Becoming Digital - Ellie Abrons, Nick Axel, McLain Clutter, Adam Fure, and Nikolaus Hirsch - Editorial


Ellie Abrons, Nick Axel, McLain Clutter, Adam Fure, and Nikolaus Hirsch

LAMAS, Delirious Facade, 2017. Image: Lori Gjoni and Christina Kim.

Becoming Digital
January 2019

Becoming Digital is a collaboration between e-flux Architecture and Ellie Abrons, McLain Clutter, and Adam Fure of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, featuring contributions by Laida Aguirre, Ramon Amaro, Guillermo Fernández-Abascal, Urtzi Grau, Mark Jarzombek, Zeina Koreitem, Laura Kurgan, Luke Caspar Pearson, Curtis Roth, Molly Sauter, James Taylor-Foster, and Eyal Weizman.

Architecture is always becoming digital. To become digital is to be situated in a context where everything from screen to stone exists as both data and matter, where habits of mind forged within the digital environment are constantly transferred to the analog world, and vice versa. Architecture has long recognized pervasive technology, computational logic, and digital aesthetics as the background condition to everyday life. Its becoming digital has signaled a profound paradigm shift that is largely complete, yet conspicuously unaccounted for.

Digital technology entered architectural discourse in a wave of futurist prognostication, heady formalist trajectories, and overt avant-garde agendas. Positivist rationales and a fervent belief in the intrinsic merits of technological progress reigned among the varied proponents of early digital architecture, alongside an embrace of the capacities of computation to address cultural and organizational complexity. In these early years, the digital was foregrounded as both topic and technique.

In contrast, contemporary architectural practice engages the digital as ubiquitous and foundational. The modernist urgency of integration has evolved from sun, air, transportation, and advanced construction techniques to search histories, precarious labor contracts, machine learning, and burnout remedies. Today the digital is ambient, environmental. It is a dull hum that emanates from every corner of our increasingly constructed world, constituting the material, conceptual, and experiential context of any architectural project.

Reflecting on the status of the digital in contemporary architecture demands renewed critical attention towards the ways architects work and the products of their labors. Today, our discipline’s waning fascination with digitally-enabled complexity and progress is being replaced with a sometimes blasé embrace of expedient digital tools, from Google image search to Rhino’s “Make2D” command. Screenshot aesthetics and deadpan digital representations abound, delivering a glancing wink to those in the know, and constituting a new internal discourse for contemporary designers based on the expedient circulation of digital images.

But as tendencies within the discipline assume the temporality of the meme, the facile nature with which they are adopted often belies the significance of their appearance. Today, digital technology doesn’t simply enable architects to represent the “real,” it is intricately intertwined with the real itself. Design methods are evermore connected on a computational level to those of dissemination, communication, and social networking, and indeed, culture at large. This nascent condition presents new possibilities for architectural speculation, representation, and for the discipline’s potential impact in an increasingly digital world.

Becoming Digital is a collaboration between e-flux Architecture and Ellie Abrons, McLain Clutter, and Adam Fure of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

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