The Depreciating Value of Form in the Age of Digital Fabrication

The ICD / ITKE Research Pavilion 2011, demonstrating an example of a Voronoi diagram at work. Image © ICD / ITKE University of Stuttgart

In this article, originally appearing on the Australian Design Review as “Tolerance and Customisation: a Question of Value“, Michael Parsons argues that the complex forms made possible by may soon be victims of their own popularity, losing their intrinsic value as they become more common and the skill required to make them decreases.

The idea of tolerance in architecture has become a popular point of discussion due to the recent mainstreaming of digital fabrication. The improvements in digital fabrication methods are allowing for two major advancements: firstly, the idea of reducing the tolerance required in construction to a minimum (and ultimately zero) and secondly, mass customisation as a physical reality. Digital fabrication has made the broad-brushstroke approach to fabrication tolerance obsolete and now allows for unique elements and tolerance specific to each element. The accuracy that digital fabrication affords the designer, allows for the creation of more complex forms with greater ease and control. So far, this has had great and far reaching implications for design.

Read on to find out how this ease of form-making could diminish the success of complex forms. 

Forget Flying Cars – Smart Cities Just Need Smart Citizens

Songdo In South Korea is a brand new city founded on smart city principles. Image Courtesy of Cisco

This article by Carlo Ratti originally appeared in The European titled “The Sense-able City“. Ratti outlines the driving forces behind the Smart movement and explain why we may be best off focusing on retrofitting existing with new technologies rather than building new ones.

What was empty space just a few years ago is now becoming New Songdo in Korea, Masdar in the United Arab Emirates or PlanIT in Portugal — new “smart cities”, built from scratch, are sprouting across the planet and traditional actors like governments, urban planners and real estate developers, are, for the first time, working alongside large IT firms — the likes of IBM, Cisco, and Microsoft.

The resulting cities are based on the idea of becoming “living labs” for new technologies at the urban scale, blurring the boundary between bits and atoms, habitation and telemetry. If 20th century French architect Le Corbusier advanced the concept of the house as a “machine for living in”, these cities could be imagined as inhabitable microchips, or “computers in open air”.

Read on for more about the rise of Smart Cities

Autodesk Launches Foundation Aimed to Solve “Epic Design Challenges”

Butaro Doctors’ Housing / MASS Design Group. Image © Iwan Baan

Autodesk has launched the Autodesk Foundation, an organization which will “invest in and support the most impactful nonprofit organizations using the power of design to help solve epic challenges.” In an effort to aid those tackling global issues such as “climate change, access to water, and healthcare,” the foundation will provide select design-oriented grantees with , training and financial support.

VIDEO: A Mobile Phone That Maps Your World

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Johnny Lee, a project leader in the Advanced Technology and Projects group at Google, wants our phones to experience the world more like we do: “we are physical beings that live in a world, yet mobile devices today assume that the physical world ends at the boundaries of the screen”, he says – which is why his team has been working on Project Tango, a mobile phone which uses movement and depth sensors to build a 3D model of the space around it.

Project Tango brings a whole new dimension (the third one) to what we could potentially do with our phones: imagine creating a 30 second model to take away from a site visit, for example, or using augmented reality to show a design or an installation in situ, navigable in real time. Currently, Google is in the process of distributing 200 prototypes to app developers, who will hopefully help it realize this tremendous potential.

“Invisible Cities” App Turns the Data of City Life Into an Extraordinary Landscape

The social life of cities is complex. Where once the networks which operated within could be understood – to an extent – through their physical infrastructure, in the internet age much of the network that supports city life is hidden, existing only through intangible data.

Invisible Cities is an app which makes this network tangible, using geocoded data from Twitter and Instagram to morph the landscape, displaying where the most activity is occurring. These hills of activity can then be linked by lines representing keywords, showing underlying affinities between different geographical areas.

How Should We Implement Smart Cities?

Tokyo. Image © Clry2

In this article, originally published by Arup Connect as “Anthony Townsend on Smart Cities“, Townsend discusses his book “Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia” and explains how, in his view, the push towards is being led by the wrong people – namely technology companies with short term goals; the architects, planners and scientists who should be leading this change, however, often struggle to share their knowledge.

Your book argues that there’s a need for grassroots action rather than top-down, corporate-led implementation of smart cities. How do you see architects and engineers fitting into this picture?

Architects and engineers for the most part have to serve the interests of their clients. There’s a balance that has to be struck, almost on a project-by-project basis, about how much they can push back in saying a piece of technology related to the business model for the project, or even a placemaking strategy, has unintended consequences, or that there may be a more democratic or innovative approach.

