Phase 1: Summer 2012

While the advent of digital media and tools have transformed the practice of architecture over the past several decades, the opportunities afforded by this revolution are only starting to be fully understood. A new abundance of data, unprecedented in quantity and breadth, presents the designer with multiple dimensions along which to analyze a given site. Social, cultural, environmental and geographic information is collected from more and more sources, and becoming increasingly collated and spatially indexed. Many architects and designers have recognized this new condition and have sought to grapple with it and represent it, generating a body of work that might loosely be called ‘systems-oriented’.

However, the techniques used to analyze such data, and to utilize the results in design decision-making, have by and large not kept pace. Often this gap can in part be attributed to the designers’ lack of ability to fully engage with digital techniques to develop custom digital tools tailored to the problem at hand. While use of digital tools in architecture is widespread, often these tools are simply digital versions of manual techniques. An interest in fully harnessing the rule-based intelligence of digital technology with application to design problems has been characterized as ‘design computation’.

Soft Data | Hard Design seeks to explore the application of design computation to take full advantage of the abundance of data, with the goal of shaping and improving both the methodologies and the outcomes of the designer.

This project of insight development is governed by four main objectives:

1.Explore potentials of data-driven inquiry of our data-rich condition in shaping the built environment across scales and complexities – from installation/building component, building, urban site/city, and region.

2.Expand on the current discourse surrounding systems-based design approaches by foregrounding the potentials of computational strategies and tools.

3.Contribute to the expansion of the architect’s media, to include computation through the production of computationally oriented design projects.

4.Develop and test the research cluster as a new format for creative, collaborative research within the architectural school environment

The proposed project is organized along two methodological axes: traditional forms of research such as case-study analyses, and project-based exploratory work. The two streams will inform and reinforce one another, generating work in multiple media and formats oriented toward both academic and general audiences.

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