Architecture is always becoming digital. To become digital is to exist in a digital world. It is an ontological state that tacitly recognizes pervasive technology, computational logic, and digital aesthetics as the background condition to everyday life. To become digital is to be situated in a context where everything from screen to stone exists as data and matter, where habits of mind forged within the digital environment are constantly transferred to the analog world. For architecture, this has signaled a profound paradigm shift that is largely complete and yet conspicuously unaccounted. Digital technology entered architectural discourse in a wave of futurist prognostication, heady formalist trajectories, and overt avant-garde agendas. Positivist rationales and a fervent belief in the intrinsic merits of technological progress reigned among the varied proponents of early digital architecture, alongside an embrace of the capacities of computation to address cultural and organizational complexity. In these early years, the digital was foregrounded as both topic and technique. In contrast, contemporary architectural practice engages the digital as ubiquitous and foundational. Today the digital is ambient, environmental. It is a dull hum that emanates from every corner of our increasingly constructed world, constituting the material, conceptual, and experiential context of any architectural project.
Reflecting on the status of the digital in contemporary architecture demands renewed critical attention towards the ways architects work and the products of our labor. Today, our discipline’s waning fascination with digitally-enabled complexity and progress is being replaced with a sometimes blasé embrace of expedient digital tools from the Google image search to Rhino’s “Make 2D” command. Screenshot aesthetics and deadpan digital representations abound, delivering a glancing wink to those in the know, and constituting a new internal discourse for contemporary designers based on the expedient circulation of digital images. But as tendencies within our discipline assume the temporality of the meme, the facile nature with which they are adopted often belies the significance of their appearance. Today, digital technology doesn’t simply enable architects to represent the “real,” it is intricately intertwined with the real itself. Our methods of design are evermore connected on a computational level to our methods of dissemination, communication, and social networking, and indeed to those of our culture at large. This nascent condition presents new possibilities for architectural speculation, representation, and for our discipline’s potential impact in an increasingly digital world.
Becoming Digital is a collaborative project. It is co-organized by Ellie Abrons and Adam Fure. The conference is co-organized by Ellie Abrons, McLain Clutter, and Adam Fure. Cyrus Peñarroyo designed the exhibition. Website, media, and communications are designed and managed by Ashley Bigham, Jeff Halstead, Erik Herrmann, Cyrus Peñarroyo, and Hans Tursack. Outpost Office designed the workshop environment.
Funding provided by Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan.