Yale exhibition highlights foundations of digital architecture

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An electrostatic print from Asymptote Architecture's New York Stock Exchange “Virtual Trading Floor” and “Command Center” project (1997–1999), © Asymptote.

This winter the Yale School of Architecture (YSoA) will present “Archaeology of the Digital: Media and Machines,” an exhibition featuring the work of six architectural offices that experimented with computation, interaction, and the design of virtual environments in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

Organized by the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal (CCA), the show will be on view Dec. 8, 2014–May 1, 2015, at the YSoA’s gallery at 180 York St. It is free and open to the public.

Curated by Greg Lynn, William B. and Charlotte Shepherd Davenport Visiting Professor at the YSoA, “Media and Machines” is the second exhibition in the “Archeology of the Digital” series, a multi-year research initiative at the CCA that investigates the development and use of digital design tools.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to exhibit this second installment of the series, which reflects work that today could be far too easily written off as ‘outdated,’ but only a short while ago was ‘cutting edge,’” said Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the YSoA. “In the face of ever-increasing technological advancement the need to preserve digital files must be acknowledged and addressed. ‘Archaeology of the Digital’ is not only a wake-up call to little recognized preservation issues, it is also an attempt to develop a strategy for addressing them.”

Projects featured in “Media and Machine” highlight the potential an architectural object or environment has to exist beyond a mere building through use of digital tools. The creative breadth extends from the design of buildings to the design of interactive media, robotic mechanisms, dynamical drafting machines, generative algorithms, Internet sites, 3D digital models, digital animations, CAD (computer-aided design) drawings, and the production of renderings, physical models, sketches, and the development of disciplinary and cultural theories.

“Media and Machine” includes the New York Stock Exchange “Virtual Trading Floor” and “Command Center” (1997–1999) by Asymptote Architecture (Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture M.Arch ’86), designed to visualize real-time numerical and statistical data, detect suspicious trading activity, and track the impact of global news events on the market.

Also on view is the “H2Oexpo” pavilion project (1993–1997) — designed by NOX (Lars Spuybroek) — a learning center about the Netherland’s relationship with water and the first building to combine topological surfaces designed with computer software and digitally projected and controlled interactive media.

Karl Chu’s “Catastrophe Machine” (1997–1998) and “X Phylum” (1994–1998) tackle the crossover between digital modeling and drafting. “X Phylum” used the most powerful digital technology then available for the geometric visualization of mathematical principles. The “Catastrophe Machine” is a drafting machine that exhibits the variation and unpredictability of stochastic mathematics and catastrophe theory. The machines no longer exist, but a new one was designed by Chu in 2014 and constructed for the exhibition.

“Panneaux Objectile” (1995–2013) designed by Objectile SARL (Bernard Cache, Patrick Beaucé) was the first project to establish a connection between digital design software and CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine production. “HypoSurface” (1997 – present) designed by dECOi Architects (Mark Goulthorpe), presents a wall with a “skin” divided up into pixel-like metallic facets manipulated by a network of pistons to create images, texts, and patterns in dynamic relief. The first working prototype was exhibited at the 7th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2000.

The final project included in the show is “NSA Muscle” (2003–2004) by ONL [Oosterhuis_Lénárd], which was built for the Architectures Non Standard exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou (2003-2004) as a pneumatic paradigm for a malleable, dynamic, deforming room. ONL programmed the Muscle to have a will of its own in order to stimulate an interactive feedback loop between a human and the architectural machine.

View of the prototype of the “NSA Muscle” by ONL architects at TU Delft, 2003, Kas Oosterhuis fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, Gift of Kas Oosterhuis, © ONL

“These projects remain architecture’s most poignant engagement with the experience of digital technology,” said Lynn. “They are more relevant than ever and are worth learning from.”

“Media and Machines” follows the first “Archaeology of the Digital” exhibition presented in 2013, featuring the work of Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Shoei Yoh, and Chuck Hoberman.  A third exhibition in the series is being planned for next year. The ultimate goal of the project is to assemble, investigate, and archive 25 seminal projects that engaged architectural design with digital technology and that will enter the CCA’s permanent collection.

“This ensemble of projects forced the CCA to address both technical and critical issues regarding archival and exhibition practices, challenging the institution to adapt or expand its methodologies in order to accommodate new forms of digital material,” said Mirko Zardini, director of the CCA.

“Archaeology of Digital: Media and Machines” has been made possible through the generous support of the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Conseil des arts de Montréal and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. The CCA and Yale also acknowledge the generous contributions to the exhibition by Elise Jaffe + Jeffrey Brown. Graphic design for the show was created by Jonathan Hares, based in London and Lausanne, Switzerland.

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of digital monographs of each of the projects published by the CCA and designed by Linked by Air, and supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts with additional support from Elise Jaffe + Jeffrey Brown. A 400-page book was published by the CCA and Sternberg Press in 2013 to accompany the first show. More information can be found on the CCA’s website

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Media Contact

Amy Athey McDonald: amy.mcdonald@yale.edu,