Workflow 2010: Designing Industry

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Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Scott Marble, instructor, with Julie Jira

Theme 5: File to Fabrication / The linchpin of Integrating Design and Production

How will file-to-fabrication process change the relationships between architects, fabricators, manufacturers and contractors? Do architects need to be responsible for manufacturing files to benefit from file-to-fabrication processes? If so, what are the new modes of knowledge requires for architects to include this as part of their work?

“Digital Production” by Branko Kolarevic in Architecture in the Digital Age:  Design and Manufacturing edited by Branko Kolarevic

Digital Production

“Size Matters: Digital Manufacturing in Architecture” by Fabian Scheurer in 30/60/90 Volume 12: Dimension
 “Out of Control: Experiments in Participation” by Situ Studio in 30/60/90 Volume 12: Dimension

Size Matters: Digital Manufacturing in Architecture and Out of Control: Experiments in Participation

Image Credit: Situ Studio

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Filed under: Collaboration, Design, Fabrication, Software, Themes/Readings/Discussions, Workflow

21 Responses

  1. Adam Hanau says:

    1) In the article “Size Matters: Digital Manufacturing in Architecture”, the author points out that “the additional effort to implement an optimized process workflow can pay off within one single project.” This is consistent with the philosophy of Gehry Technology, expressed in our visit last week. If this is so, then, why haven’t more firms placed an emphasis on the workflow aspect of design? Does the “implementation” of a workflow process pay off on smaller scale projects?

    2)It seems as if there is a struggle between the two ways in which the customization process can develop:
    a) The removal of rigidity of production, creating a notion of uniqueness (Digital Production). In this approach, the consumer will use the new design techniques to design a more sophisticated model, specialized to his tastes.
    b) “The customer still only can choose between predefined options” (Size Matters). In this model, the architectural firm will lay out some predesigned models for the consumer to choose from.
    -It seems, however, that the best approach is a combination of the two. “Over the life of the pavilion, notations were made on the plywood parts to indicate certain configurations that worked especially well. In subsequent construction events, these notes, or traces, became suggestions to how one might go about placing a part in a similarly successful way” (Out of Control). The best approach is a hybrid of the two, in which designs are re-used, but are also tweaked, so that improvements in design can be made, without removing the financial benefits of predesigned models.

    3)The past few weeks, we have seen examples of architectural firms limiting their work exclusively to a buliding’s façade: Barclay’s Center, Strata Tower… The article “Digital Production” associates this fascination in designing the building’s “skin” with the modern architect’s return to an interest in materials and their properties. Is such a trend, accepting a limitation on the scope of their potential work , dangerous to the architectural industry?

    • Adam Hanau says:

      One particularly interesting conversation developed at the end of the discussion regarding collaboration of architects with scientists/engineers who are interested in supporting the architectural agenda. The payoffs are understandably great, as such collaboration could fit the scientific agenda to address, and improve, the contemporary limitations of the architectural industry. Although this would only constitute a small segment of each scientific field (fields such as: material scientists, civil engineers, computer scientists, and electrical engineers that could most directly benefit the architectural industry), the natural restrictions inherent to architecture could be surmounted, and the industry would inevitably benefit.

      I think that the expectation to “find” such a scientist is naïve, however, as it fails to appreciate the goals and ambitions of a lot of scientists. Many of these scientists’ passion for their respective studies have led them to their field. In these fields, the most pressing needs, and the ones with the most focus, are those related to issues such as conquering disease, being environmentally friendly, and overall making the world a better place (They are also driven by the market- both ideologically and financially). Although, architecture has altruistic ambitions (namely: to genuinely improve the built world) it would be hard to win over these scientists.

      Consequently, I believe that the best way to bridge the gap between science and architecture it to find a natural architect who shows both aptitude and curiosity in a science, and train him in that matter. With his dual skill set, this architect-scientist will have a natural desire to promote the interest of his fellow architect. In addition to appreciation for his fellow architects aspirations, he will also have a similar perspective, capable of comprehending their mindset. He can then improve the field in two regards; He can apply the necessary scientific background to solve problems facing the industry, and can also serve as a liaison between the architects and other scientists to promote further cooperation.

      [This approach, of having interdisciplinary experts, is becoming very common in many fields. A hurdle to overcome in the architecture- scientist endeavor is the fact that such a plan will be hard to implement, as it will require much schooling (which equates to a lot of time and money). Convincing architects of such an employee’s worth would be the only way to initiate such an effort].

  2. Luc Wilson says:

    Architects do not need to be responsible for manufacturing files to benefit from file-to-fabrication processes, but rather, they need to understand and properly engage the file-to-fabrication technique within their design thinking. Architects will most benefit from digital fabrication when it is incorporated as a craft, a way of orchestrating the process of assembly and construction rather than as only a means of production.

    Fabian Scheurer points out that “that smart prefabrication highly depends on a thorough understanding of not only the fabrication but also the assembly process and the logistics.” His definition of smart prefabrication is not limited to prefabrication, but can be used as a contemporary understanding of craft and as means of evaluation for a file-to-fabrication process. For instance, take Frank Gehry, a pioneer of digital fabrication. As Kolarevic points out, for Gehry, “the digital technologies are not used as a medium of conception but as a medium of translation.” This fails the evaluation of craft. While he engages fabrication, the other two aspects of craft, assembly and logistics, are left out of the design process. (Although, our visit to Gehry Technologies showed an overwhelming engagement with fabrication, assembly, and logistics.)

    I propose that whether or not an architect controls the actual manufacturing files, if they introduce craft (fabrication, assembly, and logistics) as a consideration early in the design process, they will benefit from file-to-fabrication. Through BIM and engagement with craft, architects can quantifiably demonstrate an effect of the building process through reduced material cost, quicker construction and assembly time, and building performance. For the first time since the Renaissance, Architects can move considerations typically reserved for the end of design process (BIM) and the construction and assemble process (file-to-fabrication) to the beginning of the design process. These considerations are far easier and cheaper to resolve at the start of a design process.

    Just as BIM as has the potential to move issues typically considered late in a design process to the beginning, the design process associated with file-to-fabrication has the potential to move issues typically associated with construction into the design process, resulting in better, faster, stronger buildings.

    • Luc Wilson says:

      While we discussed a surprisingly broad array of topics in our class discussion, there is one conversation that I am particularly interested in following up with: cross discipline collaboration.

      With the case of cross discipline collaboration I’m not interested in exploring the traditionally related disciplines, engineering, construction, etc. that we engage with on each project. We already have an idea of when to engage and what to ask. (Answer: as soon as possible and specific questions that spark designing thinking rather than pure problem solving.) I’m interested in traditionally unrelated disciplines that architects (almost) never collaborate with. We are slowly realizing that the conventions of the design profession have a limited capacity to deal with the scale and complexity of the ecological and economic crisis. In order maintain architects relevance and address the crises, we must evolve a design process that gives us the tools to know when and how to engage with other disciplines.

      As Julie pointed out in class, the best way for architects to develop the skill of cross discipline collaboration is in school. Much like sustainable design thinking that has begun to be embed in the pedagogy to such an extent that we don’t say sustainability anymore (it’s understood that a design must address energy and performance), we should embed cross discipline collaboration in the architectural education. Cross discipline collaboration should become the norm, rather than the exception. GSAPP has begun this to a limited extent with studios collaborating with developers and historic preservationists. One way to extend this collaboration beyond GSAPP is through academic institutes or think tanks that bring together disciplines not already associated through a School. For example, the Earth Institute brings together engineers, biologist, and public policy students to focus on environmental issues. Architects could employ a similar strategy, both academically and professionally, to sponsor collaboration that allows to respond to he scale and complexity of the ecological and economic crisis. Then for the architect it now longer becomes a question of “if?” and “how?” do I collaborate, but “when?” and “who?”

  3. Peter Adams says:

    Sheurer’s article takes an optimistic view of architecture in relation to product design. “So the good thing with architectural projects is their scale. Contrary to the production of consumer goods, there is no need to develop solutions that fit a couple of thousand customers before they become cost-effective. The additional effort to implement an optimized process workflow can pay off within one single project.” But he does not explore the expansion of other crucial factors:
    1) What if the project is too small to make the work pay off? Where is the threshold between project and product?

    2) Where is the threshold of complexity? Obviously this is entirely different for each project? But can we account for the complexity factor in the question above? A small jewel is more “work” than a huge warehouse.

    3) “Euclidean geometry in building brought about drafting instruments, such as the straightedge and compass, needed to draw straight lines and circles on paper, and the corresponding extrusion and rolling machinery to produce straight lines and circles in material. The consequence was…. that architects drew what they could build, and built what they could draw.” Which is really the chicken or egg in Kolarevic’s argument? Euclidean geometry drove the construction and manufacturing industry? I think his conclusion is backwards. We are more bound by the inertia of past production methods and borrowed processes from other fields that we are now more bound (in practice) to what we can produce than what we can draw. More work should be done on what we can produce to bring it into further alignment with what we can draw. Sorry. Not a question?

    • padams20 says:

      I feel my final project was in a large way a response to this issue. I think the “Project Matrix” idea ( a “recombinatable” database of many existing project elements ) could be a way to address the issue of scale in advanced digital processes. Such a matrix could potentially produce products of multiple scales, including those scales that had previously been unavailable to architectural services at all.

  4. Kassandra Scheve says:

    File to fabrication will smooth the process. Architects will have a digital image of what they want that is explicit, fabricators and manufacturers will be able to use technology to flawlessly develop pieces that the contractor can then use on site to put the project together. Everyone can benefit from the process, especially the client.

    Architects do not need to be responsible for manufacturing files in order to benefit from it, in fact manufacturers and fabricators should be in charge of it. They are the ones who do most of the work with the file, so they should be the ones to have control of it, then the architect will be able to collaborate with them to create their design. If the architect were to be responsible for manufacturing the file, they would need to learn to deal with technology and programming that they currently don’t have.

    If architects want to be more involved in controlling the file, they will need to deal with the technology process more, so they will need to become fluent in programming and able to comfortably create a file and work with the fabricator and manufacturer. This would take lots of training that they don’t currently have, and would take more training for students. Therefore it seems most appropriate to make the manufacturers and fabricators, who already work with the technology, in charge of the file.

    • Kassandra says:

      A topic we touched on yesterday that I was a bit confused about is, do architects students learn the file to fabrication process in school? Or is it expected that they learn in when hired by a firm? I know you are taught about it, but not having taken many courses I was confused on how much of the process you learn in school.

      Also, I hadn’t thought before about how much more involved the architect is in the process when they are in control of the file production. It made me rethink about who should be in control of producing the file. It is true that it is good for the architects to gain some control of the process again, thus making them more valuable. This also seems to smooth the process of the plans going from person to person because the steps are specific with the file, versus the original process of give me this final product. Therefore, while I still think the manufacturer or the fabricator could still be in charge of manufacturing the file because their specialty will help them, the architect too could be in charge. So I’m not sure I believe one person alone should be responsible for the file.

      A final point that we discussed yesterday that I found interesting was when we took the tangent to people in other professions applying their knowledge to help architects. So far in my experience, limited as it is, architects are very idea oriented, whereas other professions, such as engineering, are more goal oriented. Engineers focus on the one project they are working with, and want to reach a concrete goal. However architects like to be creative, use other’s knowledge to create something new and un-thought of. While both want to create something new, they take very different steps to reach their goal, and I think it all lies in how they think differently. For instance, if you ask an engineer what they do, they will give you a very specialized and specific description of the job they do, and two people with the same job will probably tell you the same thing. However whenever you ask an architect what they do, each one thinks so differently and abstractly that you will never get the same answer twice.

  5. Muchan Park says:

    Expanded exercises for architects 1 _ breaking down and reconstructing

    Highly developed computational design process allows architects not only to control smooth and complex geometry and to plan the fabrication process that ensure that their design intent can be achieved but also, more importantly, through these all process of fabrication, assembly process design and logistics, to break down ‘materiality’. New way of brick patterning designed through using robot seems to be from changing perception on the material not as a homogeneous property but as aggregation of parts.
    So now architects added ‘orientating’ to conventional ‘stacking’.
    Even in Solar Pavilion project of Situ Studio, one single part starts to have more information that allows participants to interpret and use them in different way, so that through this study we might find different operation on materials.

    Expanded exercise for architects 2 _ reusing through translation

    SANNA’s project has smooth concrete surface that does not have prefabricated unit to make it. Even though the representation and execution is not coincident, still the surface is governed by the geometrical practical solution of the form work beneath of the concrete surface. If we can meticulously look at the whole execution of fabrication, assembly process and logistics of the form work, we might apply the process to the other projects such as the double curved surface of building facade. Even though difference of materials, size, function should be drastic according to projects’ needs, if we can keep tracking the whole relationship through the fabrication system, we might translate it into the other projects.

    Expanded exercise for architects 3 _ post-fabrication : catalog : recalibration

    Specific experience, rules and strategies through the whole fabrication process could be reinterpreted, categorized , and dissected. And then in the next project, various functions and operations of parts can be integrated in different assembly and logistics strategy.

    • Muchan Park says:

      What I think beneficial is through undertaking the file to fabrication process are :
      1. we can reduce the traditional interpretation process from document to realization between architects and fabricators or contractors, which may cause false or degraded result that may not be expected. (not always, but normally true)
      Rather, through the file to fab process, we can simulate our design result and adjust our design that might inherently have some problem in realization process.
      In this case, it dosen’t mean that we should do everything about solving fabrication problems, rather does mean that we need to collaborate with fabricator much earlier even in concept design phase if the project success relies more on fabrication. But this would not work if we don’t reshape our workflow in which we should determine how, when, what to communicate with them. One idea from the discussion that we might be interested in is that we can have a fabricator (is different from fabrication-oriented architect) who is relatively generalist in fabrication industry and work with us more closely to bridge us with specialists according to our project characters.

      2.The next beneficial is more related to fostering creativity or developing new architectural aesthetics not just to increase efficiency or ensure successful execution. Through the process of file to fabrication, we can start to think our design with different lens through which we break down, identify parts, redefine relationships (in terms of parts and whole) and reorganize them in conception of time. Definitely this is 4d design process. And since our fundamental job is always integration, we should integrate these all again. Once we set up this process, we can reuse it in our workflow that might be not same to conventional workflow anymore. As Louis Kahn talked about conversation with brick, we can now ask parts the same thing.
      Also If we take this seriously and apply this on our education, we can imagine that this task can totally replace our conventional tech classes in assumption that fabrication is not just for making something looking complex, but definitely is the looping process of dissection – enhancing parts – integration- analyzing performance, from which we can learn structure, environmental design, construction, management, new way of communication (new drawing?) and etc.

  6. Questions for this week:

    1. One of the most interesting things I found with the presentation last week at Gehry Technologies was how integrated the issue of “craft” was within the projects that were primarily driven through means of digital fabrication. Too often, I believe, digital fabrication is thought of as a process that makes a complex, highly unique puzzle that anyone with the proper instruction manual can assemble. On the contrary, digital fabrication should exist, in my opinion, to augment craft, not replace it. Not only is it important to understand fabrication as a process but it is equally important to understand fabrication as an art, in terms of both skill and the understanding of real-world material properties and the way in which these properties operate under a given set of conditions. Should architects push digital fabrication toward a means of do-it-yourself assembly or should we promote the augmentation and the skill of craftspeople and millworkers?

    2. While reading Branko Kolarevic’s essay, one of the things that came to mind was a pair of slides a professor in one of my undergraduate construction courses put up side-by-side of the construction of Frank Gehry’s bandshell in Chicago. On the left was a perfectly aligned bolted joint connection between two widely non-planar pieces of geometry planned and executed to a tolerance so small that it was only achievable because of the precision available by the computer. On the right, there was a similar connection. This time, however, there was an obvious misalignment. A large man-made cut, probably two feet in length, had to be made between the two pre-drilled bolt holes to provide adequate anchorage between the two pieces. Our professor made it a point to note that these two conditions were literally around the corner from one another. How does digital fabrication (and digital coordination for that matter) take into account the tolerances of the real world when there are so many variables outside of the software’s (or the user’s) control?

