Conference PaperPDF Available

Digital Technology for Architectural Fabrication



Introductory lecture of «Form Manufacturing», for the Master class «Systems and Components Design» at iCAD-International Course on Architectural Design, School of Architecture, University of Florence. The lecture is an overview of the historical transition of the architectural designer from the analogical approach to the industrialized way of production and its last declinations in the age of knowledge where he can be redefined, reusing Gropius’s words, as «the exponent of experimentation to be applied in the industrial production». Topics of the lecture are: • Art and Crafts vs. industrial manufacturing. • What differentiates industrial product from crafts? • From the more or less to precision. • Time control. • Mass production and well being for all. • Division of labor. • Separation between mind and hand: the Scientific Management. • The birth of the Industrial Designer. • Cross-fertilization. • Simplification and Modularity. • Towards a new Designers. • Science and Technology in Design. • Modeling research vs. regulatory technique. • Drawing as an epistemological practice. • Numbers, measurements and design objectivation. • Quality vs. Quantity. From analogical to analytical. • From digital drafting to construction automation. • Digital information as a new standard. • Flexibility and integration: Converging Design • New language for new designers. ERRATA CORRIGENDA: pg.33 about half a century >about half a millennium
prof. Giuseppe Ridolfi, PhD
International Course on Architectural Design
master program | Systems and components design
Systems and Components Design and Environmental Sys-
tems Design represent the disciplinary contribution of
«Technology of architecture» to the two integrated labo-
ratories Architecture and Structure Design Lab (1st year)
and Building and Environmental Design lab (2nd year).
The aim of these two classes is to explore new technolo-
gies and related opportunities derived from digital com-
putation and industrial automatic production in conceiv-
ing, designing and producing architecture.
The topic of Systems and components design is Form
manufacturing in which students are asked to study forms
and model materials to feed automatic manufacturing in
order to fabricate a Structural System Prototype.
For these reasons, the class does not approach the build-
ing shaping as a mere invention of free-form and software
is not intended and used as a tools for rendering, but as
a coherent and interoperative process to address the real
manufacture of buildings: a new modus operandi for ar-
chitectural designers.
The class is introduced by the present lecture titled
Digital Technology for Architectural Fabrication.
prof. Giuseppe Ridol, PhD | 2014
Art and Crafts vs industrial manufacturing.
According to Renato De Fusco [cfr. 1990 – Renato De fusco, Storia del Design] Industrial So-
ciety started in the period from 1760 to 1830: the ages of the introduction
and the refinement of steam power. After this beginning, the first significant
manifestations of industry happened in the late 800s and the early 900s with
a multitude of inventions that radically altered the way of life: the typewriter
(1855), the car (1862) the plastic (1862) the reinforced concrete (1867), the
celluloid (1869), the fridge and the electric light bulb (1879), the power plant
(1881), the gasoline engine (1884), the bicycle and the motorcycle (1855), the
linotype machine (1886), photography (1888), film (1894), the radio (1895), the
Gillette razor (1901), the plane (1903), the electric washing machine (1906),
neon lighting (1910).
An important milestone of the industrial manufacturing was the 1914 when
the outbreak of the Great War created the condition for a massive produc-
tion of goods for military purpose and established itself as the new produc-
tive and social system in opposition, often overlapping, craftsmanship. It was
a new way of producing and consuming goods based on technologies and
equipment systems, the result coming from the applications of science and
research for military purpose. In fact, the Great War was a unique occasion to
test this kind of production that made mass production its point of strength.
But 1914 was also an important date for another event. In this year the
Deutscher Werkbund organized a meeting at Reinpark in Cologne, Germany.
The Werkbund, a German association of artists, architects, designers founded
in Munich in 1917, was a state-sponsored association to integrate traditional
crafts and industrial mass-production techniques to put Germany on a com-
petitive footing with England and the United States. Its motto Vom Sofakissen
zum Städtebau (from sofa cushions to city-building) indicates its range of interest.
Animator and one of the founders was Herman Muthesius, a cultural ambas-
sador in England sent to research the reasons of the success and organization
of the English industry and, eventually, how to transfer in Germany this new
way of production.
In this period the Industrial Revolution was entering an expansion phase
showing its potential to establish a more democratic society. But, despite its
advantages, critics emerged pointing out the brutal impact on workers, cities
and lifestyle. Among others, English designers John Pugins and John Ruskin
were the most recognized and influential critics discussing the degradation of
man into a machine and affirming Art and Crafts as a way to save the world
and preserve creativity.
The two positions on standardized industrial production versus creative craft
manufacturing were the topic of this meeting, ironically synthesized by an il-
lustration appeared in a newspaper of that time.
Typisierung was the word and the subject of
the Muthesius’s intervention where «...mass
industrial production based on standardiza-
tion was seen as the answer to the economic
needs of the new era» [1989 – Helen Tatla, Idea and
Freedom] and the way to reach a universal good
taste. Against this position rose up Van de Vel-
de leading a group of artists and young archi-
tects like Walter Gropius and Bruno Taut claim-
ing for the individual creativity. The opposition between industrial production
and crafting manufacturing became the heart of the question. The First World
War was the test and the definitive overcoming of industrial manufacturing.
What differentiates industrial product from crafts?
If the querelle between Muthesius and Van de Velde is historically defined and
documented how can we describe this contrast today? Which facts and as-
pects can be assumed as elements of differentiation between industry and
Some authors wrote that differences are, mainly, on the industrial capacity
to produce a large number of products: to produce in assembly-line fashion
versus craftsmen who are not able to reach such amount of products. Others
point out that industry is a machinery-based production against the hand-
made fabrication of artists and craftsmen.
In reality, as history has shown, many examples demonstrate that these thesis
are not comprehensive enough.
In past civilizations, work-
ers were able to hand-make
thousands of bricks; today the
Space shuttle, a high technolo-
gy industrial object, is released
as a unique original product
demonstrating how the above
statements are wrong. It’s also
evident that artisans used and
are widely using machinery in
their works, sometimes very
So, what is the difference?
The difference is precision,
exactitude or in other words,
tolerance. In industrial manu-
facturing, precision is the
counterpart of failure; risk and
different products are classi-
fied in relation to the degree of
errors allowed. An airplane ad-
mits margins of failures much
more limited than a TV with a
safety availability very close to
100%. Accuracy and tolerance
control is the main key of in-
dustrial production affecting
not only safety but also cost
and quality in general. We can
state that the keywords of this
difference and the ontology of
the industrial production are
precision and zero tolerance.
• K. Arnold’s caricature on the 1914 Deutscher Werkbund
• hand made bricks on drying process
• Space stuttle
• levels of safe for equipments
• tolerances in design and manufacturing
From the more or less to precision.
A seminal article wrote in 1948 by the russian philosopher Alexander Koyré Du
monde de l’a-peu-pres a l’universe de la precision [From the world of the “more or less” to the
universe of precision] summed up this core question showing one of the most im-
portant factors effecting the modern western society since the 17th century.
According to the author, exactitude in the past was only related to the orbits
of celestial bodies. Before Galileo Galilei, science, numbers and measurements
were only used for the incorruptible heaven or for abstract geometry, not for
the daily life where everything continued to be faced with the logic of the
«more or less».
«No one ever sought to go beyond the practical usage of number, weight, and measure in the
imprecision of daily life – to count months and beasts, to measure distance and fields, to weigh
gold and corn – in order to turn it into an element of precise knowledge». (Koyré, 1948)
According to this thesis, for Koyré, one of the remarkable inventions that
changed the world was the pocket watch (today, we could say the personal
watch) that reached its full functionality around the end of the XVIII century.
