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    Learning from the Digital Technology Revolution

    What can architecture learn from the Tech Revolution


    Maybe nothing?
    Maybe everything?

     

    I have been thinking about this post for a while and its original title was going to be, “What can architects learn from Apple” but with the recent release of Windows 8 I think my thoughts can apply to a much larger spectrum.  The reason I originally focused on Apple was because I think (and I am sure I am not alone) they have the best design minds in the game. 

    Full disclosure, I have owned multiple iPods in my day and currently have both an iPhone and iPad, so my opinion is clearly skewed in Apple’s favor.  Anyways, what I love most about Apple as a company and brand is their complete dedication to the idea that their design aesthetic and approach is the best and everyone else must either accept it or be left behind.  You can hate on the aesthetic, but you can’t hate on their unwavering belief in their own design.  I believe that architects would benefit from this undying belief in their own ideas and work.

    However let’s bring it back to the larger issue of lessons to be learned from the Digital Technology Revolution, which for the purposes of this post is dating back to the early 80’s.  As far as advancements in technology goes, the computer and “digital technology” has had the fastest and most rapid pace of any technology in human history.  It took only 30 or so years for computers go to from the size of a room to the size of a jacket pocket.  That is the equivalent to going from the original Smith and Wesson revolver to laser beams in the time it takes to complete the ARE’s.

    Due to the rapid pace of evolution in digital technology, I believe it has been forced into a very condensed trajectory in terms of design and aesthetics.  Art, Architecture and many other disciplines have had a very steady theoretical growth through the various Avant-gardes of the day.  Digital Technology, on the other hand, has not had the luxury of this steady growth as theoretical ideas on aesthetics and style have had to keep rapid pace with technological advancements.

     

     

    At present, it seems like digital technology is in its “Modernism phase,” the origins of which can be found in the clean and simple look of Apple’s first iPod.  With the first iPhone came the introduction of the “grid” in digital technology.  Not only are all the apps on the iPhone placed on a grid, but you cannot change it if you tried, the modernism take-over of computers and mobile devices has arrived.  At this point Apple is assuming the role of radical architecture groups such as Superstudio and Archigram, with their devotion to the grid.  We also see the grid used in the recent release of Windows 8.  The random and unorganized look of the classic windows desktop, with icons thrown around everywhere (at least that is what my desktop looks like), is whitewashed and replaced with a tiled grid to solve all our problems, even if we didn’t know we had any.

     

    The point to all of this is that with the rapid evolution of digital technology, and the way in which design theory is forced to keep pace, we are able to see design theory redefine itself over and over again in a short time frame.  What took art and architecture centuries now only takes until the next smart phone release date.  As architects, the rapidity of this evolution in design thinking, predicated by advancements in digital technology, not only tells us where we’ve been but also can give us a glimpse into where we will be. 

    Where will design theory in digital technology be in 5 years? 10 years?  These are the questions that are most interesting to me as a would-be architect. 
     

     

     
    • 4 Comments

    • Thayer-D
      Nov 12, 12 12:10 pm

      Full disclosure, I was big into Atari back in the day and love reading random stories on the internet, but this is techno-narcism on a grandious scale.  There was a time when technology was thought of as the tools by which we solved problems and sometimes created beauty.  Now it seems that technology or the fetishizing of it has become beauty itself.  Much like the kids who mistake facebook friends for the type whole be there when the poop hits the fan and come to find out that without putting in the time for face to face interaction, they really don't care a fig, this delusion that the latest technology will make you a good designer will continue disengage us with the natural environment we depend on.

      "Anyways, what I love most about Apple as a company and brand is their complete dedication to the idea that their design aesthetic and approach is the best and everyone else must either accept it or be left behind."  You realize that you're talking about a for profit corporation?  And the idea that one ought to ape their approach that your piers ought to realize you're "the bomb" or be left behind?  By all means there must be plenty to learn from the latest computer, but I'm sure lack of cooperation and cross fertalization is not what produced these amazing gizmos with-in the walls of Apple.  I will agree with the paralells to modernism in that it was an all or nothing approach (not exclusive to modernists I know, just a central tenant in thier founding documents, a not so pleasant side-effect of many revolutionaries)

      "The point to all of this is that with the rapid evolution of digital technology, and the way in which design theory is forced to keep pace"  What does design theory have to do with digital technology?  And what ever happened to design practice?  I thought the idea of education was to teach us how to do rather than philosophise.  There's a reason that philosophers used to be the provenance of older people, becasue they actually could look back over their long lives to ponder (wisely) over what it all meant and therefore where we might be going. I hope you can imagine a tme in the future when the latest flickering of an electronic device will not elicit such a level of excitement, when you're a bit older and start to see larger patterns emerging than the ones some brilliant code writer wants to sell you. 

      hsolie
      Nov 12, 12 1:58 pm

      Thayer:

      clearly you missed the entire point of my post.

      spend more time reading and less time trolling around archinect looking for people/projects to hate on

      Thayer-D
      Nov 12, 12 2:22 pm

      hsolie,

      just becasue someone dosen't agree with something you posted dosen't mean they hate you or what you're saying or are a troll.  I thought your piece was so strange, I didn't know if it was a parody or not.  Clearly not, since you are taking your que from your favorite company,

      "Anyways, what I love most about Apple as a company and brand is their complete dedication to the idea that their design aesthetic and approach is the best and everyone else must either accept it or be left behind"

      Go for it!

      tiorted
      Nov 13, 12 12:56 am

      I'm not trolling, but seriously, the lessons I learned from this article are:
      1. You like Apple and you have lots of their products and you might like guns
      2. Apple makes modern digital products using a grid that reminds you of Superstudio
      3. "(You) believe that architects would benefit from this undying belief in their own ideas and work." [you mean ego? bravado? self-centeredness? does this not already happen and does it not create a chaotic 'to-each-their-own' mentality?]
      4. You think that swift product releases are equivalent to "evolution(s) in design thinking" and that they "(tell) us where we’ve been but also can give us a glimpse into where we will be" [what does this vague statement advance in your argument?]
      5. The thesis of your title is what interests you
      6. I just wasted a few minutes of my time, but hope that if anyone else in the world reads through and comprehends to this point - that they may laugh and sigh in solidarity. 

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About this Blog

I am a graduate student and an entrepreneur at the University of Michigan Taubman College where my studies are focused on leveraging design ideas across multiple scales and platforms. Meeting at the intersection between design, tectonics and fabrication, I am continually exploring how a design idea can navigate complex material and production systems and evolve into fully realized architectural artifacts.

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