    3. In his essay “Size Matters,” Fabian Scheurer describes the process of developing custom concrete formwork for SANAA’s EPFL Learning Center in Lausanne. I thought that this was an interesting example where the digitally fabricated piece of the project (the formwork) is not front-and-center to the design but rather enables another material to perform at a higher and more unusual level than it could otherwise. How can the flexibility of digital fabrication push traditional building materials (brick, concrete, wood, etc) into new forms and uses by embedding them with a more parametrically-friendly substructure?

    • 1. While I understand the criticisms of the IPD methodology, I see it as more of a podium on which to stand than something we should try to push against. I think the scope of the future practices that we are all thinking of would benefit from having the underlying foundation of something as rehearsed as IPD. I certainly don’t agree with all of the process behind IPD but that’s entirely the point. We can use the extensive time and resources that have been poured into fine tuning this process to make our practices even better. This happens all the time in software development: Someone comes out with something and before you can even blink, people are hacking it. Take the new Kinect accessory for the Xbox. This is a device that Microsoft has spent a lot of time developing and fine tuning. Within the first month of its release, hundreds of YouTube videos have been posted showing users taking apart and reconstituting the device to push the limits of what this new technology can do, most likely far beyond what even Microsoft anticipated could be done. I think hacking IPD for our own purposes is exactly how we can and should be approaching our future practices.

  7. Julie Jira says:

    Schools are becoming labs for file-to-fabrication experiments and in this way, can the value of a future architect be explored and established through the nascent explorations of concept-to-file-to-fabrication during a student’s academic years? Otherwise put, should student’s today be required establish a workflow which is aptly prepared to contribute to today’s building fabrication potential?

    There is a lot of potential in establishing collaborative relationships through the process of designing a file-to-fabrication workflow. In this case, can an added design problem be in establishing a team to work with which has the will to experiment in new techniques of form building?

    Finally, as BIM becomes a standard, can designers begin to design geometric tools which are inherently packed with the intelligence required to be constructed? Should this be part of the requirement in education in order to better equip students to be able to realize their designs? Should schools also emphasize collaboration projects with other fields in order for architects to be able to develop such tools based on expertise from diverse knowledge bases?

    • Julie Jira says:

      I found it interesting to discuss the way in which we need to interface with other fields in order extract valuable information from them. A major skill for architects is communication, and knowing how to find the right resources, ask the right questions and decide on the intensity of involvement one wants to have with their final product.

      Although a history of prefabricated projects was mentioned, I think that we’re living in a time where the strongest projects are those which have been crafted intimately from conception to realization. Ultimately, if we as architects want to maintain an influential role in our projects, we should know how a detail is crafted. I don’t think this idea is any different from the history of architects, but I do think contemporary architects have lost touch with the craft of building, and are preoccupied by form instead.

      Details and form need to have a strong relationship in order to ultimately execute the architect’s intention. Therefore, architects don’t necessarily have to be the ones preparing the mill files, but it would be an added value to their work if they had an idea of how the pieces in the building came together.

      Learning how to digitally fabricate is as much of a necessity as it is to learn the most relevant software. I don’t think every architect needs to know everything there is to know about fabrication or to know every piece of software. But it is important for the architect to know what will give them the upper hand in implementing decision on their projects. Just as it is important that the architect knows how to ask the right questions and to find the right people to collaborate with.

  8. Solar says:

    The file-to-fabrication process shifts the primary relationships to scientists, designers and fabricators. The technologies seem to be evolving as a byproduct of constant exchanges between these roles. Each shift or advancement in one area creates more possibility and more inspiration in the others. New materials have new capabilities that allow for new geometries. These geometries now integrate structure and invite new perspective. The architect can take more responsibility by either learning more about materials and structure or by managing the communication throughout the process. If manufacturing can be automated, the architect who is generating the data must understand more information in order to more successfully express form.

    By understanding and controlling geometries, architects can ultimately have more budget control. But what other kinds of responsibility would architects be taking? The design is both limited and inspired by the technology. I don’t know if I agree with or like Bernard Cache’s statement that “objects are no longer designed but calculated.” Part of the beauty or success of these emerging complexities of form is that they are, in fact, relationships. While new forms emerge out of imposed rules that are based solely on calculations, it is not just to generate and apply randomness. These generations offer room for discovery. Adding what Jason said, “digital fabrication should exist. . .to augment craft, not replace it.”

