The Weight of a Line
This presentation addresses the conference theme by presenting scholarship on the production of digital tools for drawing and filling space which engage multiple media formats to engender practices of “critical tool making.” Such practices use the relationships between media and information to examine the biases digital tools, professional conventions, and cultural contexts introduce into design processes and how they might be leveraged to imagine space in new and socially impactful ways. Further, this scholarship explores the cyclical relationship between teaching and making by examining how pedagogies and applied research on the capabilities of digital design tools inform one another.
The takeaway from this presentation will be twofold. First, participants will gain an understanding of the ways in which digital tools erode neat distinctions structuring classical oppositions of teacher/student, theory/practice, and process/product through the non-linear workflows they enable. The scholarship presented will show how such erosion enables critical discourse on the ways institutions and technologies shape the production of knowledge. Second, participants will gain an understanding of the politics inherent in different forms of digital information, visual representation and the tools for translating between these two which mediate everyday experience as well as professional practice.
Digital technologies for producing and representing architectural form have become commonplace in professional practice and the discourses surrounding their development, practical application, and theoretical implications has shaped recent curricula in European and American architecture schools. However, these discourses and the curricula they shape often fail to critically and sincerely engage the social and political dimensions of digital information, visual representation, physical production, and the easy translation between them that digital design tools enable, instead focusing on advances in formal definition, computational logics, and the production of qualitative affects from quantitative inputs. While these are important areas of study, without examining the politics inherent in how digital design tools are used to address, represent, and produce the (future) world, the potential of these areas of study to produce new and impactful ways of imagining space will be severely limited. Further, such a lack of critical examination of digital design tools’ social and political dimensions ignores the role such tools play in challenging linear, top-down, and authoritative modes of knowledge production and administration as well as their associated pedagogical models.
This presentation will explore work produced as part of my Master of Architecture thesis project at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) which directly addresses the social and political implications of digital design tools. This work demonstrates methods for developing and applying digital design tools in ways that recognize issues of translation, representation, fidelity, and feedback as potentially both interpretively and numerically limiting, by requiring expert knowledge to overcome, deploy, or comprehend; and as generative, by creating ambiguities which encourage multiple understandings, curiosity, and engagement. In doing so this work continuously engages with the questions “what is represented” and “how is it represented” as a means to expose tool and user based biases, balance the imperatives of limitation and generation, and reintroduce authorship and responsibility in the digital design tool development and application process.
In addition, the presentation will explore student work from two courses I have subsequently taught at RISD and The Boston Architectural College (BAC) which extend the social and political implications of digital design tools into an examination of how the use of these tools impacts the relationship between design, making, learning, and teaching. In these courses students designed their own methods for translating between multiple formats of digital information. Students then found ways to apply these tools that challenged disciplinary and pedagogical norms. RISD’s curricular focus on self-lead artistic exploration led to a (re)imagination of the classroom as shared laboratory. In contrast, the BAC’s focus on professional development encouraged students to (re)think representational assumption underpinning everyday architectural practices.
Presenting this work aims to open a discourse on how the socially and politically conscious development, teaching, and use of digital design tools can restructure the institutionalized modes of knowledge production. Such a discourse invites those seeking to question the unconscious biases embedded within the digital design tools, practices of representation, and pedagogical models they engage with every day by encouraging a process of critical tool making.