Before this period watches were very huge, heavy and not really precise, built
from wood and working us-
ing water or gravity with the
Only convents or public build-
ings could have one of these
important machines.
All other people used quali-
tative instruments like hour-
glasses or seasons, sun and
moon cycles to regulate their
time, but with great approxi-
The invention of the pocket
watch followed a competi-
tion, launched in 1714 by the
Board of Longitude from an
idea of the mathematician W.
Whiston, in which was asked
to realize a portable time-
keeper to assist navigation.
The award was from 10,000 up to 20,000 pounds in relation of its precision
that the winner John Harrison, according to the chronicles, had to struggle
all his life to cash in. In 1735 after 5 years of trials, Harrison presented a model
as the development of his first experimental pendulum watch – the Number
One – that he made in 1713 entirely from wood and weighting 31 kg. The
timekeeper he presented, the H1, was the first of a long series of improve-
ments in which the pendulum was replaced with two springs. The marine
chronometer with full functionality arrived after a life of experiments with the
last two models, the H4 (1759) and the H5 (1769), that resized the watch to
the diameter of only 12 cm.
John Harrison’s Marine Chronometer
• Rupert Gould with ‘H3’ and one of the balances of ‘H2’,
• Model H3
• Model H4
Chinese wooden 1:48 scale model clock from 1092 A.C., moved by the pouring of
water into small buckets on a giant wheel. The weight of the water in the buckets
turned the wheel the distance of a spoke every 24 seconds. On the top of the tower
he installed an instrument called an Armillary sphere that represented the paths of
the Sun, the Moon and some important stars, as they crossed the sky.
Time control.
It is curious that some centuries later, industrial production started the assem-
bly line using the watch: the Watch Book.
The Watch Book was a book with a chronometer hidden into it introduced by
Frederick Winslow Taylor, the father of Scientific management, to check the
time required to make each elementary movements of the workers and to
rationalize the process of the assembly line.
It is not a coincidence that around the same years of Koyré, also Lewis Mum-
ford considered the watch and the scientific watch (the chronometer) as the
most important machine for the affirmation of the industrial society, more
than the steam machine. He stated that the chronometer provided the mas-
ter model for many other automatic machines, setting the standard for other
technological refinements and the interpretation of Nature and living organ-
isms. It rose as the symbol of mechanization: a new prospective exemplified
by the automata production flourished in the XVII and XVIII centuries. Above
all, it made possible the programming and the subjugation of the world to the
accuracy of time. In fact, as Mumford wrote, through time control we can live in
a world ordered and predictable where trains, planes, ships arrive on time with
accuracy comparable with heavenly bodies. Time quantification established
conditions to regulate and objectify each task of production; it gave Henry
Ford the opportunity to introduce the assembly line in car manufacturing:
a system where workers didn’t need specific or advanced expertise because
the simplification of their actions. With a scientific and objectified approach
to the production management, the «Model T» by Ford could be produced in
one hour and half instead the original twelve hours and in the new factory in
• Jacques Vaucanson, Digesting Duck, 1733-1734. A mechanical duck that was supposed
to defecate, but with a fraude.
• Frank and his wife Lillian Gilbreth, Worker movement tracking, 1914. Analytical
studies of the workers movements to maximize eciency in factories and construction
including the bricklaying. The studies were carried out with use of camera and lights to
track movements.
Highland Park, designed to accomplish the assembly line, every 24 seconds a
new car could be released on the market.
From 1908 to 1927 Ford produced 15 million Model T’s with a cost that passed
from 850 dollars (when the average cost of the competitors was around 2,000
dollars) to 260 dollars. As a result the Model T changed the life style of millions
of Americans introducing mobility, the same product (invariably black) for
everyone and populating the life of man with machines.
Mass production and well being for all.
Industrialization is inextricably
linked to the use of machines
and more specifically to those
machines equipped with an
engine able to function with-
out the contribution of animal
energy and capable to repeat
elementary operations tire-
lessly. For many observers, this
operational mode, achieved
using not only accidental, oc-
casional or partial means but
exclusively the machine rep-
resented the hallmark of in-
dustrial production and from
which derive other corollaries
such as repeatability, or serial
In addition to scientific and
technological development,
another important reason that
made possible the expansion
of the machine was the introduction of the concept of «economies of scale»
through which Capitalism was able to provide the necessary resources to realize
complex tools of exceptional value (internal economy of scale), besides the fact
that thanks to this large amount of money, Capitalists were also able to control
the market (external economy of scale). Financial concentration
with the ubiquity of the driving force, made possible by the first
steam power (and electricity some years later), allowed to put to work a large
• Apparatus for Catching and Suspending Hogs (1882) that inspired H. Ford
number of people and machines in a single place: under the roof of the factory.
The factory, landmark of the rising industry, was the place where work could
be carried out under controlled conditions and away from the unpredictably
of inclement weather.
In fact, the introduction of the steam engine by Watt and Bolton in 1769 and
then electricity marked a radical change in the ways of producing not only for
their potentialities to offer unimaginable power, but mainly because they of-
fered the conditions in which the use of energy was no longer bound to the
place of propellant supply: close to forests and woods when energy was given
by charcoal, near the rivers when energy was hydraulic.
In term of power, the change in the curve of productivity in the agricultural
sector is emblematic. With the advent of the machine agricultural productiv-
ity changed from few cultivated acres with some hundred pound of harvest
per person to 100 acres with a performance that today (depending on the
type of cultivation and cultivation techniques) may exceed even 500 tons of
harvest. It was an example that industrialization and machineries can ensure
well being for all.
These changes can be seen also in other sectors related to construction such
as the logging industry where it is easy to detect the massive leap in productivity
made possible by mechanization. A documented exposition in the transformation
process of logging due to the advent of the steam engine can be traced in The
Last Wilderness by Murray Morgan published in 1980. Mechanization of the log-
ging industry began with the introduction of the steam-engine «donkey» in 1882.
This led to a logging technique called “high-lead” logging. High-lead logging required a steam-
engine donkey, steel cables, a single, tall, standing “spar” tree. (M.Murray, 1980)
• trend of sugar price• man per tonnes productivity
In addition to the detailed description of the new technique, the author docu-
ments the resulting boost in production capacity, cost reduction and increas-
ing profits at the expense of a significant change in quality of life of employees.
High-lead logging sped the harvest and meant increased profits for the op-
erators, but not for the men who did this dangerous work. As mechanization
continued, and fewer loggers were needed in the forest, many were laid off.
Morgan reports that tensions increased in the camps as the economic gap be-
tween the operators and workers widened and injuries on the job multiplied.
This was the price to pay to make possible the miracle of mechanization, to
enable man to dramatically enhance their biological capacities that as Mum-
ford wrote in the early 60s could now converse to 5,000 miles away, but can
also kill at a distance of 5,000 yards.
The increasing human capacity could only be realized with a parallel transfor-
mation of his own life rhythms, increasingly regulated by the accelerated and
tireless machine and subjugating its existence to the accuracy in a world fear-
ful of unexpected and populated by objects rather than by men and natural
Division of labor.
The labor regulation in the sheltered factory to protect workers from the unpre-
dictable and seasonal weather also ensured that the work organization could
suit more and more the operational manner of machines made of accuracy
and rhythms transcending the limits of human endurance. The term which
commonly identified this new way of organizing production is the «division
of labor»: a breakdown into basic and low-expertise activities that expanded
the availability of workers, including preschool children, as an efficient way to
regulate the mechanisms of labor demand/supply in favour of the owners of
the means of production. These are the negative aspects of industrialization
combined with the ugliness of the working-class suburbs widely known and
discussed since the analysis of sociologists such as Auguste Comte and Henri
Saint-Simon, philosophers such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and demo-
cratic theorists such as Alexis de Tocqueville.
