Computing Environmental Design

June 10, 2019 at 1:31 pm Leave a comment

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“Computing Environmental Design,” in The Culture of Nature in the History of Design, Kjetil Fallan (ed.), (London: Routledge, 2019), 44-57.

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Abstract

In December 1964 the Boston Architectural Center organizedthe first conference on the role of computers in architecture – an issue that designers had been pondering since the 1950s. The questionat stake in such debates had been the relationship between artists and machines. Environmental design proved to be an unlikely question that emerged in the discussion, with architect and designer Serge Chermayeff noting that with computers environmental complexities could now come under the purview of architecture. Only a year earlier Chermayeff had published the seminal book Community and Privacy: Toward a New Architecture of Humanismwith Christopher Alexander, wherethe two authors had argued for a humanism that placed environmental concerns at the forefront. At the conference Chermayeff argued that computers constituted a critical tool for analyzing and comprehending environmental complexity, allowing for the integration of the built within the natural environment. “Our survival depends upon our ability to master new complexities” he argued, “with the best technology at our disposal.” This optimism with respect to how computers could help in solving environmental problems was shared among modernist designers, most notably by Richard Buckminster Fuller, but also among ecologists and biologists of the period. Computers could order both the human and natural environment using the same language, thus bringing landscape and architectural design in dialogue. Yet computers of the time were cumbersome to work with and getting access to them was not a matter of course. The architects’ musings about computers ultimately had to do with imagined futures for the design disciplinesand not so much thepractical exigencies of the time. By focusing on Serge Chermayeff’s critical response to the introduction of computers as tools for grasping and communicating complexity, this paper will interrogate the emergence ofcomplexity as an aesthetic and design problem, formative for the introduction of computing to architectural design.

 

Entry filed under: Articles, Home, Publications.

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