Of the year – 2011

Daniel Davis – 19 December 2011

Following on from Of the year 2010, a look back at a year full of clouds, patents, and WebGL.

Software of the year

My pick for Software of the Year is something I don’t use very much, you probably don’t either, but it hints at what we might use in the future. It is ShapeSmith by Benjamin Nortier.

ShapeSmith can be described with all the popular buzz words: AJAX, NoSQL, three.js, open-source (on top OpenCascade), Amazon Elastic Cloud Storage and HTML5 / WebGL. In this list, the last three items are the significant jargon:

  • OpenSource: There are ranges of openness, from open API’s and open data formats through to complete open-source (like in ShapeSmith). Either way, all this access is making it increasingly easy for small development teams to create software only large corporations could have made a decade ago. With it comes innovation. The all encompassing software silos are slowly giving way to ecosystems of software, built in many small parts like ShapeSmith.
  • Cloud Computing: Cloud computing was the fabled solution to every problem this year: too complicated to compute, put it in the could; need access anywhere, in the cloud; teamwork, the cloud; global warming, clouds. Yet all the talk resulted in little more than hopeful diagrams. This is because ‘the cloud’ is far more ephemeral than people realise. Yet ShapeSmith actually operates in a cloud. There are difficulties with latency, with paying for the cloud computation and with control. But having a rack of Amazon computers crunch your geometry is a tantalising trade off.
  • WebGl: I wrote a post about WebGl back in May. A bit like tablets, it is a solution seeking a problem. ShapeSmith is probably is not the right problem – in the sort term WebGl will likely augment rather than replace your CAD software. But like so much of ShapeSmith, I would not be surprised if it has predicted the future.

Quote of the year

One of the most revealing quotes this year came from Daniel Piker in the Kangaroo Physics release notes:

note: regarding the planarization functions – I have been asked to draw your attention to the patents held by Evolute, Helmut Pottmann and RFR:

In the debate that followed the majority felt Evolute was unethical, and Evolute responded essentially by telling the architectural community to pay up.

However my favourite quote this year has to be:

… use computation, but stop fucking talking about it. Your project isn’t any better because you told me it was scripted from the secret code found in the lost book of the Bible handed to you by your Merovingian great grandmother. Nor because you spent a semester producing the most intricate parametric network ever seen by man, & still ended up with three crumpled potatoes in glossy grey.

Mark Gage eloquently explains the value of computation in his essay “Project Mayhem” for Fulcrum, Issue 18, June 2011. Incidentally the winner of last year’s quote of the year, Schumacher, responded to Gage in the subsequent issue of Fulcrum.

Project of the year

Somehow Gramazio & Kohler and Prof. Raffaello D’Andrea herded a swarm of flying robots to intelligently stack bricks. The installation is an outcome from the Flying Machine Enabled Construction project, which conjures up images of bees and Archigram and R2-D2. It is a great counterpoint to the relatively trivial and unimaginative applications of computation we have seen recently. Hopefully this level of thinking occurs more in the future, or at the very least more flying robots in the future please…

Search of the year

Periodically I check the search terms people use to discover this blog. It’s one way to find questions needing answers. So to the 41 people who came this year asking “what software does zaha hadid use?” the answer is: everything. For the five that wonder why “computational architectural design sucks”, you need to remember computational design is a technique and the outcome is a reflection of your own abilities. But for the three of you who came in search of “patrick schumachers wife”, and you know who you are, I hope you put some thought into your resolutions this new year. To the rest of you, I hope you have an enjoyable break!