Beyond Design, Detail, Print


This paper investigates how digital making technologies may be utilised within an architectural pedagogy. The research explores the fabrication processes that entice students to experiment with rapid prototyping machines such as 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC routers within architecture schools. Available software such as 123D Make can oversimplify the design-to-production process, therefore potentially diminishing creativity in craft. This is exemplified with how easy it is to access digital fabrication tools for easy making. Therefore it is the process in which digital practices are being used which educates the student to make use of tools in a way to think critically.


There are opportunities to discuss how students should view digital fabrication tools beyond just being a gadget. Architecture as a profession is very diverse and requires critical thinking to make use of the equipment available. The approach presented within the research points out that the machine is only one part of the equation. The takeaway is to understand teaching cannot be simply done through providing students with digital tools but to nurture their understanding of what the tools represent. One simply cannot design a piece of architecture, create a 3d model and print while expecting it to work in reality. The tools should not be used for just superficial architecture, but rather be used to create tangible spaces through dedication, experimentation and understanding.


The advancements in technology within architectural practice have substantially changed the way making is being taught in tertiary institutions. These digital fabrication tools are empowering student designers to engage with making at greater volume. However, this ease of production can mislead students to produce superficial outcomes. Easily accessible automated products purchased by students exemplify this trend. For example a scale model produced via a laser cutter or 3D printer may appear intriguing, but can often fail to convince and be relegated to confines of ‘architectural porn’.

In response a course was needed to be devised to educate how digital making can provide tangible architectural solutions. What are the teaching methods that can allow students to produce functional solutions and appreciate the design process. For example in this course the aim was to show how tools such as the CNC router can be used beyond the fabrication of concept contour models and the copy of downloadable design and print novel designs.

The students were asked to engage with an iterative experimentation method where precedent studies, model making and scaled prototyping inform the making of the final solution. The centre of the production methodology was confined to two dimensional cutting with the aim to educate the exploration of multiple possibilities using one simple technique.

The course was applied to a commercial interior fit out over a period of five weeks. Although exploration of CNC production within architecture schools is not a new subject, this type of work tends to be cut and paste examples from the internet. Encouragement to investigate beyond the digital process meant students explored materials, furnishings and hand craft process that can add value to machine outputs. Student discoveries into programming error, tolerance and a tight time frame led to a crash course in obtaining making skill. Contrary to popular belief among students, experience, knowledge and organisation are still a vital element for quality production. The end product was a successful interior project that was not only centered around digital making, but also trial and error.

Real client briefs are imperative to teach students about the reality of designing functional space with palpable parameters. The project also ultimately became a precedent for students to gain respect and responsibly around making with budgets, whether it be through digital or hand craft making methods. After learning about the possibilities, the students ambition and interest led them to produce beyond function-less design to print solution that required critical thinking, function and craft.