Becoming Digital Conference
Architecture is always becoming digital. To become digital is to exist in a digital world. It is an ontological state that tacitly recognizes pervasive technology, computational logic, and digital aesthetics as the background condition to everyday life. To become digital is to be situated in a context where everything from screen to stone exists as data and matter, where habits of mind forged within the digital environment are constantly transferred to the analog world. For architecture, this has signaled a profound paradigm shift that is largely complete and yet conspicuously unaccounted. Digital technology entered architectural discourse in a wave of futurist prognostication, heady formalist trajectories, and overt avant-garde agendas. Positivist rationales and a fervent belief in the intrinsic merits of technological progress reigned among the varied proponents of early digital architecture, alongside an embrace of the capacities of computation to address cultural and organizational complexity. In these early years, the digital was foregrounded as both topic and technique. In contrast, contemporary architectural practice engages the digital as ubiquitous and foundational. Today the digital is ambient, environmental. It is a dull hum that emanates from every corner of our increasingly constructed world, constituting the material, conceptual, and experiential context of any architectural project.
Reflecting on the status of the digital in contemporary architecture demands renewed critical attention towards the ways architects work and the products of our labor. Today, our discipline’s waning fascination with digitally-enabled complexity and progress is being replaced with a sometimes blasé embrace of expedient digital tools from the Google image search to Rhino’s “Make 2D” command. Screenshot aesthetics and deadpan digital representations abound, delivering a glancing wink to those in the know, and constituting a new internal discourse for contemporary designers based on the expedient circulation of digital images. But as tendencies within our discipline assume the temporality of the meme, the facile nature with which they are adopted often belies the significance of their appearance. Today, digital technology doesn’t simply enable architects to represent the “real,” it is intricately intertwined with the real itself. Our methods of design are evermore connected on a computational level to our methods of dissemination, communication, and social networking, and indeed to those of our culture at large. This nascent condition presents new possibilities for architectural speculation, representation, and for our discipline’s potential impact in an increasingly digital world.
Becoming Digital is a yearlong project that seeks to unpack our contemporary digital moment. Over the course of the year, Taubman College faculty and students, along with invited guests, will design, debate, and reflect upon the current state of the digital in architecture. In the Fall semester, three architecture offices, all critically engaging digital technology through their practice, will lead workshops with students and engage in public conversations around the project’s theme. The Winter semester will include an exhibition of student work, a conference, and a series of presentations by Taubman College faculty. All events will attempt to grapple with computation as the pervasive context in which we live and work, and through that deeper understanding to reveal a capacity to influence ubiquitous digitality through design.