectural composition towards material practice – an approach in which the self-organising logic of materials and the logistics of materialisation are used to actively inform design exploration, refinement and construction processes.

My project based outcomes, findings and observations prompt re-evaluation of the conventional distance between architects and processes of making by highlighting the importance of deep material engagement and broad practical knowledge when utilising computation and CNC manufacturing technologies for designing and producing architecture.

Year: 2011
Examiners: Professor Mette Thomsen, Professor Stephen Loo, Professor Nat Chard  Supervisors: Professor Mark Burry

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