Some Thoughts from Acadia

I just got back from this year's Acadia conference held at the Banff Centre. While Acadia stands for Association for Computer Aided Design In Architecture, John Frazer joked in his speech that a more appropriate name for CAD should be Computer Obfuscating Design instead. Anyway here are some thoughts about several underlying themes at the conference:

1) Robots are latest toys in architecture schools.
No less than 6 papers were about the use of robots in architectural fabrication. Some cool work included Grasshopper components to control the Kuka robot arm from Robots in Architecture and a scaled robot arm manipulator from Andrew Payne. I get the feeling though that due to the novelty of robotics in architecture, we are not quite sure what to use the robotic arms for. Currently most work seem to focus on fabrication using subtractive processes (milling, cutting) and deformation (bending), but there should be potential for robotic applications during the assembly process as well as the initial making/processing of material itself. To me, the elephant in the room is the issue of scale, can  robotic processes be scaled up for larger architectural elements such as walls, slabs and columns? Perhaps the use of industrial robot arms biases a certain type of work and we need to look at other existing types of robots (gantry, mobile?) as well.

2) How do you compute materially? I think there is increasing recognition that our current digital processes do not adequately capture material behavior. Digital simulations using physics engines, spring and particle systems seem to be one approach to approximating physical behaviors digitally. I thought that the ICE/ITKE research pavilion presented by Achim Menges was a beautiful project that demonstrated how design and fabrication processes could respond to material, in this case the unique fiber patterns of the wooden sheets.

3) Cities. While interest in cities is not new, there seems to be an interest in not only the morphology of cities but in the way they work (stocks and flows). Michael Weinstock argued for the understanding of cities through the concept of metabolism, while Marcos Novak suggested that cities are simply reflections of ourselves.

Lastly I want to recommend a programming environment called Rosetta which was unveiled at the conference. The promise of Rosetta is a single scripting environment that can interface with multiple CAD programs using one language (currently Racket is supported, but eventually Python as well). While the project is in an early phase, I think that it has the potential to be a game changer if properly developed, so keep an eye out for it.

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