Oculus - Winter 2015 - (Page 39)
Letter from the interim exeCutive direCtor
©Inbal Newman/Center for Architecture
David Burney, FAIA
or those of us who still remember ink on Mylar,
the digital revolution in architecture has been
breathtakingly fast and comprehensive. Revit, CNC,
parametric modeling, Grasshopper - some of these
terms were not invented until a few years ago, but
they now dominate the design of complex buildings.
The impact of the digital revolution on architectural practice is most felt in three areas: the generation of architects now coming out of architecture
schools, the technical expertise of architects in
the design process, and the relationship between
design and construction.
Today's architecture school graduate is very different from graduates before the digital revolution
- say, before 1990. New graduates are fully conversant with digital technology and design entirely using computer software. Even handmade models are
being replaced by 3D printers. We hear complaints
that these graduates are just "CAD monkeys" who
"can't draw and don't understand construction."
But this is shortsighted and misunderstands the
depth of the revolution in design practice. First,
it has always been thus - young graduates not
knowing a jamb from a sill - but this generation is
equipped to face a very different design process.
Look at the projects reviewed in this issue of
Oculus. In almost every case, the design team
included specialist fabricators with whom the
architects collaborated to achieve a specific design.
Gone is the process by which the architect produces a concept that the fabricator then figures out
how to build as closely to the architect's images as
possible. Now, using common software platforms,
the designers and fabricators collaborate on a design, working out how it will be built as an integral
part of the design process.
Similarly, with the introduction of BIM models,
architects are collaborating with construction managers and contractors early in the design phase. No
longer do we "work it out in the shop drawings"
during the construction process; these drawings are
produced during design. So we are seeing a more
fully-integrated design and construction team, with
specialized construction firms sitting right alongside the architect and sharing the same software.
Reinventing Architecture: Design in a Digital World
Is this another phase of construction managers muscling in on the architect's territory? I don't
think so. On the contrary, we may be moving into a
whole new phase in which architects are no longer
blamed for producing unrealistic or "unbuildable"
designs, because they will be leading a team that
produces only buildable designs.
If there is danger in the digital revolution, it
lies more in the relationship between our profession and society. As architects become absorbed
in digital technology, we risk ignoring the deeper
questions of what is built and for whom. I have
heard architecture students assume that "parametric design" is an uncontested scientific approach,
when in fact that design might reinforce the
public/private forces of elitism and exclusivity that
often drive what we build. When we focus solely
on the technology of form, we take ourselves out
of the discourse on the social impact of what we
build and provide the status quo with an illusion
A good example of using technology for social
purposes is illustrated by Ennead Architects' 2015
AIANY Design Award-winning research project on
the design of refugee settlements. On a site in Africa where UNHCR was struggling to build a new
settlement on a very uneven site, Ennead produced
a topographical map deduced from Google satellite
data, and printed out a model of the map with a 3D
printer. The topo map was not perfect, but it took
a fraction of the time it would take for a site survey
to be produced, and it enables design to respond to
difficult terrain, avoiding problems of flooding and
erosion. Similarly, SITU Research has launched the
Spatial Practice as Evidence and Advocacy Project,
featured on page 32.
As more and more U.S. architecture firms
work around the world, we have an opportunity
to use our technical prowess to great advantage in
improving the built environment and serving our
wider responsibility as creators of a just society.
David Burney, FAIA
Interim Executive Director
AIA New York Chapter and Center for Architecture
Winter 2015 Oculus
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Winter 2015
First Words Letter from Two Presidents
Letter from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: Practical Attitudes
ICE in the River: Cornell Tech’s Center of Connectivity
Restoring – At Least Virtually – One of England’s Greatest Lost Buildings
At the Corner of Past and Present
The Design-Fabrication Dynamic
How Big Data is Reshaping Architecture
Architecture at the Digital Edge
3D for the Defense
Thinking Beyond the Flat Page
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Winter 2015