network partners:

The Digital Crafting Network

Good building culture traditionally relied on a sharing of knowledge between design practice and craft. The architect received crafts training and the craftsman was understood as an established part of the knowledge chain of building. In Scandinavia in particular this tie has led to an internationally renowned building culture based firmly on a deep understanding of craft, detail and material and resulting in high architectural quality. Where industrialisation created fundamental rifts in this knowledge sharing focusing on standardisation and mass production, the recent development of computer controlled fabrication enables a new focus on the highly specified and the customised.

The research network investigates how new digital production methods are instigating profound changes in the design and building of architecture. Developing the term digital crafting, the network examines how the maturing of interfaces between the design space of the architect and the production space of the manufacturer is leading to the shaping of a new material practice in architecture.

Research Question: digital tools and material practice

The digitisation of manufacturing tools has radically changed production. Where it has introduced a higher level of precision, consistency and quality as well as considerable time efficiency and the ability to deal with high levels of complexity and variance, it has also introduced a new category of tools that profoundly change the way we understand and perform manufacturing. Computer numerical controlled machinery [CNC] shifts crafting from a practice based knowledge residing with the craftsman, to an externalised practice belonging to set of tools that interface different knowledge spaces. In a practical sense CNC has other consequences for design practice. CNC tooling makes crafting part of all the involved practices. Rather than externalising the crafting of an object or a building as something that takes place after its design, planning and optimisation, crafting shifts to a much more central role of how design interfaces with material.

The introduction of a shared digital platform has allowed for the creation of new interfaces to digital design tools and thereby created the foundation for a rethinking of design strategy, workflow and production. The last 15 years has seen an increasing focus on digitally defined work processes where “file-to-factory” technologies enable new cross-disciplinary workflows between design, engineering and production. Here, new programmable design software allow for the parametric control of the design solutions giving architects and engineers the possibility to develop and manage mass-customised solutions of highly specified building elements.

Where this technological shift is primarily understood as a development and optimisation of the processes of building it also presents a new sense of continuity between the descriptive practices of design and the material practice of fabrication. As digital code is introduced as a new architectural design tool a renewed understanding and exploration of craft becomes necessary. Digital tools become part of a new material nearness that necessitate in depth knowledge of material performance and detailing.

We wish to explore how a new digital practice can lead to a reintroduction of material and tectonic thinking in architectural design rather than to abstraction. With a focus on process, technique and theory the network examines how these technological developments have significance for architectural practice. The network asks what happens as the encoded and the material enfold to become part of architectural design practice and what are the material, structural and morphological potentials of this new practice?

the crafted and the material

Digital fabrication re-establishes a material nearness that necessitates good understanding of material performance and detail. Designing for digital fabrication shifts design focus from the formal and the represented to the material and the realised. As such material and tectonic thinking is reintroduced as core to design strategy. Digital fabrication facilitates design of a higher degree of complexity leading to a new performative focus where the actual design of bespoke materials developed for a particular context or programme becomes part of the architects remit. Designing for and with highly specified material that take into consideration material behaviour, detail and structure allows for the shaping of a new material practice. The material focus also challenges the thinking of architectural design process. Where architectural process is traditionally seen as one of refinement going from the schematic towards detail, material thinking shifts principally top-down processes to a bottom-up thinking.

the digital and the encoded

The introduction of digital fabrication has led to new apertures between the design space and the underlying encoded reality of the 3D model. Where digital modelling software largely seeks to emulate the dimensions of the drawing board, representing plan and section as privileged design spaces, new tools allow the designer to engage with and control geometry through code. In digital fabrication this encoded depth is understood as a pragmatic tool for that allows the control of fabrication information. It is through numeric control that fabrication is steered. But coding also creates new design practices as well as formal potentials.

This ‘writing of form’ leads to the conceptualisation of a new depth within the design space where parametric control of the geometry allows the designer to enlist new depth of complexity and variability. In this way the design space of architecture fundamentally shifts from a space of the absolute to a space defined through the relational, the variable and the generative.

Guiding questions are:

-           How can the shaping of an encoded logic become part of architectural design culture?

-           If code, through the numeric control of fabrication tools, is part of material shaping how does its structures and logics differ from a crafts led shaping?

-           How does code extend and challenge traditional architectural understandings of structure and morphology?

Events

The research events examine the relationship between the encoded and the crafted. The events are organised in respect to three core trajectories examined through the focus on process, technique and theory. The three trajectories:

Trajectory I: the ideal of the optimal, Trajectory II: the ideal of the tectonic and Trajectory III: the ideal of the formal present three optics by which digital practice in architecture is understood. By building a critical understanding of these our aim to build a platform from which the relationships, the connections and conflicts, between the particular optics can be understood and discussed.

The three trajectories are established in the Network’s 5 workshop-seminar events. Here 3 of the 5 events relate to the Trajectory II: the ideal of the tectonic giving the partners an opportunity to explore digital fabrication in respect to the multiple crafts traditions that are embedded into the partnership. These engage directly with the differing tectonic systems of the joint, the mould and the bracing.

The relationships are discussed and framed in the Network’s 2 symposia inviting international researchers and practitioners to a broader field of research findings.

Events Organisation

The key aim for the network is to consolidate the existing research within the area of Digital Crafting and allow for research exchanges and the forming of a solid collaborative environment. The network focuses on process, technique and theory. It combines experimental hands on approaches to relevant techniques and technologies with broader theoretical and historical framings as well as presentations of international state of the arts research inside the field of digital crafting.  …

The aim is to allow the emergence of a general 3 phases:

Phase 1:                 Generate shared understanding of key research questions, techniques and technologies between network partners. Consolidate shared language and terminology.

Phase 2:                 Develop and expand the theoretical and practical knowledge and know-how of the network focusing on the relation between tectonic organisation, material properties and digital and analogue techniques. Develop common research inquiries.

Phase 3:                 Identify and develop shared research interests across the network. Consolidate the network, develop shared research inquiries to continue beyond the time frame of the ‘Digital Crafting’-network.

Participation

The symposia are open events directed at the network participants and invite the involved environments’ researchers and research students as well as other interested parties.

The seminar/workshops are closed events open only by invitation.

Event Structure

The network activities are structured around core 5 workshop/seminar events and two symposia.

The workshop/seminars are aimed strictly at the network focusing on specific theoretical, technical and practical research questions and potentials defined by the network. The workshop/seminars are sites for gaining as well as critically reflecting on experience and know-how in the field of Digital Crafting.

This build up is consolidated in two open symposia inviting international researchers representing state of the art research and findings to further frame and perspectivise the themes of the workshop/seminars and is aimed at the network but will open to a wider group of researchers, architects and students.

Results

The network gathers running information about the networks activities and research events on this weblog disseminating the research questions and results. A yearly research report allows for the consolidation of material which will finally be presented in an expanded process oriented catalogue. The catalogue will be supported by a set of reflected texts and interviews written by the invited guest researchers, the symposia speakers and the network participants.