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Incentive Paper by Jan Willmann Drucken E-Mail

Incentive Paper for the Workshop and Symposium on Digital Design Processes in Obergurl/Tyrol

Intricate Correlations.

Intensification of Relations.

"Whenever production conditions for architecture change, architecture also changes!" It was not just anybody who proclaimed this in the 1950s: these are the words of Konrad Wachsmann, highly reputed architect and pioneer of industrial production technique. The attitude of Wachsmann to architecture is ambivalent. He not only reflects on architecture itself but on the particular production conditions of the discipline. It is precisely here, where a contradictory nature and dynamic principle returns on the cusp of the change from mechanical to the digital age in our days. Hence, at the bottom of new production conditions of today's architecture and its wide implications lies with Wachsmann the driving force of the architectural discipline, as once the modernist transition from craftwork to machinery and mass production has brought to the fore.

Indeed, the question of conditions of architecture has today returned- in an almost scandalously freshly and reckless form. This becomes obvious not just in the superficial appearance of advertising, fashion or product design, but also in computer-generated architectural design processes and the virtual world of screens and media facades. At that point, a fundamental involvement within the architectural discipline emerges that not just reflects on virtual and superficial conditions but strives for a material reality entirely in keeping with Jean Baudrillard's simulacra. It is precisely here where the transition from the mechanical to the digital age questions the foundations of architecture. This is the point where architecture hones its conceptual orientation and adapts to the changing cultural force field as central questions of the period's architectural design come to surface.

From the middle of the 19th century it was the transition from the traditional materials to steel, glass and machine production that stirred the debate over architecture. One point came into focus that up to that point was rarely been put in mind: the close relation between architecture and the specific conditions of materials and their structural emergence. This is when Gottfried Semper came into discussion with his book Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts of Practical Aesthetics (1860/63). Exchanging ideas with the natural sciences he developed a rather "parametric" idea of material change and continuity. This not only emphasized on questions of style and culture but also put the phenomena of complexity, self-organisation and non-linearity in the focus of architecture. Semper added on this in his theory of metabolism. Here he argues that the intrinsic nature and material forms of architecture cannot be simply invented, but in them appears the relation between the built form and the history of its emergence. Semper particularly drew on the Greek temple. According to Semper, the elements of the stone temple recall construction features of the wooden temple. Thus, in the transition from one material to another the ancient stone temple represents his structural history and the prevailing cultural influences. This particularly becomes evident when Semper tried to show something that was rather impossible to theorize on: the "alchemistic morphology" between natural materialism and the processes of immateriality, between fluid correlations and differentiated structure. Today too, through parametric design processes and linked material construction procedures, Semper's metabolism becomes reconceptualized as a becoming of Gestalt, the information of matter.

Indeed, we are concerned with a variety of manifestations of a fundamental change in the digital age of architecture. However, one point is certain: the new parametric and computer-generated designs are no longer restricted to superficial appearance and perceptive modes. Through new developments such as algorithmic design, mass customisation and scripting technique, digital architecture has begun to detach from paper, of the media facades and electronic screens. Today, digital architecture strives for materials and structures. This is to be found in the work of the institute for experimental architecture.hochbau (Prof. Patrik Schumacher) and its application of parametric design techniques that focus on a fundamental and programmatic correlation between different systems and subsystems. With such an "intensification of relations" or what Gilles Deleuze has termed as "internal and external logic" the architectural borders between the program, surface and structure begin to dissolve. Interestingly enough, parametric design techniques used and examined by institute for experimental architecture.hochbau do not in fact begin with unilateral strategies or ideological emphasis, but with so to speak performative and general patterns of parametric design ("proto-design") and its materialistic implications; although the institute's architectural results focus on specific environments and particular architectural agendas, they have much in common with Semper's "alchemistic morphology". Here, under the influence of digital processes, material, structure and program enter as "adequate culture of design" (Antoine Picon) into a new and future-orientated interrelation that is now to be further discussed within an interdisciplinary approach.