    • Solar says:

      The most significant thread that came out of the discussion today, for me, was the introduction of science, materiality and the justification and financial support for research and development in these areas. In the question of responsibility, our design reference is to that of already existing technologies. How can we identify aspects of technology and materiality that need to be pushed in order for architecture/design to evolve?

      I’m inspired to add even more importance to the R+D part of my future practice. Even if it is unrealistic to have scientists in-house, you can still have in-house architects whose primary responsibility is doing research and forging relationships with whatever expertise is being inspected.

  9. Kelly Danz says:

    File to fabrication processes certainly change the relationship between architects, fabricators, manufacturers and contractors. As the process and its workflows evolve, so do the roles of those who participate. It seems the file to fabrication process can continue in two ways, either with architects promoting collaboration from the possible involved disciplines, or with architects taking complete control. Contractors and fabricators can become more involved during early stages of design and architects can actively participate in construction phases. This cross over in stages leads to close collaboration and the forcing of the trades to adapt to new processes. For file to fabrication processes to be completely efficient and effective, the presence and input of all the required disciplines is necessary. Architects do not necessarily need to be responsible for creating the actual manufacturing files for fabrication, but architects need have an understanding of how to do so just as they have an understanding (however basic) of structural systems and mechanical systems and how they impact design. The fabricators, manufacturers, and contractors would still be involved in the fabrication file process. Although, this new file to fabrication process does set up the architect as capable of producing all the files necessary for fabrication, and thereby able to exclude other trades. Is it more efficient and effective for the architect to be the sole discipline involved in file to fabrication processes or should the file to fabrication process promote the close collaboration of all the disciplines involved?
    The issue of scale is an important factor in the file to fabrication process, as the Scheurer article stated, that the fabrication process is incredibly efficient at the model scale but not as much at the architectural building scale. From the Gehry Technologies presentation it was very inspiring to see the how the parametric technologies were being used at various scales, in terms of an artist installation and then the construction scheduling of a portion of New York City. When these different architectural scales move to fabrication, how can the fabrication process find the right balance-become efficient but yet overcome the notion of complete standardization?
    In the Situ Studio article, the idea that the product of these file to fabrication processes highlights an affinity between the architects intent and a general anxiety present in design culture regarding freedom and control, and that the architects decisions are not so much his own as they are somehow immanent in scientific, historical or social process, questions the intentions of the process. In addition, in the Kolarevic article, it is stated that the fact that architects throughout history drew what they could build an built what they could draw has not been lost in the digital age but has been enhanced, creating a direct link between what can be conceived and constructed. The file to fabrication projects are not only conceptualized and drawn digitally, but realized digitally. Projects are no longer designed but calculated. Does this complete digitization of the building process from conception to realization, although efficient, advanced, and opening up new opportunities, create a loss of uniqueness and advocate the use of the technology just for the technology’s sake?

    • kmd2148 says:

      File to fabrication processes change the relationship between architects, fabricators, manufacturers and contractors. A balance must be found between the work of each discipline within these processes so as not to overlook expertise or create redundancy. It is probably not more efficient nor effective for the architect to be the sole discipline involved in file to fabrication processes, the file to fabrication process should promote the close collaboration of all the disciplines involved and streamline expertise and working knowledge. Architects do not need to be solely responsible for creating the manufacturing files for fabrication, but architects need have an understanding of how to do so just as they have an understanding (however basic) of structural systems and mechanical systems and how they impact design. Learning how the digital fabrication process works is an important piece of information that the architect should have a basic understanding of.

      While also changing the relationships between architects, fabricators, manufacturers and contractors, the definitions of our tools change as well. The definition and purpose of working drawings as the intent, versus the fabrication drawings as the means becomes quite clear in the file to fabrication process. All disciplines involved must utilize the tools necessary appropriately and efficiently, if that means changing their purpose a bit.

