December 8, 2010
by Murrye Bernard Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Event: Bending the Tools/Re-Scripting the Rules: Innovation, Craft and Methodology in Digital Practice
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.22.10
Panelists: Tom Clancy — Owner, Valiant Technology; David Ruy — Ruy Klein; Marc Kushner, AIA — Founder, Architizer & Principal, HWKN Architects; Joe MacDonald, Assoc. AIA — Principal, Urban A&O; Augustus Wendell, Assoc. AIA — Principal, Kim Wendell Design; Michael Szivos — Principal, softLAB
Moderator: Andrew Blum — Writer
Introduction: Matthew Bremer, AIA and Marc Clemenceau Bailly, AIA, New Practices Committee Co-chairs
Organizer: AIANY New Practice Committee
Sponsors: Lead Sponsors: Dornbracht, MG & Company and Valiant Technology; Sponsors: Espasso, Hafele and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper

Struts for the Cairo Tower designed with CATIA by Urban A&O.

Urban A&O

Is digital technology an efficient means to an end versus drawing by hand? Has it become an integral part of the design process? Andrew Blum, a writer with expertise in technology and urbanism, posed this question to a panel of designers, an IT consultant, and the founder of Architizer.

Tom Clancy, owner of Valiant Technology, sees technology as a useful tool to streamline the work process, and he encouraged architects to become untethered by “ditching the server.” Online file share sites and portable gadgets like laptops, iPads, and smart-phones allow architects to be more present on the job.

Technology also serves as a tool to gain recognition for firms. The social networking website Architizer bring focus on projects, explained co-founder Marc Kushner, AIA. It provides a platform for architects to reach a wider audience. Featured work is often picked up by blogs read by non-architects, i.e., potential clients, he claimed.

Technology has no doubt changed the way firms operate, but it has also shaped the design processes of several emerging firms. For example, softLAB writes its own customized Maya Embedded Language (MEL) scripts for projects, which allows them to create and modify repetitive geometries, according to Principal Michael Szivos. With this software, they designed more than 2,400 custom, laser-cut triangular chipboard panels for their pAlice installation at 21 Monitor Street in Brooklyn. Joe MacDonald, Assoc. AIA, principal of Urban A&O, believes that aerospace software like the Computer Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application (CATIA) offers a level of precision through parametric modeling that could not be achieved by hand. He revels in this process; though screenshots of models may look “ugly,” he believes they communicate volumes.

David Ruy of Ruy Klein does not see technology as a way to “scientifically legitimize” his firm’s work, but rather as a way to “condition our imaginations.” He advocates that firms achieve a balance at the intersection of architecture, nature, and technology. Whether one believes technology is simply a means to an end or an essential part of the process, Szivos summed it up: “I hope design is fetishized and not the technology.”

Murrye Bernard, LEED AP, is freelance architecture writer and contributing editor to e-Oculus.

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