• Sunday , 22 July 2018

Examining the role of technology in the architecture of the 21st century

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Unavoidably, architects and architecture rely more and more heavily on new technologies and media, and their assimilation in the progression of the way we develop the practice of spatial design. As a result, we undeniably require a healthier comprehension of these innovative tools and the way they influence design. This issue forms quite a few informal conversations between students of architecture in the studios of Dublin Institute of Technology and elsewhere as it not only concerns our existing circumstances as designers but fundamentally our future as architects. With this idea of a ‘mutual conversation’ and as a student of DIT myself, I decided that in order to achieve an un-biased view on the issue, it could rather become a formal collaboration. Thus, the following texts are written by friends and fellow architecture students from the same year – at the ends of their ‘year-out’ journeys as well as by students currently preparing in the studios for the end-of-year shows – all taking a shared interested in the contribution of technology to design and architecture generally.

Illustration-Edyta
Illustration by: Edyta Baran (DIT)

‘The success or failure of an architect in today’s construction industry can often be defined by their ability (or inability) to communicate the ideas or aspirations of a client/occupier with those responsible for the realisation of said ideas/aspirations in the physical world. This communication of aspiration has always been aided by technology, through drawings, physical models, diagrams etc. Therefore, a ‘good’ architect could be described as a ‘good communicator’, the difference being only that today one has more means to effectively communicate ideas and intentions, and at an earlier stage of a project. The new prevalence of digital modelling, designed component based systems and virtual visual impressions allows architects to better communicate ideas between client and builder, bringing closer the various contributors to the success (or failure) of the design. However, this is a means of communication, and not the subject of the message.

Especially in Ireland, where until relatively recently information was exchanged verbally, we must be careful as to not let the capacity for unlimited imagination and contemplation blur the once realistic and practical integrity of the built environment. Architecture, although now communicated on a digital platform, has to find a way to ground itself in the physical world, where ultimately, it will exist. Like any other language, the message is everything; the moment the language dictates or affects its content, it has failed. Similarly, the moment architecture follows the will of technological systems intended to ‘aid’ the design, despite the needs or aspirations of the human users in the real world, it has failed. To quote the Irish poet Séan Ó Ríordáin in discussion on the ‘purity’ of the Irish language “Níl ann ach slí chumursáid / It’s only a means of communication.” The same is true in Irish architecture; technology is affording architects a clarity and coherence in design we have never known before. This should be a reason to pursue more refined architectural technique and not an excuse for selfish or outlandish design.’ – Diarmuid Wolfe (DIT)

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Illustration by: Michal Nitychoruk & Adrian Lok (DIT)

‘Mentioning ‘new technology’ and ‘architecture’ together generally seems to have an emphasis on one of two things; pushing structures to new limits both horizontally and vertically, or the various ways of enhancing mass production in architecture. Each of these are primarily driven and focused on condensing and producing more for less, rather than the provision of any real spatial quality. It seems to be a rarity you hear ‘technology’ and ‘spatial quality’ mentioned together.

For me, architecture students should be more in tune with potential technological advancements in materials. There should be more focus on exploration and experimentation with new or modified materials and textures to see if they can be used to enhance spaces in innovative and unique ways, previously not possible with their predecessors.’ – Brian Gargan (DIT)

‘Technology, as an important aid, is becoming ever more prominent within the realm of architecture today, holding the reigns of an increasingly more centralised role within the industry. Technological advancements, on an almost daily basis, in areas such as BIM, digital fabrication, 3D printing, design software and advancements in construction materials and techniques, opens up a seemingly ‘limitless’ world of possibility for the young, future architects of the 21st century. Allowing us to design smarter, complex, radical, efficient, and integrated buildings and structures and unlocking new potential for the designers of today.

It is providing us with revolutionary tools to achieve a greater scope of possibility and capability in the design world and providing us with new heights to realise. As technology gains a leaner foothold, becoming more dominant in architecture, it allows us to enter into a world of seemingly endless new possibility and the sublime. As we slip more from desk to desktop, there becomes an onus on us to not forget or diminish the humbler traditions of the art of architecture. The beauty and skill of manual hand-craft, hand-design, albeit more labour intensive than developing digital design, will always provide a unique and different way of design that harbours a very real connection and way of thinking about, bonding and engaging with our architecture. The important human element of design unrivalled by technology.’ – Ian Lennon (DIT)

‘Architecture has been subjected to various styles and new methods of construction due to the emergence of new technology. In recent years we have established more efficient ways of constructing and fulfilling building requirements yet people still yearn to replicate the past. This ideology always strikes me as odd today and brings to mind Le Corbusier’s words from towards a new architecture
“There is one profession and one only, namely architecture, in which progress is not considered necessary, where laziness is enthroned, and which the reference is always to yesterday.” (Le Corbusier, 1927, p.109)

I feel as architects it is our duty to reach a happy medium. Technology is constantly becoming more advanced and more sophisticated, with new trends being introduced every year… In essence then, I feel in order to create anything significant it is essential to reflect the past but in a new and exciting way. Only then will we create architecture which will stand the test of time.’ – Anonymous (DIT)

Illustration-Edyta Baran
Illustration by: Edyta Baran (DIT)

‘Digital media is changing the ways in which we perceive, engage with and value architecture. While the medium does allow for the instantaneous dissemination of architectural work and visions, its often 2-dimensional visual format is detrimental to the changing perception of what architecture actually is. Advancements in digital photography and photorealistic renderings, paired with popular social media and a public with an increasing interest and appetite for design, may lead to an architectural culture and language centred primarily around how architecture is photographed and shared. This surface level architecture negates other important aspects of a building or place; its 3-dimensional quality, its functionality, its textures, sounds and smell, the intricacies of its details and the complexities of its contextual relationships. While increased public engagement in the built environment is pivotal to a successful democratic architecture, digital medias current portrayal of the field can sometimes dilute the possibilities of what architecture can be and can do.’ – Patrick Brennan (DIT)

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‘After a time, I think all technology becomes something more. When there is enough knowledge of a new technology it might be considered craft; there was a time when brick laying and wood joinery would have been considered new technology. It’s an evolutionary thing. Take 3D printing for example, a new technology in which it is impossible to have the physical result of the print without the digital input in the first instance. Yet the human eye is still required to ensure the quality of the result. In this respect, we as humans must adapt and make the best use of the technology available to us. I suppose the question is will digital technology replace craft. As long as we have humans using this new technology, inputting data, and making crucial decisions, they may become the craftsmen of the 21st century’ – James Murnaghan (DIT)

Innovative technologies are delivering changes to the design process and the design of spaces. Whether it be a way of communicating ideas, tackling the lack of quality in design, or perhaps questioning the replacement of craftmanship; architects and designers alike will have to be prepared for ever greater challenges in the future.

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