Digital spaces and fabrication technology have become as prominent as ever within the current state of our post-pandemic society, becoming increasingly more accessible and enabling quick and spontaneous acts of iteration and evolution. These technologies have resulted in the ability to mass-produce non-standard, highly differentiated building components within the same facility as their standardized counterpart, transforming how buildings and their respective components are conceived, designed, and represented, and how they are manufactured, assembled, and produced.
The beauty of digital fabrication is its ability to blend aspects of mass and artisanal production to the point where costs nearly disappear. Technology’s capacity to fabricate so simply and almost seamlessly raise the issues for its potential to significantly alter our current perception of architecture, thus producing the question: has the influence of mass production in architecture resulted in a loss of intentional design?
Mass production in the early 20th century created a new look within architecture that was defined by standardization, repetition, and lack of ornamentation. Le Corbusier’s Mass-Produced Buildings (1924) says that “Mass production demands a search for standards, and standards lead to perfection,” which perpetuates the argument of modern architecture merely becoming a conveyor belt product. Mass-produced architecture consolidated a visual order of efficiency that modern architects identify as contemporary and functional, and European architects aspired to create architecture inspired by mass production: modern architecture for the modern age. This article will explore the work and influences of Le Corbusier, whom many regards as the pioneer of modern architecture.
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Villa Stein-de-Monzie (1927)
Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein-de-Monzie, also known as Les Terrasses (1927) is a representative of one of the most emblematic works in Le Corbusier’s career. Villa Stein is an architectural vessel used to represent the maturity and accomplishment of the formal, architectural, and conceptual elements he experimented with during the ten years before the buildings’ construction.
The building’s construction and interior held many similarities to the new modernist mass-produced automobiles, increasing in its use and popularity throughout the 1900s. The building presented an absolute absence of decorative detail, with all surfaces simply being flat, smooth, and unadorned. Just as automobiles were insistently monochrome, so were the color palettes used in the design of the building, which is its most notable change from the car being Le Corbusier’s decision to favor the lighter selection. The color white was the preferred palette of the many modernists, as it symbolized the pristine purity they sought to convey.
Although the Villa Stein looks to be mass-produced, inhabiting the characteristics of the mass-production aesthetic, its looks are deceiving. The building was simply painted to look like the source monolithic material.
Villa Savoye (1929)
Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye is one of the most significant contributions to modern architecture in the 20th century. The building is a modern take on a French country house that aims to celebrate and react to the new machine age and shift towards industrial advancements. The building's detachment from its physical context lends its design to be contextually integrated into the mechanist era of the early 1900s, conceptually defining the house as a mechanized entity. Le Corbusier was increasingly becoming intrigued by the technology and design of steamships, and this minimalistic and streamlined result born out of the culmination of innovative engineering techniques and modular design was a product of that interest.
Villa Savoye is a home designed on an architectural promenade and is best experienced in its abundance in the way the occupant moves through the spaces. It is not until one becomes familiar with the subtle peculiarities that the movement and proportionality of the spaces evokes a sense of monumentality within the Parisian suburb.
Le Corbusier famously states, "The house is a machine for living." This not only translates into the design of a human-scaled assembly line but furthermore, suggests that the design is called to take on innovative qualities and advances found in other fields of industry.
Maison Dom-ino (1914)
Le Corbusier’s true depiction of dwellings envisioned to be created through mass-production was realized from 1914-1915 with the design of Maison Dom-ino, an open plan, standardized, two-story house made up of concrete slabs supported on columns and a staircase. Neither walls nor rooms were present in the build, but simply the skeleton.
The system was intended to be a prototype as the physical platform for mass-produced housing with the intention to redefine domestic architecture by embracing the versatile and affordable new technology of reinforced concrete in the service of modernism. Units would be mass-produced and lined up just like a series of dominos on a table, making rows of houses of various patterns. Jeanneret described the design as a "system of constructions able to be arranged according to infinite combinations of plans."
Space Caviar's 99 Dom-ino takes the centennial of Le Corbusier's design as the trigger for a survey of Italian domesticity and the relationship with the landscape over the last century. 99 Dom-ino was presented in June 2014 in the Corderie of the Arsenale as part of Monditalia during Fundamentals, the 14th International Architecture Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia. The designer Alicia Ongay-Perez was commissioned to create a series of concrete moduli inspired by the Maison Dom-ino to accompany the films.
Although the design was born as a solution to construct affordable, standardized dwellings to meet the needs at the time, it's argued that the domino system offers quite the opposite of that. The notion of these systems being designed to adapt to the qualities of flexibility and variation within the deployment of dwellings implies that the architect’s vision for individual design is still present in the process, and not completely overshadowed by the threat of buildings becoming conveyor-belt products.
As the years progressed, so did the technological advancements available to designers and those working in construction alike. Technology has since shifted and changed, developing exponentially in different methods and consistently replacing outdated mechanical methods. Le Corbusier's designs reflected this shift with the design of Villa Savoye as a mechanized entity. With this shift came the fall of identical copies, progressing mass production from mechanical to algorithmic reproduction.
This process has promoted even greater fluidity between the stages of design generation, development, and fabrication than we’ve seen in previous approaches. Previously, traditional approaches tended towards a staged process that was more accumulative in nature, with no opportunity for any shortcuts to be taken in the process of design, however, with the potential that digital fabrication brings to the area of architectural design, the ability to uproot structures immediately from the basis of design information and generation alone offers architects and designers alike a fresh perspective in the design discipline.