Conference points to design’s virtual future
Smart Geometry, a globally distributed, loose-knit group of architects, engineers and academics dedicated to the exploitation of computational tools in architectural design, emerged once again from the virtual ether for its roving annual conference.
The host for this year’s event was the Centre for Information Technology & Architecture (CITA), a branch of The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.
The conference was preceded and informed by a four-day intensive workshop programme. In past years, this had taken the form of intensive individual mentoring in the use of Bentley’s Generative Components Software, but this mould was broken by last year’s conference in Barcelona. “Clusters” working on tutor-led research projects have become the norm as the vehicle for exploring computational design challenges.
Where last year’s workshops focused on the use of output devices, such as rapid prototyping machines and computer-aided manufacturing, this year the emphasis was on digital data using a wide variety of data-gathering input devices, from thermal imaging cameras to DIY environmental sensors and Kinect for Xbox consoles.
One focus was the ability that digital devices have to gather data that is not readily perceived by our own senses. A further area of interest was the use of computers to analyse, interpret, and interact with verbose data sets in a way that can inform both parametric and human design decisions.
Round-table discussions on the opening day, augmented by live Twitter discussion and feedback from the audience, provided an opportunity to take these themes further. An enthusiasm for digital data, almost for its own sake, was evident. However, unlike the clarity that the discipline of geometry brings to the definition of form, achieving comparable clarity in the distillation of raw data into actionable design information is more elusive.
The final day provided an opportunity for practitioners from different backgrounds to showcase the achievements of their organisations, companies or individual practices. Mette Ramsgard Thomsen conveyed the breadth and subtlety that the host CITA displays in its approach to marrying architecture with computational design. She feels that its success is based on the recognition that human input through a craft tradition remains a key component.
Ben van Berkel of Dutch practice UN Studio provided a masterful display of how computational design is integral to its approach to designing buildings such as its Museum for Mercedes Benz.
With boundless enthusiasm for exploration and experimentation within digital design, it was however Usman Haque of Haque Design & Research who stole the conference floor with a beguilingly casual presentation of his unique interactive environmental installations, from multi-storey bubble sculptures through to audience reactive light installations.
Over the past couple of years, the Smart Geometry conference has moved away from the mechanics of the software. Most of the
delegates use Generative Components or Grasshopper as a matter of course. Their use in geometric form finding and to resolve complex structural optimisations has become established, however there remains a thirst for further exploration. It is evident that, while many architects have yet to engage with it, the use of parametric modelling software is moving on from the “how to” and engaging much more with the “what and why”.
Hugh Davies is a co-founder of IT consultant Lomas Davies. www.lomasdavies.net