Friday, April 9, 2010

Smart Geometry 2010 (Barcelona)

Blog entry by: Dominik Holzer
There is certainly a fresh breeze detectable at this year’s Smart Geometry workshop and conference in Barcelona. Whereas in previous years, experimentation during the workshop was mainly limited to tasks resulting in computationally generated geometry (on people’s laptops) this year was certainly different. Practitioners and researchers combined sophisticated computational design with the creation and testing of physical models. The activity of ‘making and breaking’ seemed like a relief compared to the usually narrow focus of individuals creating virtual masterpieces on their laptops. There was a sense of illustriousness and productivity previously unseen at SG and the IaaC delivered the perfect backdrop for this.

While the diversity of physical modelling was without doubt eye-catching, the level of critical investigation of design aspects that relate to physical production was equally impressing. That said, there is obviously a limit to what can be achieved within the 4 days of a workshop and most results remained on a level of installations rather than architectural-scale production. The nature of the investigation mentioned above was exploratory as much as delivery focussed and some of the work done by individual groups ended up becoming fantastic failures. In that sense the workshop reminded us of the need for designers to push their own limits and to involve technology to their advantage, even if this requires dealing with a high level of uncertainty.

Importantly, at the workshop there was no preconceived analogue-digital tooling distinction. Technology (either for design or production) was applied in combination with manual approaches when/wherever it was most useful.

A reoccurring theme at the Shop Talk day that followed the workshop stemmed from comments about the changes architects experience in the way they apply their tools to inform the design process. If traditionally tools were mainly used as a drawing aid, we now see an increasing number of ‘observational tools’ that allow designers to inform their intuitive process of discovery. These tools (let’s take ESD tools as an example) don’t necessarily serve designers to produce one single outcome, but they assist them to ‘understand the behaviour’ of their design proposals through analysis and simulation. A parametric or algorithmic setup of design-geometry (using either Grasshopper, GC or Processing) was investigated by many participants to organise their designs in a flexible manner and for the generation of manifold options.

With many great presentations on the conference day, my highlight would have been Hanif Kara (from the UK based engineering firm AKT) who propagated ‘real research’ between architects and engineers in order to bridge the massive gap we currently experience between design and construction. Arch + Eng are the ‘real creators’ and need to feed that intelligence back into the construction process.

With the new SG formula tested in Barcelona this year, we are likely to see the approach of linking conceptual design with physical production return over the coming years.

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