      The complete digitization of these process still has the ability to foster complete standardization and automation, which I think can be dangerous and at the extreme negate the architect’s role. Care must be taken and balance must be found when acting upon the new opportunities that technology creates in order to utilize technology to its greatest efficiency while involving all disciplines necessary and still allowing for the architects design and artistic qualities to be valued.

  10. Adam says:

    I am inclined to agree with Kassandra. Size Matters implores us to look at each step in constructing complex digital arrangements. Clever geometrical efficiencies don’t always translate to ease in constructibility. However, the architect shouldn’t assume that they know how to best change their design to accommodate installation in the field. So in my opinion the architect here has to remain focused on being the master collaborator, and more specifically, on handing off work that is flexible enough to accommodate changes brought on by downstream collaborators.

    We often see arguments about optimizing fabrication based on new systems of production. However, all current building technologies and practices incorporate hundreds of years of know how and design refinements into the tools and systems. Like the designs that focus on the variability achievable in brick, maybe architects should try to find and capitalize on the freedoms inherent in entirely mundane systems.

    To what extent do these processes represent the a new level of thinking about process in architectural design? Have “good” architectural processes always been a high level marriage of craft and “over-all design” is that a distinction? Very conventional systems of documentation do not require the architect to incorporate the level of thinking about fabrication processes, because those have been worked into conventional systems. It seems that architects in these projects, architects end up designing and executing process rather than documenting a design to be carried out by crafts people.

    • Adam says:

      To me the lesson that architects should take from emerging file to fab processes is that we can achieve efficient and innovative designs by working with information that extends as far downstream as possible. By creating and designing with parametric files that can be directly and umambiguously translated into the language of fabricating machines, architects eliminate a step in which their design is translated into a buildable language. Skipping this step allows for immediate and meaningful feedback from fabrication specialists, as they can easily read the information. Projects that simply hit the “print button” will be rare, as any degree of complexity necessitates deep knowledge in a variety of fabrication techniques. The process of file to fab contains the key to the continued use of this practice. Carrying this idea out, I’d propose a challenge to architects to use this process relative to traditional building techniques. Can we imbed more information about “traditional fabrication” into a parametric design? That is, what language should the model output the into? If a laser cutter takes code, what is the unambiguous language of the contractor? Can we create one? The file to fab techniques presented in the reading are natural fits for capitalizing on these efficiencies precisely because the existing language of our designs, digital drawings, translates to machine code with ease. That our current language for communicating the assembly of buildings is so ambiguous and requires many levels of interpretation reflects on the inefficient state of the AEC industry. That said, the vast majority of our buildings are made from mass produced elements which have precise functions, exacting governing parameters, and sppecific assembly instructions. Next generation parametric models should incorporate the efficiency lessons of file to fab by imbedding the “means of constructablility” in a model that travels as far downstream as possible and does so as unambiguously as possible. If architects could communicate designs to contractors using an unambiguous language of construction, I suspect that contractors will be able to provide immediate feedback on the feasibility, efficiency, and cost of a design. Not to mention greater comprehension of design intent. Perhaps the phrase “design intent” encompasses exactly what gets engineered out by file to fab process. Nobody is required to interpret the intentions of the designer, because the designer has already translated it diectly into the language of construction.

  11. Sam Olsen says:

    First I would like to site this response in a manner that is not about the usage of digital tools like mills or lasers to create your work, but about the introduction of living and breathing documents into all stages of the Workflow. Architecture, in my mind, is no longer about construct creation, or the making of a built object, there simply are not enough buildings to build. Instead the bread of butter of “Architecture” can be about the expression of ideas, concepts, imagery, viewpoints, data – etc, just as complicated as a building, to an audience that seeks this information.

    I have trouble empathizing with the viewpoint that File to Fabrication allows us to radically return to a point in time at which we were able to understand the entirety of construction processes. on anything more complex than a pavilion. The example of form-work, given in the Saana Station article, does not mention all of the players needed to consult with in order to make each piece unique or how to shave that one minute off of each operation. File to fabrication is not a new paradigm, it merely allows us to communicate our intent to our tools on another level.

