Trending topics

Daniel Davis – 19 July 2010

While over in Copenhagen I was able to attend a PhD symposium held between CITA, SIAL and the Bartlett. There was 17 PhD students presenting their research (full list of speakers and topics), and two trends stuck:

New materialism

During a question and answer session, Mark Burry pointed out that materials are back in the zeitgeist. I suspect this is probably because materials and construction techniques are rapidly being discovered by material scientists, giving architects a much broader range of materials to consider than steel, concrete and glass. To a lesser extent architects are also starting to drive the development of new materials (although this is still rare). This is unfamiliar territory for architects and much of the research is looking at how to bring the material scientist into the project team and how to design and compute with these new materials.

My favorite example is a project by Sarat Babu from the Bartlett called Microkinetics. Watch video of project. In the video above he has printed two types of rubber to make a member. In the first half of the video all the rubber is in strands and it behaves as you would expect: as it stretches it also becomes thinner. In the second half of the video, the rubber is printed in a bow-tie shape. As the member stretches it also becomes thicker. Babu had other examples of this process being used to make things like a cylindrical rubber jug, which when picked up forms a spout. Unfortunately, I suspect due to commercial interest in his work, all the videos of this have been taken down.

The mash-up

Software mash-up was a more subtle trend at the symposium.  The keywords were: “I linked software X with software Y.” This falls into a much larger trend in software engineering of script kiddies, web2.0, SDK’s and the App store. For architecture there are probably two major implications:

  • The first is that it is the end of CAD-as-god, or the belief that a single tool can solve all problems. Hopefully this is also the end of all the zealots who flood forums with stories about how Autocad or Revit or Archicad are better than Autocad or Revit or Archicad. Possibly it is also the end of employment for people who can only use Autocad or Revit or Archicad.
  • The second is that interoperability becomes a lot more important than ability. I know there are people like Arup, and I imagine other big offices, are looking at this problem, but I am not convinced that it will be solved in a top-down manner.

In the mash-up culture we are also seeing software offices shrink to the size of one person. A single person like Daniel Piker (who makes Kangaroo physics for Grasshopper) is able focus on solving one problem well, rather than building an entire CAD package. I hope that the App Store model extends to architecture, allowing a single person to make a living solving a niche problem exceptionally well,  and giving us a mash-up of many well fitting solutions to a problem rather than one ill-fitting CAD package.