5 Ways Architects Are Redefining Craftsmanship For a Postdigital Age

09:30 - 11 February, 2016
5 Ways Architects Are Redefining Craftsmanship For a Postdigital Age, La Voûte de LeFevre sculpture. Image Courtesy of Matter Design
La Voûte de LeFevre sculpture. Image Courtesy of Matter Design

Craftsmanship is one of those topics which it seems almost everyone has a strong opinion. But while many lament the fact that traditional craft practices have been in decline since the industrial revolution, today a new generation of architects and designers have set about redefining and updating the notion of craft to include the most modern design and fabrication techniques around. In this article, originally published on Autodesk's Line//Shape//Space publication as "5 Ways Architects and Postdigital Artisans Are Modernizing Craftsmanship," Jeff Link explores some of the traits that connect these pioneers to the craftsmen and women of a bygone era.

Craftsmanship in the digital age is hard to define. For some, craftsmanship evokes a purity of style, a preference for the handmade over the machine. For others, it recalls the Craftsman architecture of early-20th-century homes: overhung gabled rooflines, wide sheltered porches, detailed handiwork, and an ineffable Norman Rockwell sense of bygone Americana.

But regardless of one’s intuitive understanding of the term, the notion of craftmanship is evolving. Increasingly, the age-old knowledge of woodcarvers, masons, and other craftspeople is embedded in an intelligent design process using geometric computer models and machine fabrication to develop new crafts and architectural métiers—from gravity-defying furniture assemblies to complex workflows for robotic automatons. These innovations have helped place architects alongside craftsmen at the center of a revival in “maker” culture, which, for example, is in vivid display in handmade marketplaces such as Folksy and Etsy.

So what exactly is digital craft? And what does it look like in the work of top designers? Here, innovative architects identify five things postdigital artisans are doing to transform craftsmanship.

Matter Design's "Helix" Stair Takes Concrete to the Next Level

18:00 - 10 June, 2015
 Matter Design's "Helix" Stair Takes Concrete to the Next Level, Courtesy of Matter Design
Courtesy of Matter Design

Exhibited at the BSA Space as part of the Boston Design Biennial in 2013, Matter Design's Helix is a concrete spiral staircase that is full of surprises. Chief among these is its size - the stair was built at half-size to address the practical issues of weight, liability and access - but more important are the details of its assembly. While the steps of most spiral staircases are supported from either the stair's perimeter or a central column, Helix transfers loads directly through the steps below to its base which, rather than resting on the floor as it appears, is in fact suspended from a beam in the ceiling.

Exploded diagram of the casting process. Image Courtesy of Matter Design Diagram of the assembly. Image Courtesy of Matter Design Courtesy of Matter Design Courtesy of Matter Design +19

Periscope / Matter Design

21:00 - 15 July, 2010

 © Matter Design
© Matter Design

For the Young Architects Forum Atlanta’s 10UP! National Architectue Competition, participants were challenged to create a temporary installation for Atlanta. The winning 45 ft tower, Periscope, designed by Brandon Clifford and Wes Mcgee of Matter Design Studio, is an “inhabitable installation with iconic implications to advocate bold architecture for the Atlanta community and young designers across the globe.”  The designers felt the tower would create a strong marker for the city, “Through vertical expansion via the omission of a vertical restriction, this tower will engage a broader audience, inviting them to the event similar to search lights in the night sky.”

More about the tower, including lots of images and a video, after the break.