A lot of the vision of smart cities has been shaped by IT engineers and marketers. The problem there is not just that it’s sort of a naïve vision being pushed by companies with very short-term sales goals. It just doesn’t appreciate the complexity of good urbanism, and the role that both communications and information play in creating good places that people want to buy, work, live in.

Read more about the challenges facing smart cities after the break

Adobe Photoshop Becomes a Tool for 3D Printing

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Adobe has unveiled a major update to Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud) with the hope that a “radically simplified printing process” will make their software the “go-to tool for anyone who wants to print a model.” Their new software allows for designers to create a model from scratch or refine an existing design leading to perfect print ready models. Since one of the most common problems with printing is the human errors in virtual modeling, Photoshop includes automatic mesh repair and will insert a support structure if necessary to ensure that the model will print reliably and without faults.

You can find out more about Adobe Photoshop and here. This update to Photoshop is already available for those who are subscribed to Adobe’s Creative Cloud.

VIDEO: Angles on the View with Parametric Design

This two-minute video with NBBJ’s Andrew Heumann highlights a valuable capability of parametric design; whereby the architect can optimize the shape and orientation of a building to appropriate a variety of viewing conditions at the client’s request.

The aptitude for quick, cost-effective variation and the capacity for intuitive visual re-presentation of scripting plug-ins like this one (Grasshopper for Rhino) is a gold star for design.

TEDx: Designing for the Internet of Things / Rodolphe el‐Khoury

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Filmed at TEDxToronto in September 2013, this talk by architect, educator and theorist is based on the inevitable “internet of things.” As TEDxToronto described, “More than ever before, the line between the digital and real worlds is increasingly blurred. Historically, computers and devices have functioned as a separate layer within our lives… In this world, our homes, workplaces, and the objects within them will all be digitally connected, intelligent, and responsive.” It is only a matter of time.

ArchDaily’s Google Glass Experiment

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When Google Glass launched, we wondered how this wearable augmented reality device could add a whole other dimension to the consumption of architectural publications, by bringing the experience of space, matter, and light to our screens.

In our field, the experience is very important, and it is a dimension that hasn’t been able to be reproduced in its entirety through traditional media (plans, 2D or even 3D models). Attempts to make immersive panoramas or to embrace video have expanded the potential for representation, but not in a significant way. And this is why travel is a vital asset for the architect.

Imagine finally experiencing the approach to the Parthenon like Le Corbusier did almost a century ago. Imagine a tour broadcast by the architects of a project themselves, with the possibility for instant reader feedback in order to discuss a particular moment inside the building. 

Google is about to release a new version of their device, and we had the chance to use it while walking around the PUC Design School by Sebastian Irarrazaval. Here’s a short video of what we recorded with the device; just imagine how this very same video would be when overlays the physical, built world you’re experiencing with virtual information from around the web. 

And stay tuned for more !! 

3D Laser Technology to Digitally Preserve The World’s Greatest Sites

’s Scanned Parthenon Project. Image Courtesy of toptravellists.net

CyArk, a non-for-profit 3D laser scanning organization, is scanning the world’s greatest monuments, hoping to preserve over 500 cultural heritage sites around the globe, The Independent reports. The portable laser system creates such a detailed, digital blueprint of structures and ruins that each building can then be reproduced in 3D, with a margin of error of only two millimeters. So far, the statues of Easter Island, the Tower of London, Mount Rushmore, the Tower of Pisa have been preserved. Check out more about the in Ben Kacyra’s TED Talk.

A Walking City for the 21st Century

© Poliedro

In a world where people live more mobile lifestyles than they have for centuries, are facing a problem they rarely planned for: their citizens move away. When jobs and resources start to decline, modern , such as Detroit, suffer difficult and often wasteful processes of urban contraction. In contrast to this, Manuel Dominguez’s “Very Large Structure,” the result of his thesis project at ETSA Madrid, proposes a nomadic city that can move on caterpillar tracks to locations where work and resources are abundant.

Of course this is not the first time that the idea of a nomadic city has been proposed. Ron Herron’s Walking City is one of the more recognizable Archigram designs from the 1960s, and has been influential to architectural theory ever since. However, the design for the “Very Large Structure” expands on the Walking City by including strong proposals for energy generation on board the city.

Read on to see more on this provocative project – including a full set of presentation boards in the image gallery.

Robots, Cars and Architecture

Ville Savoye (photo by Tim Brown), its floorplan and the Voiture Minimum, the car designed by .