This new way of organizing the work found its first systematic applications in
the ceramic industry in the second half of 700, in the district of Staffordshire
due to the activities of Josiah Wedgwood.
An eclectic person interested in science and technique, Wedgwood pushed as
far as the times would permit a significant mechanization of all the operations
of its plants by introducing, as a necessary complement, the precise division
of labor that, in the past, was reunited in the artisan. With such innovations
and the rationalization of the forms of his ceramics (using neoclassical style)
he was able to produce in large quantities and constant quality: considerable
aspects that in a few years brought its brand to be appreciated and used in
many British homes.
According to many observers, this new way of organizing production, and
more precisely the social «division of labor», had already been used in some
preindustrial organizations such as convents, the army, the bureaucratic struc-
ture of the rising nation-states and in the new way of conceiving the world
triggered by the Cartesian analytical thinking. Ways of thinking that explod-
ed the entirety and accelerated the processes of marginalization of figures
such as craftsman and artist: men who live from their work, for their work and,
thanks to it, drew reasons for their fullness of life.
Henry Ford is, undoubtedly, the historical reification, the icon of the success
of this new way of production that will transform the studies on the division
of labor in pragmatic organization of his factory: an organization based on
the assembly line, that someone said he borrowed from the slaughter lines
observed in Chicago. A solution that allowed him to reduce immediately the
assembly time of a steering wheel from twenty to five minutes/man.
More prosaically, it was a maturation of a process that led to extend scientific
knowledge from manufacturing machineries to procedures and organizations
inside and outside the factories. It was the foregone conclusion of a histori-
cal moment where science and technology were seen as the way to achieve
wealth and prosperity among the people and where the faith on divine enti-
ties was finally replaced by the more tangible, earthly and secular social pro-
Separation between mind and hand: the Scientific Management.
The taylorist division of labor concluded a long process of separation between
mind and hand started in the Renaissance; between intellectual and manual
laborer; between those who think and those who act. The final result was the
emerging of programming as a distinct phase, anticipation and guide of ra-
tional action. Taylor confirm this idea applied to the cost reduction: «... the
cost of production is lowered by separating the work of planning and the
brain work as much as possible from the manual labor». [1911 – F. W.Taylor, Shop
Management]. As a result, very quickly, the role and the figure of intellectuals will
change to become, soon, professionals.
Walter Rathenau and Henry Ford required that artists and masters are expe-
rienced in the industrial system. The intellectual must engage in productive
work or, conversely, he may rebel making useless machines, practicing the
futility, the futuristic provocation, the nihilism dada, the surreal absurd or the
formalist tautology as ways of asserting their independence and survival.
As a science of Capital, design will not cover only products, but also tasks to
produce them in a way that a new specialized discipline rose: the manage-
ment, strategic and indispensable element for the modern industry. Its specif-
ic result will be the so-called «One Best Way», the standard by which objectify
the more fruitful way to produce or perform any activity, regardless rhythms,
attitudes and competencies.
In the transition from a working way based on the skills of the worker-crafts-
man to the scientific organization of production, engineer and technician
gradually assume an importance previously unknown. Their tasks are clearly
separated from production. On the other hand, they deal with the concep-
tion, programming and control. Production shift from an empirical approach
to a scientific organization where the decision-making power of the individual
worker is lost. Procedures are now founded on objective rules which «specify
not only what you should do, but also how it should be done, and determine
exactly the time allocated for the execution. » [1911 – F. W.Taylor, Scientific Management].
What happens is the expropriation of the craftsman know-how, and its own
power on salary negotiation, because the standardization of elementary func-
tions and de-skilling every job will make them interchangeable.
In Taylor’s words the model worker is «... an individual who has, to a greater or
lesser degree, the characteristics of an ox, heavy in mind and body». [Ibidem] or,
at best, a person incapable to manage knowledge «... so vast and numerous
that the most suitable worker can not understand for lack of education or in-
sufficient intellectual capacity» [Ibidem]. In this de-skilling of the worker, Ford will
not be outdone. He highlighted not only a vision of the division of labor but
also of the human race, based on «...a general inequality of human qualities
[that] ...for certain types of brains to think it is a pain». [1922 – H. Ford, My Life and Work]
The birth of the Industrial Designer.
With the modern world a new kind of professional rose: the designer, a person
that investigate the world and act for its transformation through the drawing.
Leonardo da Vinci was the icon. Later, with the advent of industrialization, this
figure turned slowly into the industrial designer. Michael Thonet was the fore-
runner and Peter Behrens, working at the Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft
(AEG), starred as the first recognized Industrial Designer.
According to Mart Stam, industrial designers were the people who were stud-
ying new materials. Gui Bonsiepe wrote that the term industrial designer was
employed for the first time in the U.S. in 1919 by Klivar [1979 – Klivar, M., The dialect of
industrial design and industrial art, in Czechoslovak Industrial design].
Industrial designers were those that created the styling; and now who is de-
signing communication, media, entertainment and information. All sectors
that enhanced the specific field and ability of the designer: working with im-
ages. Early excellent interpreters were, as mentioned above, Peter Beherens
and then El Lissitzky, Alexander Rodchenko; engineering designer Richard
Buckminster Fuller; designer trainers Walter Gropius and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
at the Bauhaus, Emile Ruder at the Basle Kunstgeerbeschule, Josef Albers at
Cranbrook, Max Bill and Tomas Maldonado at Ulm. These were characters mo-
tivated to think that the mass production would be the only opportunity for
democracy and technology, joining design, would have produced solutions
against social inequality. This was also the auspicious of Henry Cole, the cura-
tor of the famous1851 World Expo, that through the «Journal of Design» from
1849 to 1852 disclosing the industrial design and stated that designers had to
serve humanity rather than gratify the élite.
• M. Thonet, Konsumstuhl Nr.14, 1859
•P. Beherens, AEG logo, 1907
• A. Rodchenko, Design for cup and
saucer, 1922
• B. Fuller, Autonomous living unit,
• Max Bill, Kitchen watch with timer,
Cross fertilization.
However, the methods of the first designers were very often borrowed from
crafts and from the highly intuitive practices of art and more in particular of
the applied arts. An extraordinary example of this mixing was the Konsumstühl
Nr.14, where cleverness and empirical experiments on curved wood, allowed
Michael Thonet to create a revolutionary object sold in more than 50 millions
of copies form 1851 to the 1930.
Another and maybe the most famous example of the overlapping between
crafting and industrialization was the Cristal Palace designed by Paxton (1851).
An amazing architecture build in the industrialized fashion but conceived
without the necessary knowledge of the elastic behaviour of materials and
the scientific calculation available today. It was assembled in only four and half
months putting together different elements from different factories and taken
down after few years to be reassembled in another place.
Many examples show how designers and builders were using new materials
and technologies looking back at past knowledge. One of them is the first iron
cast Bridge on the River Severn (1871), where Abraham Darby III (the third of
the famous dynasty that started the iron production in the near Coalbrook-
dale) in order to realize the bridge – according to Sigfried Giedion – conceived
the structure copying past stone wedges organization, and – according to
others – assembled the 378 tons differently casted pieces, adapting the wood-
working-style joints.
The accuracy of science and technology and the methods of modern industry
continued to be underutilized even in the Bauhaus: the school recognized as
the cradle of the Modern Movement. «Building inventing and discovering ob-
serving» was the slogan through which the Bauhaus summed up its teaching
methodology. Methodology according to which their students were making
observations and experiments in order to recompose it into a theory that, es-
pecially at the beginning, was reluctant to be conceived in scientific ways and
The teaching criteria of their laboratories, close to the contemporary peda-
gogical ideas of Montessori and Steiner, were very far from what Descartes
had hoped some centuries before.
