return to inspirations . monumenta | anselm kiefer . 100 aluminum boxes . hotel everland

Donald Judd
Chinati Foundation - Marfa, TX

The cutting edge in architectural design and technology has historically been limited to the venue of high design – a few expensive projects built for individuals and corporations with financial resources to back a process requiring extensive experimentation. On the opposite end of the economic spectrum, an alternative, parallel system of design has evolved, generating a plethora of vernacular styles that prioritize cost efficiency, local materials, and a low-tech ingenuity in mitigating environmental factors.

The urban fabric of Rio de Janeiro embodies this division – a city split between the high-design urban environment along the coastline and the sprawling, agglomerated favelas that line the hills. The unique aspect of Rio's urban condition is the proximity of these two social strata – a situation where residents in high-end condominiums and terra-cotta shanties can literally see into each other's abodes. With Rio's selection as host of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, the issue of mitigating this inequality and improving the urban fabric has been placed in the foreground.

Parametric design and digital fabrication offer us, as designers, the potential to dissolve the distinction between these two poles of design. CNC technology allows us to bypass the limitations of traditional fabrication methods, letting us produce complex forms quickly, experiment with iterative designs, and reproduce identical resultants at very little cost. Paired with the ability of parametric software to respond dynamically to external environmental, social, and cultural factors, digital fabrication offers the promise of a hybridized design, pairing the formal feats and technical precision of high design with the low-costs, rapid deployment, and modular scalability of low design.

The challenges that this workshop presents, working as a team to take a project from design concept to constructed reality, are perpetually interesting to me, especially when coupled with the capabilities of software and CNC machines. In the four years I worked before entering Columbia, I relished any opportunity to indulge my love of material tectonics and construction detailing, both in design drawing and on-site construction detailing in collaboration with the contractor and fabricators. I found that the skillful resolution and negotiation of the formal, structural, material qualities really defined the quality of the final built work. In the academic environment, the idea that architecture can become flexible and adaptable, rather than a solely aesthetic object, and thus provide a tangible improvement in the built environment, serves as a guiding principle. I believe that in order for architecture to maintain an important role in the historical, social, and cultural fabric and public space, it must continuously challenge our preconceived notions of space and the built environment.