Fabricating; Present and Future of Architecture

Low tech fabrication, Silk Wall, Neil Leach, Philip E. Yuan

Low tech fabrication, Silk Wall, Neil Leach, Philip E. Yuan

Neil Leach; Fabricating the Future

Leach’s text on Fabricating the Future precisely explains the trend and style of parametricism and digital fabrication. From defining the factors that affect the style, the use of new technologies, the shift in materials, and ultimately, the way of designing. The main topics in the text are digital tools, digital fabrication, materials, drawing logic, aesthetics, design approach, and design methodology. Each of these themes are explained and compared with previous techniques and traditional fabrication.

On digital tools and fabrication, he places digital fabrication as a new style of architecture, a style that regards a different approach to architecture rather than an aesthetic value. He explains that digital tools, such as new software, are enablers between design and construction. “They provide an avenue to explore architecture.. as a series of inter-related and logically conceived parts assembled into a coherent whole.” This change in approach goes hand in hand with a change of process that digital fabrication brings forth. These new technologies change the previous modeling object design to a modeling process design. This opens a new way of communication between the designer and the builder (fabricator), a communication that allows reciprocal information exchange between computational systems and physical objects which in turn enriches the design and smoothens the fabrication process.

On materials and machines, he makes an emphasis on composite materials and computational design. Composite materials are a hybrid which brings forth the best of tectonic materials into a new material which performs better. This shifts the traditional and predominant tendency to layer envelopes and materials to achieve the desired effect to a single, new material, which does the job more efficiently. This efficiency in material is what should drive sustainability as it does in other design areas as industrial and machines. The idea is to achieve energy efficiency by lowering the ratio mass/performance which allows lower embedded energy and  consumed energy in the life-cycle of the material. This is supported by machining processes, in terms of design and fabrication. Leach supports the promotion of truly computational design where the machine learns and helps designs rather than just aiding the drawing representation. “These changes provide novel possibilities for a material-oriented computational design approach in architecture.

In practical terms, it is very interesting what is being done in China in terms of Low-Tech digital fabrication. Since most of the world still doesn’t have the technological nor financial means to use technologies and materials coming from the western world. This low-tech solutions are based on utilizing new fabrication technologies and traditional materials and “effectively reprograming them  (both digital tools and traditional materials) to deal with our situation as a redefinition and deep consideration of architectural design and fabrication logic.

Finally upon the aesthetics of this new style, he considers that “placing digital fabrication as a tool or approach to architecture rather than a style or from decision maker. Negotiating and restraining the visual opulence of these compositions is an operation that entails elegance.” It is important to understand this, since algorithmic modeling and parametric design itself doesn’t bring aesthetic beauty by itself, but it requires the designers ability to bring forth the beauty out of the logic behind it. This process requires “a highly sophisticated formal language – including the driving force of aesthetic pleasure – propels elegance”.

In summary, fabricating the future is both an explanatory text of how digital tools and fabrication is being used as much as how it should be used and where it is leading to in the future. A complete text that thoroughly explains new technologies, new fabrication processes, and new design approaches and how these create a new style of architecture, parametricism.

For this new style to become a new driving force in word architecture is absolutely important to place it in a worldwide reality.  Hence, it is of uttermost importance to explore and research on how to apply this new technologies to low-tech and low-budget architecture. I personally believe that any achievements on this field will have the power to change the world and solve many of the problems being faced in third world countries and catastrophe affected regions.


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