As we can read from the Bauhaus Manifesto, Gropius expressly referred the
centrality of the craftsman in the pedagogical program.
Architects, painters, sculptors, we must all return to crafts! For there is no such thing as “profes-
sional art”. There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman. The artist is an
exalted craftsman. By the grace of Heaven and in rare moments of inspiration which transcend
the will, art may unconsciously blossom from the labor of itshand, but a base in handicrafts
is essential to every artist. It is there that the original source of creativity lies. Let us therefore
create a new guild of craftsmen without the class-distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier
between craftsmen and artists! Let us desire, conceive, and create the new building of the future
together.» [1919 – W. Gropius, Bauhaus Manifesto]
We cannot forget that the «Sächsische Bauhaus», founded in 1919, was the re-
sult of the fusion of a historic Academy of Fine Arts with a school of crafts: the
«Kunstgewerbe Schule» promoted by the last Grand Duke of Sachsen Weimar
and founded in 1903 by Van de Velde. Basically and especially at the begin-
ning, it was an academy innervated by a certain kind of crafts: cultured and
refined on the model initiated few decades earlier in England.
In the beginning, also the taste that inspired the industrial products was taken
from forms and styles of the past.
It was a long process that led to recognized new expressive potentiality. In the
printing manufacture, the sector that experienced the first mechanization, it
took over sixty years to see the release of a book finally free from the imitation
of the Gothic manuscripts and the adoption of simple and linear fonts, print-
able in small bodies and suitable for economic editions. It was a landing point,
which was accomplished after many years since the DK type forged in heavy
shapes of the Germans Gothic manuscripts was introduced.
Simplification and Modularity.
The Gutenberg’s invention is to be considered the forerunner of industrial pro-
duction. From the first 42- line Bible printed out on February 23, 1455 in 180
copies in few years the technology of the movable type allowed to press a
page in 20 seconds and, later with the introduction of the steam power, to
spread out thousands of economic copies across Europe. The new idea, an-
ticipating industrial manufacturing, was using minimum units, repeatable and
interchangeable: always the same regardless of the page to produce. Con-
cepts and methodologies such as standardization, modularity, and product
serialization are already those that, 400 years later, characterized the Industrial
Many years later, typography is still the place where we can see the transition
from craft and expressionistic approaches to the aesthetic forms of objectifica-
tion and mechanization.
In 1922, as part of the publishing activities of the Bauhaus, Itten edited a book
on the masters’ works of antiquity receiving criticisms form Oskar Schlemmer
due to the lack of readability of the pages.
The page composition strongly expressionist, designed by contrast of the de-
sign elements, printed on characters mixed with calligraphic notations cer-
tainly couldn’t receive approval from the one who wished sobriety, minimalist
and compositional colour control for the benefit of a clear usability and sim-
And one year later for the first Bauhaus exhibition all the promotional mate-
rial was conformed to a style mainly using lower case and sans serif fonts.
Pages were designed on a clear layout based on a precise compositional grid,
geometric shapes and colours that, in history, will remain the recognizable
Bauhaus style and identity.
This change of style wasn’t so obvious and without criticism. In Germany the
printing industry was still firmly anchored to the heavy richness of Gothic
characters. The arrival of Moholy Nagy at the Bauhaus contributed greatly to
the introduction of the new typographic style and to renovate the design ap-
proach. The machine and the industrial manufacturing potentialities became
an indispensable reference for the designer. Besides the aim to give readabil-
ity, the new characters advocated by Schlemmer and Moholy-Nagy, was also
and certainly the intention to move towards the standardization as a means to
reduce the cost of print production.
In the book Die neue Typographie, published for the Bauhaus in 1923 by Mo-
holy-Nagy, it’s possible to find many and varied experiments. Sui generis was
the research of Kurt Schwitters and Jan Tschichold, in which the readability
was achieved through the creation of an alphabet inspired by the phonetics.
A solution that will be picked up by Bayer in 1959, when he was teaching at
MIT, for the realization of the (today still in use) Fonetik alphabet of the English
Most well-known and still used with minor adjustments in the world of digital
publishing is the character P22 Bayer Universal commissioned by Gropius in
1925 in order to have a standard typeface Bauhaus. The character that finally
could equally well be used for printing, but also for writing machine and hand-
writing saw the light in 1927 inside the Bauhaus by the collaboration of Her-
bert Bayer, Denis Kegler and Richard Kegler. For these reasons authors named
it «Universal».
It was a geometric character, of course tiny and sans-serif, whose generative
matrix was given by a mainly continuous line and designed using three arches
in combination with horizontal and vertical segments. In a way it could be
considered the normalization of the calligraphic characters studied by Itten
and used in the first printing phase of the Bauhuas.
A research even more radical was the Kombinationschrift of Joseph Albers in which
standardization is generated by the combination (hence the name) of characters of
only ten primary elements arising from the forms of the circle and the rectangle.
Those experiments can be seen as diametrically opposed and seminal ap-
proaches in the Industrial Design practice: the P22 Bayer Universal font, where
simplification is pursued in the first instance through the use of line that uni-
fies; the Kombinationschrift, where simplification is pursued by combining a
minimum number of standardized modules.
This new philosophy to approach design was reflected in many products de-
signed in those years at the Bauhaus. Combination as a way to create objects
is very clear in the Bauspiel Ein Schiff, a wooden children toy a for ships build-
ing designed by Alma Buscher that can be considered the precursor of Lego.
• H. Bayer, D.Kegler R. Kegler, P22 Bayer
• J. Albers , Kombinationschrift
• A. Buscher, Bauspiel Ein Schiff
Towards a new Designers.
When finally the Bauhaus moved to Dessau the transition towards a designer
that work for (and inside) industry was almost completed. In 1924 Gropius met
for the first time the governor of the city Fritz Hesse. At that time Dessau was
one of the few German cities still under the leadership of social democratic:
the place where the largest industrial chemistry (IG Farben ) and metallurgy
had established their headquarters. It was the exact opposite of Weimar. The
large employment opportunities had triggered a rapid and chaotic develop-
ment where in only three years, from 1925 to 1928, the population grew from
50,000 to 80,000 inhabitants.
Here the powerful group of Junkers with their aircraft production plants and
metal factories could be taken as a symbol of the city as well as Goethe could
be of Weimar.
The theoretical writings of Gropius between 1923 and 1925 was addressed
to redesign a new professional training, compatible with the industrial needs
and promising a new technician free of any artistic affectation and anarchism.
In Gropius’s words the new designer, the industrial designer was supposed to
be «a new type of designer, absent in the past, as contributor to the industry,
for the trades and construction and, at the same time, with techniques and
form expertise».
Words that sound like a denial of the artisan and antithetical to the first mani-
festo of the school where the identification with the craftsmanship was stated
as the educational philosophy.
The emerging interest in the machine, absent in the early Bauhaus, and the
identification of the designer into the industrial designer will find more space
and a first systematic treatise in his book Idee und Aufbau des Staatlichen Bau-
hauses, Weimar written in the same year, 1923.
From this radical change of opinion, Gropius came out two years later with a
brilliant intuition able to reach a reasonable mediation in his philosophy about
industrial design.
