under Uncategorized

The Digital Turn in Architecture 1992-2012 | Mario Carpo



Mario Carpo, the Digital Turn in Architecture 1992-2012. (United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2013).

Introduction to the Selection by Anuntachai Vongvanij

The digital turn in architecture, Mario Carpo introduces how the digital/cyber world have been transforming architectural design process in the last 20 years.

Digital technologies are much more advance and available now comparing to what were available to Frank Gehry for the design of Guggenheim Bilbao 25 years ago (1990). In comparison, take any parking garage design today, the design process for the car park involved using more digital tools in the past 20 years, but the project rarely becomes digitally intelligent design.

This book goal is to unfold digital design theory over the period of the last 20 years, how “designers have ideas about what the new tools are and what they can do, and this intelligence – among many other things – inspires them to imagine unprecedented solution.” -Mario Carpo


Technological advances of the 90s are changing so fast that also impact the design process and brings architecture to a digital age, many designers are inspired by the new technologies, perhaps fascinated, by the potentials of cyber spaces. But how should virtual reality and cyber space become part of the design process?

Peter Eisenman wrote two of the first essays about how digital and new technologies is changing architecture, saying that:

“The electronic paradigm directs a powerful challenge to architecture because it defines reality in terms of media and simulation; it values appearance over existence, what can be seen over what is…”

“Now there is a difference between repetition in mechanical reproduction and repetition in electronic reproduction” –we now no longer use our hands but instead electronically to make drawings. There is now less human interactions.

John Frazer, also commenting of the age of cyberspace, saying that “virtual reality has caused us to reassess reality. Virtual worlds should not be seen as an alternative to the real world or a substitute, but as an extra dimension which allows us a new freedom of movement in the natural world… a new medium for expression.”


So how does the digital age change architectural design? It is from the development of new digital tools and fabrication techniques. The new design tectonics appears the early 90s from the introduction of spline modelers. The ability manipulate curves lines using vectors and control points.

Bernard Cache and Gilles Deleuze’s “theory of Objectile, or generic object, becomes a catalyst for the digital turn in architecture and remain until this day a powerful source of inspiration for digital design” (146) “The Objectile is an open-ended notation which allows for infinite parametric variations…” With this generic, open-ended, parametric notation from the digital tools, it implies that design authorship may also be split between the designers and the customizers.

On the other hand, with the advancement computers, CAD can be now used to mass-produce boxes and blobs. “However, (as Mario Carpo highlighted) unlike boxes, blobs cannot be mass-produced in the absence of digital tools (and in fact they were never mass-produced until recently),” and “would this simple argument: sheer technical supply –we make blobs because we can—be enough to explain the lasting tie between digital design and smooth curves? –probably not.”

For many architects, digital design does appear like a continuation of Deconstructivism with digital means. FOA Yokohama terminal is considered one of the most “meaningful architectural achievements of the digital age, but its authors never mention here either computers of digital technologies.” Zaha Hadid is also an example of architects that came to the continuous folds of digital design after training in the angular fractures of deconstructivism.

A quote from 2008 Catalog of the Venice Architecture Biennale by Patrick Schumacher reads: “There is an unmistakable new style manifest within avant-garde architecture today. It is most striking characteristic is its complex and dynamic curve-linearity. Beyond this obvious surface feature one can identify a series of new concepts and methods are so different from the repertoire of both traditional and modern architecture that one might speak of the emergence of a new paradigm for architecture, [which is parametricism]… Parametricism is a great new style after modernism. Postmodernism and deconstructivism were traditional episodes that ushered in this, long wave of research and innovation. Modernism was founded on the concept of space. Parametricism differentiates fields. Fields are full, as if filled with a fluid medium. From compositions of parts we proceed to dynamic field of particles. This sensibility had been both radicalized and refined over the course of 30 years of work. New modes of representation played a crucial part in making this possible.”

“Post-modernist wanted differentiation, variety and choice; and with the new digital technologies, these tools provided the most suitable technical means to that end.” -Mario Carpo.

Around the mid-90s, Charles Jencks introduce the term of “nonlinearity” to architecture, which mentioned in both of his essays. He also emphasizes, “computer are indispensable to the making of all such buildings (referring back to Gehry and FOA Yokohama terminal), as their geometric and constrictive complexity could not be achieved without the assistance of digital tools.”


The changes of how digital age and new tools influences architectural design can be seen throughout the past 20 years. In the early times, the architecture often catch on to the “first wave of digital design theory: complex curvilinear shapes, sinuous and elongated lines of movement in space, interactive and immersive environments augmented by digital multi-media technologies.”

In more recent times, designers may have taken more spiritual approach to digital tectonics or in the field of ‘performative’ design experimentation. Form finding, research on physical materials, or maximize the performance of the design.

From Morphogenesis and theory of evolutions, Michael Hansel, Achim Menges, and Michael Weinstock “apply the principles of self-organization to buildings as seen as systems or even eco-systems both in their tectonic and thermodynamic aspects, and are keen to point out the differences between ‘emergent’ properties in life and in computation, and the gap between nature and machinic production.”


“Crisis of Scale”

In the turn of the century, non-standard form-making “had been proven to work effectively at the small scale of industrial design and fabrication, but did not perform well at the full scale of construction. SHoP then, call for a new “intelligence of fabrication” that can reduce the gap between constructions task and design, searching for a “common language between design and execution.” From that new generations of software known as BIM or [Building Information Modelling] became very important part of the digital design tools. As the same time, on the opposite end of the digital design spectrum, is (as Greg Lynn named it) new generations of blobs makers and Patrik Schumacher’s theory of parametricism.

So where are we now? Between the BIM software development that “many feels might threaten or diminish the architect’s traditional authorial role” and the very idea of parametricism and making more curves and blobs.

“Early 1990s architects were pioneers of the digital frontier, but it is very difficult to be inspired by a style that have been repeating itself for at least 15 years. How do young architects be inspired by digital theories that have been around since early 1990s? Do we keep on going with this repetition or should we start looking elsewhere for the next big thing? … If history has something to teach – the digital history of the last 20 years, as well as the architectural history of the last 20 centuries – the best, or at least the most momentous days of the digital turn may still be ahead of us” -Mario Carpo.



Mario Carpo, the Digital Turn in Architecture 1992-2012. (United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2013).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *