Mario Carpo

BREAKING THE CURVE: BIG DATA AND DESIGN


+ full text: artforum

THE DIGITAL IS ALL ABOUT VARIATION. We know from daily experience that the many digitally based media we use today, from text to images to music, are permanently in flux; their variations can be designed by one or more end users (think of a Wikipedia entry), or by machinic algorithms (think of a Google search), and may at times appear to be entirely out of control, changing in some random and inscrutable way. The same logic applies to the design of physical objects, from teaspoons to entire buildings. Since the early 1990s, the pioneers of digitally intelligent architecture have claimed that computational tools for design and fabrication can mass-produce variations at no extra cost: Economies of scale do not apply in a digital environment, and (within given limits) digitally produced, mass-customized objects, all individually different, should cost no more than standardized and mass-produced ones, all identical. In this sense, digital culture and technology should be seen as the ultimate embodiment of postmodernity—a postmodern dream come true. But in architecture and design, things did not work out that way. For right at the start, the digital turn in architecture was hijacked by one tool that soon outweighed all others to become the protagonist—almost the monopolist—of the new digital design scene: spline modelers.


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