This mediation that we can assume as an interesting definition of the indus-
trial designer is shown in two sentences taken from the article der Grundsätze
Bauhausproduktion of 1925 that can be summarized as follows:
The craftsman of the past has changed, the craftsman of the future will result in a new unit
of work, which will make him the exponent of experimentation to be applied in the industrial
production. [...] The new training mission of the Bauhaus is therefore to form “model builders
“ with a broad culture , trained in laboratory practices and with accurate knowledge of the
mechanical methods of reproduction. [1925 – W. Gropius, der Grundsätze Bauhausproduktion]
A brilliant definition able to recover intuitive methods, sometimes irrational
and creative, inside the industrial manufacturing when seemed that exactness
and mechanization had rejected because inadequate: these qualities were re-
admitted in prototyping laboratories.
Following Gropius, we can therefore say that the industrial designer is a person
with technical knowledge about materials, that is able to accomplish manu-
facture needs of industry and able to reunify everything, through experimen-
tal research and creativity, in a coherent form.
Science and Technology in Design.
With great pomp and celebration on December 4, 1926 the Bahuas moved to
Dessau in the new headquarters designed by Gropius.
In the new school interests in the materials grew up with a particular reference
to their physical and mechanical properties rather than their perception. Train-
ing was more based on research and objective methodologies.
With Josef Albers, who took over from 1928, the Vorkurs (the preparatory
course) was updated with specific focus on materials. Lessons and exercises
were held in an «objective» fashion and theory was accompanied by factories
visits. The practical exercises will be conducted on three-dimensional investi-
gations, more oriented to the construction process, based on form resistance
and aimed to assess the physical capabilities of materials.
This orientation was also the reflection of new positions that had already start-
ed in the early Twenties by the members of the Costructivism and the De Stijl
movent and that had gathered around the Hans Richter’s magazine G-Material
zur elementaren Gestaltung. In this magazine, Mies (seven years before he took
over the leadership of the school) wrote:
We refuse to recognize formal problems , we recognize only construction problems.
The shape is not the purpose of our work, only the result .
The form itself does not exist.
The shape as purpose is pure formalism and we reject it. (1923 – M. van der Rohe )
As a result of this transformation the Vorkurs was supplemented by a new
course taught by Oskar Schlemmer, whose aim was to examine some of the
main components of man: the proportional relationships and the movements
of his body; psychological aspects as the expression of his being; philosophy
and history of the spirit as expression of his intellect.
A few years later Meyer, as a new director of the Bauhaus, invited psychologist
Karlfried Graf Dürckheim to hold lectures; the art historian Karel Teige to dis-
seminate the principles of the new theory of the Wissenschaftliche Weltauffas-
sung (the scientific conception of the world); some of the leading exponents
of the logical positivism from the Vienna Circle, including Otto Neurath, Her-
bert Feigl, Rudolf Carnap and Walter Dubislav.
All of these transformations had an important meaning on design showing
how science started to enter art and technique and, as a result, that technol-
ogy became an indispensable component of design from where Industrial
Design emerged.
Concepts that were taken up and developed twenty years later in the teach-
ing of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm (HfG ), the most important design
school of the Postwar. Opened in 1955 by the Scholl Brothers Foundation
and commissioned by Inge Scholl in memory of her brothers killed by the
Nazis in 1943, the school was the natural evolution of the scientific approach
and the productivist commitment emerged into the Bauhaus and, more than
there, in the Soviet Vchutemas. Teachers of the school were eminent figures
of the industrial and graphic design such as: Max Bill (founder, director untill
1597 and student of the Bauhaus under Johannes Itten, Josef Albers, Walter
Peterhans); Thomas Maldonado (his successor); Otl Aicher; Gui Bonsiepe; Hans
Gugelot , Walter Zeischegg that, among the main innovations, introduced in-
novative teachings including history of culture, cybernetics, information the-
ory, systems theory, semiotics, ergonomics; in short, the new sciences of the
50’s giving the courses a strong epistemological foundation. New fields of re-
search entered the design discipline: technical mathematics, physics, political
science, psychology, semiotics, sociology, theory of science, product design,
component design, visual communication, industrialized building, informa-
tion and filmmaking.
Modeling research vs regulatory technique.
During these transformations, in which design evolved towards more formal-
ized approaches it’s possible to observe two opposite directions.
Jean-Pierre Epron, in his Essai sur la formation d’un savoir technique (1977) not-
ed that in the formation of a «constructive knowledge», as a response to an
increasing need for generalized control on the building processes, two differ-
ent approaches emerged: one was the logical deductive method based on
modeling; the other, the empirical inductive method based on the regulatory
Under the modern point of view the first approach started with Galileo Galilei
and the New Science, to flourish during the XVII century, especially with the
work of René Descartes. The second with Francis Bacon and the Anglo-Saxon
empiricism, but even with the French encyclopaedists to reach, in construc-
tion, the high level of the German technical manuals. But in the real appli-
cations of constructions these two opposite approaches were never used in
their orthodox formulation.
Indeed in many cases, experimentation based on logical deductions or em-
pirical observations of some clever practitioners had to clash strongly against
strict regulation techniques produced by scientific calculations or widely
shared and recognized.
Among many examples, we can highlight the battle that the George A. Fuller
Company had to wage against the technical offices of New York to see accept-
ed the framed structure steel, the technology that the company had already
successfully employed in the
majority of all the buildings
known in the architectural
history as the Chicago School.
Another was the famous load
tests that F.L. Wright had to
lead on the pillars of Johnson
Wax Administration Building
in order to obtain all the per-
missions to build. Another
relevant case is exemplified
by Robert Maillart in a period
in which German engineers
and scientists had developed
elaborate mathematical tech-
niques that didn’t need any
load test to verify construc-
tion structures but, at the
same time, that excluded
any solution that cannot be
verified with their calculation
methods. Methods derived
from the adaptation of the
available techniques and from
the previously built buildings.
• R. Maillart, Salginatobel Bridge under construction, , at 1929 to 1930.
• F.L. Wright, Johnson Wax Administration Building’s mushroom pillar load test, 1936
Using different methods based on the simplified calculation technique derived
from his mentor Richter, but above all, using intuition, common sense and full
scale experiment, Robert Maillart was able to conceive and build structures
never seen before, considerably cheaper and more elegant, although often
opposed because deviating from standard controls.
Drawing as an epistemological practice.
The forerunner who defied the norm and conventions and through rational
experimentation tried the path of innovation is certainly Leonardo da Vinci.
Among others, Leonardo will be the first to declare that art needed to be sup-
ported by scientific knowledge and even that science has to be founded on
mathematical proof.
«Nissuna umana investigazione si po’ dimandare vera scienzia, se essa non passa per le ma
tematiche dimostrazioni. E se tu dirai che le scienzie, che principiano e finiscano nella mente,
abbiano verità, questo non si concede, ma si niega per molte ragioni; e prima, che in tali discorsi
mentali non accade esperienzia, senza la quale nulla dà di sé certezza» (Leonardo da Vinci, LdP I, 1).
It is good to clarify that in his time mathematics was equivalent to geometry
whose demonstrations and theoretical apparatus began to be used for the
practical life applications.
Mathematics was therefore equivalent to the geometry where demonstra-
tions were analogical, not analytical, carried out through graphical representa-
tions and drafting was the essential tool.
In fact, as many historians wrote, the Renaissance was the period where arose
the awareness that drawing is not just a medium of representation, but an
instrument of knowledge, an epistemological discipline.
In recent years, Edward Robbins in his book Why architects draw extends the
concept with these words:
Drawing in architecture is not done after nature but prior to construction, it is not so much pro-
duced by reflection on the reality outside drawing, as productive of a reality that will end draw-
ing up outside.
We can conclude affirming that drawing could be an instrument to investigate Nature in order
to know it’s internal laws and, in a more practical way, a tool to transform it. (E. Robbins, 1994)
But if the Renaissance celebrated the primacy of drawing, this device, as op-
erational practice, was certainly not born in that time. The lack of direct docu-
mentation of the periods that preceded the introduction of the paper-rags
(1173) and paper in general is certainly one of the main causes of the lack of
knowledge of this practice before the fifteenth century.
