Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, PA

Designing the Computational Image, Imagining Computational Design

Fri, Sep 22 '17  –  Sun, Nov 12 '17
Pittsburgh, PA, US

Exhibition at the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University
Sep 22 – Nov 12, 2017

Curator: Daniel Cardoso Llach, Ph.D.                             

Tracing the evolution of computer-generated images from elemental geometric constructions into highly structured semantic models —and from government-funded research in universities into vehicles of design experimentation— Designing the Computational Image, Imagining Computational Design offers a journey through the visual history of computational design, and re-imagines its future.

The exhibition comprises two sections. The first showcases a selection of approximately 70 pieces including previously unseen or little known photographs, drawings, and films illuminating the twentieth century emergence of new computational methods for design representation, simulation and manufacturing which foreshadowed the present landscape of creative design methods. Organized thematically, pieces in this section illustrate the confluence of academic and industrial concerns about design in military-sponsored research in university laboratories during the postwar years. These materials are drawn from different archives including The Institute Archives at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the MIT Museum; the Computer Laboratory’s Archive at the University of Cambridge, UK; the Library of the Martin Centre, University of Cambridge, UK; the Institute for Physical Planning at Carnegie Mellon University, among others. It includes works by pioneers including Charles M. Eastman, Douglas T. Ross, Ivan Sutherland, George Stiny, Steven A. Coons, Rachel Strickland, Lionel March, Janet Tomlinson, and more. In addition to the visual materials on display, this section features a series of interactive ‘software reconstructions’ allowing visitors to experience some of the earliest algorithms and systems that originated the field, such as Steven A. Coons’s “Coons Patch” and Ivan Sutherland’s “Sketchpad.” These interactive pieces offer access beyond the visual into sensual, material and technical aspects of early computational design techniques.

The second section showcases an international selection of pieces by contemporary architects, artists, and designers whose work explores and expands the possibilities of the computer as a medium for design. These works provide additional context by making visible links between the imagery, tools and methods of contemporary architectural languages, and their multidisciplinary origins across technical and creative fields. Materials on display include contemporary works by Kristy Balliet and Kelly Bair, Andrew Heumann, Dana Cupkova, Golan Levin, Benjamin Snell, Kyuha Shim, Zach Lieberman, Jürg Lehni, Carl Lostritto, Joseph Choma, and Jonah Ross-Marrs.

By thinking of the computational image as a cultural artifact, the exhibition reflects on its material, technical, and aesthetic specificity, and helps unpack new methods and tactics for its critical insertion into architectural and design scholarship. From the playful and exploratory to the utilitarian and technical, the images, films, and software reconstructions on display demonstrate how the expressive and functional possibilities of a new medium challenged disciplinary boundaries as well as dominant views on drawing, design and creativity —originating both formal languages and intellectual debates that continue to evolve in architecture today.

Designing the Computational Image, Imagining Computational Design is a project designed and curated by Daniel Cardoso Llach, and coordinated and produced at the Miller Gallery at CMU by Margaret Cox and Kara Skylling.

Curator’s bio:

Daniel Cardoso Llach is Assistant Professor in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture. His recent work includes the book Builders of the Vision: Software and the Imagination of Design (Routledge, 2015), which identifies and documents the theories of design emerging from postwar technology projects at MIT, and traces critically their architectural repercussions. His writings have been published in journals including Design Issues, Architectural Research Quarterly (ARQ), and Thresholds, among others, and in several edited collections. He is a Graham Foundation grantee and the curator of an exhibition on the history and contemporary practice of computational design currently on display at the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon. Daniel holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, and a PhD and MS (with honors) in Design and Computation from MIT. He has also been a research fellow at Leuphana (MECS), Germany, and a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge, UK. 

Additional Information:

What distinguishes this project from other work on this topic?

Prior attempts to outline histories of the digital in architecture have usefully outlined the pioneering work of a small subset of prominent architects during the 1980s and 90s. In contrast with these discipline-specific accounts, Designing the Computational Image, Imagining Computational Design illuminates computational design methods’ multidisciplinary roots in postwar technology projects, and examines their specific material and aesthetic capacities. The exhibition thus situates contemporary architectural languages in relation to often-overlooked disciplinary contexts, ideological frames, and technical infrastructures.

Who is the target audience for this project?

The exhibition is attractive to a multidisciplinary audience including scholars and practitioners in architectural, design, media, and science and technology studies. The visual and interactive components of the exhibition are particularly engaging, and have proven to be appealing to both scholarly audiences and the general public.A high-quality print and online catalog records the exhibition, and will be expanded to include a foreword as well as short essays by exhibitors and participants of events, such as symposia, related to the exhibition.

Project history and support

Designing the Computational Image, Imagining Computational Design draws from archival research conducted by the curator over the last several years in the United States and in England, most prominently during the preparation of the book Builders of the Vision: Software and the Imagination of Design (Routledge 2015), and during a nine month scholarly visit in the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge in 2016. These efforts are framed within a larger project to critically reconstruct the intellectual foundations of computation in architecture and other creative practices, and to develop pedagogies that creatively re-locate technology in design. The exhibition received support from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, from the Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture, College of Fine Arts, Berkman Center for Faculty Development, Miller Gallery of Contemporary Art, and Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry. 

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