    I return to the example of the line in a foundation plan to indicate where the contractors should dig. In this example, the File sent to fabrication is a message of intent, whereas, my understanding is that if the file was set up to have the a automated robot dig instead, then it would be a discussion about means/methods. My understanding here is that by architects preforming the actual work (programming the robot where to ig ) they are nor responsible for the means/methods, rather than intent.

    I do not understand how this breaks down in terms of liability. If the contractor own the robot, but the architect programs it, and there is an error as a result of a decimal place shift, is the architect liable as the one who supplied the file, or is it the contractor who was overseeing the robot?

    Once again, it comes down to questions of collaboration, rather than issues of medium.

    Is the File to Fabrication process, as exemplified in the the wooden ceiling at GT is about collaboration, as a result of technology, not fabrication. In this example, the most significant aspect of the tool was its ability to constantly adapt the “file” to the advice / input of the fabricators, even at advanced stages of design. Examples of this were shown in the diagram wherein tolerances had to be introduced for the depth of the board, and how it would sit on a concave vs convex surface.

    The true strength of file to fabrication is in the process by which you eliminate the bulk of documentation, instead focusing on upstream intelligence and problem solving, allowing you to really push the levels of design.
    Parallel to Solar’s comment, are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater by embracing such high technology all of the time? I have a story told to me by an Arup Engineer. He was working on a US Gov’t project of a large scale in the states. This was clearly a BIM project, though of some years ago. The regulation of the contract stipulated that all of the measurements on the project had to be done using the Metric system. Yet the materials and assemblies used in construction were to Imperial modules. This reached a ridiculous point where the height of the wall was set so that contractors had to split bricks in half in order to reach the correct figure .Is the true power of File to Fabrication in the inclusion of these metrics as early as possible in the project, so that a wall is 20 withes tall, and a double bond in depth, rather than 1 meter tall, and 25cm in depth. How can we capture the abilities of both ends of the spectrum, from mass reproduction to perfect solution?
    Insofar as the class conversation affecting my own point of view.
    I have never come to the conclusion that I would be an “Architect”. I dont know why I resist so vehemently the career I have spent so much time and effort becoming great at. Perhaps it lies in my natural tendency to be a specialist, rather than the generalist. I would prefer to be a member of a team of professionals that design the building. Not the specialist that File to Fabricate, and not the professional that BIMs, and not the professional that Renders, but the professional that brings these people together, and harmonizes their goals, strengths and abilities into something of greater value than its parts. How do I find this role? How do I train for it? How do you progress into that position in your career? If my true goal is to locate and mutate people, treating them both as skill sets AND as valued team members in order to create some kind of nimble octopus for a better world, how the devil do you start?

    I have always found that the intriguing part of architecture is its equal influence from technology and culture. We live in a culture that finds its reward in specific quantifiable amounts, and then these quantities are re-distributed so as to get other people to work for you, etc. How do we as architects create opportunities where our research will bring us results? I found Muchan’s description to be remarkably interesting. The true genius of Mies was not in his forms, but in the fact that he was able to realize the unspoken wish of city dwellers to work in a building that was filled with light, while remaining at a comfortable temperature. He found that pressure point, and exerted influence over it, affecting cities, and his design reputation for years to come. The similar act was preformed by Corb. with mass production and has been applied by Rem to his AMO office. There he has become intimate not with the construction industry, but with the world of art and politics, the true movers and shakers.

    My future firm must possess the ability to open my own doors, to leverage past research into forward facing expertise and proven competency. At one stroke, 20,000 feet up in the air, it must have the ability to find and research topics of value such as the urban condition, water usage, material efficiencies, war and famine, mass transit, land value and speculation. To reach the highest possible points, one would have to apply File to Fabrication collaboration techniques. By pushing expertise upstream until it holds the same role at the table as the architect, can architecture re-position itself into new positions?

    Diametrically opposed construct – can we as architects find people that would be interested in partnering with architects because of their skills, rather than us looking for them? In the conclusion to Rem’s lecture at GSAPP, he mentioned that once architects were artists, and then Reagan came along and liberated the market, now we are a service industry. The work he preforms is a service, not hindered with the morals and values that the profession normally binds itself to. Do we want to be that mutable, the glove of the hand that wields power? Can we afford not to be?

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