Parchment was a rare thing indeed, in a period when scarcity was widespread.
It was reserved for official scriptures of some importance and/or solemnity. The
technical design of the buildings was mainly carried out directly on site and,
often, on whitewashed wooden tablets or plaster slabs. We know that sculp-
Leonardo da Vinci, Anotomical drawing, around 1510
• Force visualization on a Gothic cathedral using polarized light and plexiglass (R. Mark, ‘70s)
• Riccardo Morandi’s bridge studies, 1987/ 1989
tures were drawn on the walls of spacious lounges and remained on display
for the evaluation of commissioners. On the construction site, floors or walls
just erected could be used as suitable supports to draw solutions and how to
proceed with the construction. But even in the scarcity of proofs, we have to
agree that drawing was also already a practice of epistemological value.
An example is the famous notebook or Livre de Portraiture by Villard de Hon-
necourt designed by the Picard architect-engineer in the decade from 1225
to 1235. Inside we can appreciate figures of various topic: pseudo-perspective,
examples of architectural buildings traced using approximate orthogonal pro-
jections, descriptions of measurement methods and instruments.
During those years, the measurement became, a major concern in the practice
of builders and, more generally, for drawing craftsman. According to scholars,
this can be connected to travels that in the first centuries of the Millennium
started again especially towards the East. Consequently, the production of
nautical and territorial charts flourished based on techniques and tools from
the Arab world and as a refinement of instruments used in antiquity.
Vitruvius told us of different measuring instruments. Ancient Romans used
sundials, developed by the Greeks, to measure angles, topography techniques
inherited from the ancient Egyptians where there were highly developed be-
cause their need to conduct continuous perimeters of land overflowed by
the Nile. With such techniques, and in combination with the Babylonians,
Egyptians made the first maps already in the third Millenno BC. Always from
the Egyptians, Romans had inherited the plumb line, perfect in the Crocera
or Groma: a metal cross from the ends of which descended four-wire lead to
check orthogonal alignments. For their impressive hydraulic works, Romans
invented several instruments such as the archipendolo; the calibro; the libella;
the lychnia, an altimeter that exploited the properties of similarity of triangles
to measure heights of unreachable objects; the chorobates, an instrument
consisting of a wooden pole about six meters long with a channel filled with
water to level and plumb lines to guide the measurement of height differ-
ences; in late imperial age, the odometro to measure the distance travelled.
These instruments were then studied and continually improved refining
techniques to realize other devices such as the Quadrante: a simplification
for builders of the Abstrolabium the most widely measurement tool from the
Arabic word Asturlâh, whose origin is traced back to several centuries before
Christ for astronomical applications.
It wasn’t a world without science and instruments. It was simply a world that
reasoned and worked differently. It worked through the “analogical syllogism” of
descriptive geometry and tools resulting from the observation of phenomena
and error correction. The ineffable knowledge of quality based on evidence.
• •
• Villard de Honnecourt, Livre de Por traiture, 1225 -35
• Chorobates, Archipendolo, Groma, Lichnya , Odometro (di Vitruvio).
Numbers, measurements and design objectivation.
We have to wait until the end of the XV century to see numbers as draw-
ing specifications. Among the most ancient testimonies are some drawings of
Francesco di Giorgio Martini. Between 1494/95, during his military engineer-
ing services for the courts of Naples and Calabria, he went to the Roman city
of Casinum handing down sketches of ornaments and decorations and other
drawings of a building, perhaps identifiable in the school of Marco Varrone,
with some measurement specification. The San Gallo family was the architec-
tural firm that more than any other architects used numbers and measure-
ments. They used to start with some sort of study of the status quo, carried
out with all the measuring instruments available and providing detailed and
accurate descriptions and related measures from which to proceed to the
subsequent realization of the project.
Despite these historical antecedents, however, it was not until the Sixteenth
century that the number would start to accompany drawings in a more stable
manner offering an instrument to assure control and precision in design. For
example, the precision of the Palladio’s drawing and architectures was due to
a very refined use of the modularity rather then a precise measurements. In
fact, Rudolph Wittkower asserts Reinassance architecture as a science was due
• R. Ikeda - data.tron / data.scan
to the mathematical ratio used by the architect and especially for Palladio due
to the harmonic proportions derived from musical scales.
However, it’s fairly clear that, also in drawing and design the world of «more or
less» was slowly turning into precision.
The instrument that, during the Renaissance, pushed towards the direction of
precision is the Prospettiva.
Although perspective is an innovation that is still deeply linked to knowledge
and ways of working of the craftsman, the introduction of perspective (1420)
represented a significant opportunity for such a society that, at the turn of the
Middle Ages into Modernity, was searching for «pondere et mensura», for a
system of measurement based on quantity rather than qualitative compari-
son. As a result, in the later centuries quality will be relegated to the inaccu-
rate work of the craftsman and to the arbitrary practices of the creative genius
of artists.
In addition to the perspective frame there followed many tools for surveying and
drawing: compasses of various shapes and with different functions by Leonardo,
Antonio da San Gallo the young, Albrecht Dürer; circini for the correct design of
a variety of geometries that are represented in the Theatrum instrumentorum et
machinarum, published in Lyon in 1578 by Jacques Besson.
• A. Dürer, perspectograph
Quality vs Quantity. From analogical to analytical.
With the introduction of perspective as operational practice of design there
is the deep epistemological change that – by convention – started in 1630,
when Galileo Galilei published his Discorsi and culminated with sir Isaac New-
ton’s work.
It was a profound change that will affect the methods of production, living,
thinking and designing.
This will mark the passage, as stated by Fulvio Carmagnola, «from a qualitative
quality to a quantitative quality»; from a description of the world in qualitative
to a quantitative way. A new world where the way of describing in terms of
measurable quantities and quality was seen as an ontological diseases.
This transition is well explained by Fulvio Carmagnola:
Nel modello aristotelico, influente fino agli albori dell’epoca moderna, la scienza è una definizione
• Ciro Najle, Force eld
• Ciro Naile, Branching
• Frei Otto, numbered diagram
for cutting pattern of the
membrane for the tensile
Montreal Universal Expo Ger-
man Pavilion , 1968
• Le Corbousier, Making
diagram at the Triennale in
Milan, 1951
• Asymptote, New York Stock
Exchange virtual inhabitable
diagram, 2001
•MVRDV, Metacity/Datatown,
Sector Waste, 1991
•MVRD/Berlage Institute,
Global Trends, Gap Diagram,
KM3: Growing population vs
Resources decreasing.
qualitativa (non metrica) delle essenze individuali, basata su un’ontologia pluralistica Nei secoli a ve-
nire la comprensione del mondo si distaccherà sempre più da modelli di conoscenza aristotelici fondati
sull’intuizione e sul riconoscimento delle differenze qualitative, ma attraverso la specificazione quantita-
tiva di attributi. Di conseguenza lo spazio e la sua rappresentazione non sarà più una varietà fenomeno-
logica gerarchicamente organizzata, ma un’entità astratta e indistinta la cui unica descrizione possibile
e la sua identità possono darsi solo attraverso la misura. (1991 – F. Carmagnola, I luoghi della Qualità)
[In the Aristotelian model, inuential until the dawn of the modern era, science is a qualitative denition (non-
metric) of the individual essences, based on an pluralistic ontology. Centuries later, the understanding of the world
will detach himself more and more from the Aristotelian knowledge models based on intuition and on the recogni-
tion of qualitative dierences, but through the quantitative specication of attributes. As a result the space and its
representation will no longer be a phenomenological variety hierarchically organized, but an abstract and indistinct
entity where the only possible description and identity can be achieved only through the measurement].