Since the dawn of the modern era, there has been a strong relationship between architecture and the car, especially in the works of Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier was fascinated by his car (the Voisin C7 Lumineuse); the aesthetics of this functional, mass produced machine deeply influenced his designs. Its focus on function translated into his concept that houses should be “machines for living” and inspired a series of experiments of mass produced, pre-fab houses (such as the Maison Citrohan). Most of these concepts were later materialized in the iconic Villa Savoye, whose floorplan was even designed to accommodate the car’s turning radius. 

What Happens When Smart Cities Malfunction?

Image via Flickr CC user. Image © Mark Allerton

An interesting essay by Anthony Townsend in Design Observer investigates a largely unconsidered aspect of smart cities: what happens if (or perhaps when) they malfunction? Townsend argues that as technology seeps into every aspect of our life within a complex system such as a smart city, glitches and bugs are likely to be magnified many times. He also explains that many of the communications systems that will rely on are insufficiently resilient, meaning entire cities could be vulnerable to failure or attack – an issue that will not sit well with the AIA. You can read the whole essay here.

Light Matters: 3D Video Mapping, Making Architecture The Screen for Our Urban Stories

Powerful video projectors at an affordable price have opened the path for a young, impressive art form: 3D , a means of projection that uses the architecture itself as the screen. Artists and researchers initiated the movement, developing a new visual language to interpret architecture. Later, marketing adopted this technique for branding, with large-scale projections on skyscrapers; political activists have also initiated dialogues, turning ephemeral light interventions into eye-catching ways to point out and address issues. 

More on the ways artists and groups develop this visual language for urban storytelling, after the break…

Details Unveiled for Elon Musk’s California, Solar-Powered “Hyperloop”

Courtesy of

Imagine driving your car into a sizable aluminum pod and being shot 800 miles per hour through an elevated, shotgun-like barrel to arrive at a city 400 miles away within 30 minutes. According to Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla Motors, Californians will be doing this within the next decade. 

Nearly a year after mentioning the possibility of a hyper-speed transit system and voicing discontent over the state’s “expensive, slow and impractical” high-speed rail proposal, Musk has unveiled a detailed synopsis of his solar- and wind-powered “Hyperloop.” The idea, originally inspired by the vacuum tubes used to transport checks at bank drive-throughs, has the potential to revolutionize mass transit.

SKALGUBBAR: Download Free Images of People for Your Renders

SKALGUBBAR is a library of free high-resolution images of people that can be used in renderings and photomontages. The idea for this immense virtual library came to Teodor Javanaud Emdén when he was in architecture school. He realized that it was complicated to find images of people on the internet, and that when he did find them the color quality and resolution were not good enough. Because of this, he decided to photograph his friends and use their likenesses in his projects; his friends also used these images in their own projects since Teodor shared his pictures on a website.

This website motivated him to keep producing images of people for renderings — especially images of people acting out unexpected scenarios. What’s been most interesting is that the people “created” by Teodor can be seen in presentations for competitions and in the renders of some of the world’s large architecture firms. The site has a variety of categories, covering a wide range of people and actions (such as bike riding, laughing, jumping walking the dog, etc). Ultimately, you’ll be able to find the right image, saved in .png format and ready to be inserted directly into a montage or render. All you have to do is scale the people correctly. Click here to check out the more than 200 images available on SKALGUBBAR

Höweler + Yoon Architecture and Audi to Develop Pilot Project for BosWash: Shareway 2030

© Höweler+Yoon Architecture

Last year interdisciplinary architecture firm Höweler + Yoon Architecture was announced the winners of the Urban Future Award for the project Boswash:Shareway 2030.  The City Dossier in Boston, held this May, was organized as a series of workshops between Höweler + Yoon Architecture and experts in developing steps to realize aspects of the Boswash: Shareway vision.  Part research project, part feasibility study, part road map to the future of mobility – the focus of the workshops is to propose a pilot project that can be tested in the proposed region of Boston – Washington.

We featured the project last year as it highlights how the landscape of urban development has changed.  The focus of “Shareway” is the string of high-density metropolitan areas, their suburbs and ex-urbs along I-95 between Boston, MA and Washington, DC.  The I-95 corridor caters to some fifty million inhabitants, many of whom commute into metropolitan areas for work.  Mobility and are critical to the economic vitality of these urban areas; “Shareway” proposes an intentionally re-engineered “highly orchestrated and deliberately produced platform from which we might imagine alternate paths, different trajectories, or new cultural dreams” whereby imagining an “alternate life for the road” is imagining a new American Dream.

Read on for more on the progress of this project after the break.