Exactly in this regard the workshop Intricate Correlations - Intensification of Relations of the institute for experimental architecture.hochbau is to address the dynamic force of such a fundamental change in architecture. Against this background parametric design is separating from the surface where the tectonic structure is a result of the "algorithmic logic" of the computer (Neil Leach). It then is questionable whether or not the abstract logic of the computer itself becomes obvious in the specific forms of parametric design. This implicates that here architecture becomes the primary expression of advanced digital media. But quite the contrary, it is not said that specific, human and individual factors of influence are obsolete. This is evident in the computer-generated design procedures of the institute for experimental architecture.hochbau where the design is still influenced by individual and physical intentions. It can be further stressed that the algorithmic logic of parametric design particularly reflects a genuine form of design and thusly integrates ephemeral, programmatic and contextual elements of influence. In the institute's case certain criteria of the alpine region find also consideration, as aspects of the contextual landscape and individual influences become important for the digital habitat. Thus it is by no means the case that the hand of the designer and materialist thinking – a tradition that is particular for Tyrol's built environment and nowadays becomes catalysed through the technologisation of the region's timber work industry – has been switched off: mediated by new digital designs and technological approaches such as ecoLogicStudio (AA London) or Softspace (Sean Lally und Jessica Young) the human beings are entering into a new relationship with the environment and with themselves.

The workshop's central question of intricate correlations and with that, an intensification of relations represents a first thesis, it not only addresses technological implications but also a rather crucial programmatic side - largely expressed by cultural, ephemeral and environmental factors (i.e. the alpine region). So, quite insistently the question arises: How do specific factors of correlation manifest in parametric design? If so, what exactly are innovative criteria? How can an exceptionally individual potential be described by means of a keyword like "intensification"? Or would it be more appropriate to name it correlative design right from the start in the face of such a premise? More than that, how can the specific parametric design of the workshop be distinguished from previous approaches, what are possible affinities and continuities at the same time? What or where is the area of conflict between a specific program and context and a universal algorithmic design process?

Especially this perspective points out that, according to a second thesis, nowadays the question of material and production conditions is becoming more important than ever within computational design - a "structural turn" (Neil Leach) as an elementary change which will be discussed and examined in the workshop. More interesting, the latin verb "computare" means the general function to bring several things into correlation. Accordingly, the intensification of the reciprocity of different systems would already be implied within the term "computational design". This redirects the attention from a idealistic and particular design process to a general and comprehensive providing of technical, structural and material data, from design process to production. Consequently, this would mean that with this workshop, parametric design and its associated reciprocity contemporary architecture has to sharpen its focus and at the same time its theoretical concept, quasi with recourse to Konrad Wachsmann and Gottfried Semper. Opinions diverge when it comes to computational design, but less in the sense of aesthetics that the central formative potentials of an age crystallize on it.

The workshop, according to a third thesis, is where a program will be discussed that acknowledges in parametric design a growing field of study, not only in the realm of architecture but in various fields of computational engineering and manufacturing. This is anticipated in the workshop with its focus on "proto-design". Accordingly, general solutions will be discussed not only enabling a wide range of different design parameters but also to integrate most different and various material and structural requirements as well as the specific knowledge of experts and engineers by a systematic mindset. While Wachsmann considered the separation of the design process from the manufacturing and realization process the pivotal criteria of industrial prefabrication, Neil Leach shows on the contrary that today, within the realm of parametric design the separation of cognitive processes and material logics is obsolete and results in a formative turn in architectural design. By means of "proto-design" the workshop is therefore to study a new correlation between design and manufacturing - as a driving force not only for the intensification of correlative design parameters but also for the intensification of interdisciplinary interaction. This is worth examining.

Stuttgart/Innsbruck, 6 June 2010, Jan Willmann (Chair for Architectural Theory )



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