From the point of view of design, this transition will involve a process of ab-
straction increasingly pushed ahead until the final outcome that is the digital
While Perspective in architecture was playing its baroque exaggerations, math-
ematics started that revolutions that influenced design and architecture: the
new instruments is Cartesian space and functions. The Cartesian doubt makes
a clean sweep of perspectival space and in its place substitutes a plane defined
by the values of X, Y: a new space describable with the elegance of numbers
and mathematical formulas of functions.
From this moment onwards the Aristotelian geometry was threatened by a
new approach that it is no longer the syllogism but numerical modeling.
With numerical modeling the behaviour of materials and the structures resist-
ance were studied and more recently, morphological generation.
The first examples of architectural form generation directly affected by math-
ematical modeling and in particular by applied geometry were fortifications
and bastions of urban development that occurred from the sixteenth to the
nineteenth century. Walls and urban shape of medieval towns related to the
morphology of the site were replaced by an «abstract» design fruit of ballis-
tic calculations, crossfire, or lines that organize gaps and the arrangements of
the ramparts. Modeling reality will no longer be entrusted to wax, gypsum or
wood, but to mathematics: an abstraction process even more stringent and
less and less comprehensible to the majority of people that, at a distance of
about half a century since the perspective frame, can now make use of a new
and powerful tool. This new tool is the computer, or more precisely the «per-
sonal computer», capable of carrying the design in the universe of precision
and its fashion modes in those of the industrial manufacturing.
From digital drafting to construction automation.
A new jump occurred in the ‘80s when the «personal computer» (the tool) and
digital information (the medium) of the 2D CAD started to enter architecture
and building construction in general.
In 1977 Apple II, Commodore PET 2001, and TRS-80 were sold and advertised as
«personal computers». 1982 was the year when the first release of AutoCAD was
launched and CATIA ( Version 1) was announced as an add-on product for 3D
design, surface modeling and NC programming. Two years later Apple put on
the market The Macintosh, the first successful mass-market personal computer
based on the Motorola 6800 microprocessor, but above all, the first mouse-
driven computer with the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointers). graphi-
cal user interface.
The new machines offered designers an instrument to work in the industrial
manner, reducing tolerance and making drafts easy to edit and to reply in mul-
tiple and identical copies.
During the ‘90s, thanks to this instrument and in addition to the software evolu-
tion architects discovered that new forms could be possible to conceived, but
very difficult to realize in the physical world. 3D modeling was opening a new
frontier in drafting, but very controversial in design application. In fact, assem-
bling materials in the complex shapes generated by 3D software was able to
offer was a very complicated task. Other software came out to help designers,
civil engineering, and project managers but these new tools weren’t able to
affect the construction phase where activities remained largely handmade and
the lager amount of work continued to be carried on site.
A new scenario in construction started in the last 20/15 years in constructions
after the Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), supported by the Computer
Numerically Controlled (CNC) production, was introduced in some industries
like aerospace, automotive and shipbuilding, in fields where reliability is very
important. All fields historically very close to the buildings construction that
prepared the technology transfer and allowed to turn construction from craft-
ing to industrial manufacturing.
The tradition of this bond is – for example – evidenced by Palladio in Piazza
dei Signori in Venice that used shipbuilder masters to realize the roof of the
basilica; by the concrete formwork workers mainly from the shipyards; by the
Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxyon House or by Renzo Piano that has always re-
membered how he looked at the shipbuilding technology as a source for his
experimentations. In principle, the use of CAD in conjunction with the CAM
was used by architects at small scale working in product design, especially
for building components, where digitally driven machineries operated design
and fabrication. Today, advanced Robotic Technology is able to manage the
construction of the whole building even if, as Leslie Cousineau and Nobuyasu
Miura, on «Construction Robots: The Search for new Building Technology in
Japan» quoting Shigeru Sakamoto wrote:
Building is stationary and robots must change their location [...] in construction, the product
is custom-made and robots must be reprogrammed to operate given new conditions. [...]
Each building is a custom-designed product. The same form is seldom repeated. Its shear size
prohibits assembly line movement. Its shear size prohibits line movements. Building materials
and componente are much larger and heavier than most industrial materials. Buildings are also
made of many kinds of materials, and each material may be a different shape. Building materi-
als also are not as precisely fabricated as required for most industrial materials.
[1998 – Leslie Cousineau and Nobuyasu Miura,]
Digital information as a new standard.
As a result, also the Architecture Engineering and Construction (AEC) indus-
try started to experiment the zero tolerance production. Materials could be
shaped and crafted to achieve particular design goals and purpose fitting ex-
actly the visualization that architects are able to produce with their computer
software. Standardization of elements was anymore a technique to build in an
industrial way and –at the same time– a limit to make architecture. Nowadays
standardization is only in the medium. The digital information is the standard
that designers, industry and craftsmen are sharing as language to perform
• Richard Buckminster Fuller, Dymaxyon Car, 1933 and Dymaxion House 1944-46
their works and professions unifying and streamlining the process.
This process is called File to factory. A process in which data flow from the
architect’s computer straight to numerically controlled (CNC) machines and
fabrication technologies. Prepared drawing files are used to cut, to bend or to
realize molds useful to fabricate elements and components to be assembled.
The first example, historically recognized where CAD/CAM was used to realize
a large-scale object related to building construction, was driven by the Ghery
Partners firm. His first work using CAD/CAM was the Fish Sculpture or Barce-
lona Fish (1992), a huge sculpture forming a landmark for the Olimpic village
and anchoring a retail complex designed by Gehry Partners within a larger
hotel development by Skidmore, Owing & Merill.
This fish sculpture, a landmark in the history of Frank O. Gehry & Associates,
inaugurated the use of computer-aided design and manufacturing putting
the firm in a pivotal role in the advent of digital technology in construction.
The project’s financial and scheduling constraints prompted James M. Glymph,
a partner in the firm, to search for a computer program that would facilitate
the design and the construction process, leading to the adoption of CATIA
(Computer Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application) an aerospace in-
dustry software by the French company Dassault Systems.
In this work the sculpture was modeled entirely in 3D and delivered directly
to the fabricators as a 3D model, but with an approach that was very different
from the ortodox digital work-flowing. In fact, the approach, also used in sub-
sequent’s projects, was based on the «reverse engineering». According to this
technique, initially, Ghery hand-made the physical model, then he coded the
model in digital using digitizer and imported it in 3D software to drive tests
and changes until the final phase, where the files were exported for fabrication.
The project’s success convinced Ghery to develop the use of this technology
and bring him to start the Ghery Technologies in association with his design
firm in order to support and expand the digital approach.
A few years later, this experience was transferred to the Disney Concert Hall
project started in 1989. The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles was the
first work with a comprehensive use of CAD/CAM that Ghery used due to the
complexity of the form.
In this project the firm used CATIA to produce stonework. The stones for the
1:1 scale model was automatically sculpted in Italy using the information pro-
vided by the software and shipped in the USA to be reassembled. Because of
the excessive costs, stones were replaced by a metallic cladding, but the differ-
ent choice demonstrated the great potentiality of the technology that was re-
used also for the realization of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (opened in
• Ghery Partners, Fish Sculpture aka Barcelona Fish, 1992
• Ghery Partners, Walt Disney Concert Hall, 2003
• Ghery Partners, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Construction phase on May
20, 2001
Examples of «exible» production using tessellating tech-
nique from dierent ages.
