Digital architecture is about materiality because materiality is changing.
Materiality is culturally constructed, but the problem is the definition of materiality, materiality is not nature. It is the image we have of nature. The notion of nature is also socially constructed through what we can produce, and nature can be different. Today it is basically informational. It is about movement and the definition of nature over time changes.
Materials are socially constructed: before a bone was a material, now we construct material as much as we construct nature. There is this idea that materiality is the relation we have to what seem tangible in the world. The way we perceive materials and objects when we are not sure if we touch or if it in our brain, it is a problem. With the computer, we don't know what we touch. There is an extension to us: it goes into us.
Materiality is then constructed through:
1- a sensory education To live in a culture is to learn how to perceive things in a certain way, e.g. colors differ in culture, so there is a construction of the senses.
2- tools a society with tools, e.g. lenses, microscope, sees things differently.
So people who thinks there is a problem with computers think there was a problem before. Digital architectural representation is a virtuality because it can represent everything. It occupies an impossible point of view.
Then what's new with the computer screen? Has it been close to materiality? Thre is the thickness of the computer screen; there is a layer of software much more than in the traditional pencil that transfers in the paper. Redefining pertaining objects: natural versus cultural. The semantic of words is interesting, for instance, 'poutre' in French means two different things, so it makes us see things differently depending on our culture.
There is an analogy with the car: before people thought that we had lost something essential in walking with the car. The car has forced us to redefine the world. Before the car, to experience acceleration you had to jump from the window, now it is totally inbuilt in our body, this is totally structured. The car has redefined pertaining objects and also the sensation. With the acceleration you feel in power and also the vulnerability of the body in this moment, e.g. the Starwars race computer game. This goes to an existential thing. We also use computer metaphors and our perception of our body is changing through the machine we build. The computer is something we drive like a car. The perception of landscape is changing via having experienced the car.
The computer has redefined certain things:
- deformation we can twist things
- geometry focus that explains why we have so many frozen flows project
- surface, light and texture it has drastically changed what is around us. Grain conduction, there is a return to ornament which is very different from traditional ornament and now it becomes texture. Digital architecture is one syndrome: fascination for light and texture. The computer makes a global syndrome more visible
Redefinition of materiality new pertaining objects, new sensations; however when you gain something, you loose something. There is also the problem of scale, hence the fascination for the fractale, there is a dissociation with the material where you can view infinitely. Before architecture represented bones, now architecture is boneless. This is the end of structure and information kills structure. The machine is a combination of software and hardware layers. It has influenced the way we interface the layers in architecture. We went from the gothic cathedral, e.g the Switz clock, to the layered architecture, e.g. hamburgers in Mc Donald.
Technology is about interfacing different realities, linguistic and economic use of heterogeneity. Architecture is now about deconstruction of techtonic. The classical language of techtonic is deconstructed and even worse the dissolution of the system. It is not a dematerialization of architecture, it is a shift. There is today an affinity with the baroque.
Tool: an externalization of the body function. The computer is an externalization of the mental function. We internalize while we externalize and then we become our tool. When we use for instance a hammer, we think ourselves using the hammer. Lots of people use the computer as a metaphor: my hard drive is broken. I am a 386. The machine can create even pain. The computer is not just an extension of the mind but also an extension of the body. There are plenty of experiment on senses: vision, smell, and the perception of space changes. 'Zooming' has now become a totally normal activity. Everything is zoomable now. The crisis of scale: we perceive things very accurately more from far than from close. This is the crisis of intermediary scale. The way we perceive nature today: stable and unstable. Things are constantly changing, as we live in a world of mutation; this is a qualitative transformation, a magic condition due to metamorphosis, e.g. zoom, that can apply to painting or architecture. The very very concrete becomes abstract and the very very abstract becomes concrete, e.g. if I zoom in a face it becomes skin and then the skin itself becomes landscape. Materiality was the reversed from the abstract, and the computer is not a machine in the traditional sense, but it is an environment. There are new ways of inhabiting this strange world, world with decorativeness, playing with surfaces, ornaments. Traditional ornament had a scale because it was linked to the body and the human scale. Today it is not linked to the human scale anymore. We are passing from human-body technology to technologies that can only be thought in term of landscape and is not the world around us.
In traditional architecture, space was a given. Today, space is not a given: it is very small or very huge. We have a human responsibility but not in the megalo-utopia. We are responsible in this redefinition of materiality.
In architecture theory
Notes taken during the Architecture Science and Technology class taught by Antoine Picon 12th Dec 2005