Process Bifurcation and the Digital Chain in Architecture

This thesis investigates the impact of digital technology on the methods of design and production in architecture. Through research of history, theory, technology, and methods, the work determines whether the current use of new technologies should be considered as iterative development of the architectural practice, or as a radically new paradigm. The computer has now matured into the primary working medium for architectural design. Digital tools are increasingly expanding their role, from design and visualization, to use in empirical simulation and evaluation, digital fabrication, and in on-site construction validation. This combination of linked tools, into a single project-wide solution system is called the "digital chain". This procedure is a significant opportunity for optimization of process, but it can also be seen as a catalyst to reinforce creative collaboration between disparate professionals in a design team. Because of this change to both methods and relationships the digital chain, and its components are understood to be disruptive technologies. The digital chain has caused a bifurcation in architectural productivity, because of this disruption many theorists and critics claim that digital technologies now define a new era of architecture. This thesis seeks to understand if this inflection can also be considered a new paradigm. The contemporary computer, as an "information machine" is characterized by three specific capabilities: control, prediction, and processing. Research and project work to examine the digital chain have been undertaken and categorized using these three investigation channels. Each topic for investigation has been instigated with a pedagogic work. Thereafter, additional "proof of concept" projects have been undertaken to advance the work to the professional level. The results and findings occur at two levels: Practical production of architecture, but also as conclusion about "digital learning" and the scope of technological adoption within the architectural profession. The conclusions of the thesis state that a technologically induced paradigm-shift in architecture has not occurred. The current implementation of digital tools still only qualifies as iterative innovation of traditional methods. The technology and use of digital tools in architecture has developed significantly in the last decade. Emerging technologies, new methods, and the prognosis for future developments will have significant effect on architectural design and production. Because architecture has a well established precedent of "re-purposing" technology from other disciplines, the thesis concludes that there is strong potential that a paradigm-shift may yet happen. By examining emerging innovations from other industries it is possible to make highly informed predictions about incoming innovations in materials, production methods, and conceptual systems. This insight into the next wave of potential catalytic influences is presented in the discussion, and it is concluded that a broader range of new innovations may yet invoke a technologically driven paradigm-shift in architecture.

Gugger, Harry
Lausanne, EPFL
Other identifiers:
urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-epfl-thesis5459-1

 Record created 2012-09-13, last modified 2019-06-19

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