• PTW Architects, CSCEC, CCDI, Arup, The National Acquatic
Center aka Water Cube, 2004-2007
• Twelve angle stone, Hatun Rumiyoc, Cuzco,
1997) where each pieces was bar coded and assembled using laser surveying.
It was immediately clear that, despite the fascination of the free-form that
digital technologies are bringing in designing, other aspects could play a very
important role in the production process of architecture. This importance
is the opportunity to control at the maximum level (with zero tolerance) the
whole process of building architecture to the point that it’s finally possible
to consider construction as an industrial process: a manufacturing process in
which a key role is played not any more by the contractor but by the industry
and by the designer.
Flexibility and integration: Converging Design
Another aspect emerging from these pioneering experiences was the flexible
Complexity and uniqueness of geometry didn’t affect the production cost.
Producing many different pieces was almost the same to repeat the same ob-
ject many times. It was the effect of the so called «flexible production» driven
by digital technology and CAD/CAM in particular.
But the most important aspect of the digital era affecting Design and more in
particular the Industrial Design is that new technologies are now able to sup-
port a dynamic interplay between
conception and realization. On
this new and important aspect
Branko Kolarevic wrote:
What unites digital architects, designers, and
thinkers is not to “blobify“ all and everything,
but the use of technology as an enabling ap-
paratus that directly integrates conception and
production in ways that are unprecedented since
the medieval times of master builders. [2003 –
B. Kolarevic, Architecture in the Digital Age]
As a flow of binary numbers, infor-
mation began to connect directly
the designer and the constructor
preventing any misunderstand-
But this interplay is covering
many aspects of the construction
sector. As new standard, digital information is giving an unprecedented op-
portunity for all the building professionals involved in design, construction
and management: from project programming to building demolition. It is
a new language to share information and choices turning the project into
an open process able of real-time generations and interactions between the
endless options coming out from different disciplines and, therefore, able to
produce a multi-goal optimized solution.
It is a new field of digital design that since the first definition in 1974 given
by Charles Eastman (Building Description System) is now internationally recog-
nized with the name of Building Information Modeling (Revit/Autodesk, 2003).
Therefore, when we appreciate the continuity of the curve surfaces in the
Möebius House (Un Studio, Ben Van Berkel and Caroline Bos, 1995) we have
think that this continuity is only an exterior manifestation of the deeper con-
tinuity of the process that digital brings into architecture. Architectural dig-
itally-based design represents a converging ontology able to reassign to the
Greek word αρχιτέκτων (architekton), its original meaning and capabilities: the
leader of the construction.
New language for new designers.
To conclude this brief analysis around the transformations around the transfor-
mations that have occurred in construction and design as a result of the advent
of industrialization and more recently of CAD/CAM systems we can say that
contemporary architects, acting as Industrial Designers, can no longer operate
without considering new tools and technologies, or ignoring new languages
and words such as : Computer Aided Design, Computer Aided Manufacturing,
Computer Numerically Controlled, Building Information Modeling, associative
design, parametric design, genetic algorithms, isomorphic surfaces, scripting
and programming, rapid prototyping, topological transformations, non-Eu-
clidean geometric space, kinetic and dynamic systems and so on.
Tools that, as with Prospettiva, do not just transform the practical and opera-
tional activities, but are intended to introduce, as already noted by Mc Lhuan,
new meanings and transformations on the architectural forms that convey
them; to irreversibly modification of all the all previous relationships between
design and construction and – if possible – a new concept of the industrial
designer in the shape of an unusual new craftsman. A new craftsman, that
reusing Gropius’s words.
will result in a new unit of work, which will make him the exponent of experimentation to be applied in
the industrial production. [1925 – W. Gropius, der Grundsätze Bauhausproduktion]
In 1993, a young couple commissioned the Dutch architect Ben van
Berkel to design “a house that would be acknowledged as a reference
for the renovation of the architectural language”. It took the architect six
years to fulfil his clients’ wishes, creating a house based on the studies of
a 19th-century German mathematician.
The scheme to convey these features was found in the Möbius band,
a diagram studied by the astrologist and mathematician, August
Ferdinand Möbius (1790-1868). By taking a rectangular strip of paper
and marking its corners, A -superior- and B -inferior- in one side, and C
-superior- and D -inferior- on the other, the Möbius band is constructed
by twisting and joining corners A with D, and B with C. The result is a
strip of twisted paper, joined to form a loop which produces a one-sided
surface in a continuous curve. It is a figure-of-eight without left or
right, beginning or end. By giving the Möbius band a spatial quality,
the architect has designed a house that integrates the programme
seamlessly, both in terms of circulation and structure. Movement through
this concrete loop traces the pattern of one’s day activities. Arranged over
in three levels, the loop includes two studies (one on either side of the
house for the respective professions), three bedrooms, a meeting room
and kitchen, storage and living room and a greenhouse on the top, all
intertwined during a complex voyage in time.
With its low and elongated outlines, the house provides a link b etween
the different features of its surroundings. By stretching the building’s
form in an extreme way and through an extensive use of glass walls, the
house is able to incorporate aspects of the landscape. From inside the
house, it is as if the inhabitant is taking a walk in the countryside.
The perception of movement is reinforced by the changing positions of
the two main materials used for the house, glass and concrete, which
overlap each other and switch places. As the loop turns inside out, the
exterior concrete shell becomes interior furniture - such as tables and
stairs - and the glass facades turn into inside partition walls.
The contortions and twists in the house go beyond the mathematical
diagram. They refer to a movement that has moulded a new way of life
as a consequence of using electronic devices at work . Ben van Berkel has
managed to give an additional meaning to the diagram of the Möbius
band, where its new symbolic value - characterised by the blurred limits
between working and living - corresponds to the clients’ way of life.
image references
author’s illustration
Mark Garcia, The Diagrams of architecture, Wiley & Sons, London,2010: pg 174
Ibidem: pg 51
Ibidem: pg 15
Mark Garcia, The Diagrams of architecture, Wiley & Sons, London,2010: pg 244/contentmgr/les/1/7e2359d731ab7a06e89b1275813e37f9/img_two/
pg: 4
pg: 6
pg: 7
pg: 7
pg: 7
pg: 7
pg: 8
pg: 9
pg: 9
pg: 9
pg: 10
pg: 11
pg: 11
pg: 12
pg: 13
pg: 13
pg: 16
pg: 16
pg: 16
pg: 17
pg: 17
pg: 21
pg: 21
pg: 21
pg: 25
pg: 26
pg: 27
pg: 29
pg: 29
pg: 29
pg: 29
pg: 29
pg: 29
pg: 29
pg: 31
pg: 31
pg: 32
pg: 32
pg: 32
pg: 34
pg: 34
pg: 34
pg: 36
pg: 36
pg: 38
pg: 38
pg: 39
pg: 39
pg: 41
pg 41
pg 41
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The Diagrams of architecture
  • Ibidem
Ibidem: pg 15 MetaCityDataTown_01.jpg, Mark Garcia, The Diagrams of architecture, Wiley & Sons, London,2010: pg 244 fuller_building_construction_dymaxion_deployment_unit_23304.jpg
Mark Garcia, The Diagrams of architecture
  • Mark Garcia
Mark Garcia, The Diagrams of architecture, Wiley & Sons, London,2010: pg 174 Ibidem: pg 51 Ibidem: pg 15 MetaCityDataTown_01.jpg, Mark Garcia, The Diagrams of architecture, Wiley & Sons, London,2010: pg 244 fuller_building_construction_dymaxion_deployment_unit_23304.jpg Const_01_-_2001-05.jpg/640px-Disney_Concert_Hall_-_Under_Const_01_ cover: pg: 4 pg: 6 pg: 7 pg: 7 pg: 7 pg: 7 pg: 8