WAF Newsletter PIXEL JUICE – Architecture and Digital Disruption May 2019

PIXEL JUICE – Architecture and Digital Disruption

Neil Spiller, 30 May 2019


Changes in technology have manifested themselves in many different ways during the last thirty years- often disruptively for the architectural profession. How we procure, fund, make and design buildings has morphed in technologies wake, practices have had to continuously redefine their structures and their skillsets, but these changes are nothing compared to what is to come. Architecture doesn’t stop with buildings and cities, it encompasses, landscapes, virtual environments and spacecraft, all have complex virtual and actual components. Materials are changing also, the pre-eminence of dry hard materials is being challenged by soft and wet materiality. Top down’ construction methods are being questioned by emergent ‘bottom-up’ paradigms. Autonomous digital bots are everywhere, whether they are real or software. We continuously mine Big Data. Augmented and mixed realities are now ubiquitous and Artificial Intelligence is starting to appear in architect’s the peripheral vision.


Virtual Sky Garden with Walled Garden for Lebbeus seen above, Communicating Vessels Project, A project testing the limitless potential of Augmented and Virtual Realities in Garden design: Neil Spiller: Contrary to popular belief, the digital has not killed off the hand drawing. The sort of rich spatial opportunities facilitated by the technologies discussed above are highly fecund. Many forward thinking architects have reinvigorated the act of hand drawing to help them discover new architectural tactics and protocols of space-making in the 21st Century.

Architecture doesn’t stop with buildings and cities, it encompasses, landscapes, virtual environments and spacecraft, all have complex virtual and actual components. Materials are changing also, the pre-eminence of dry hard materials is being challenged by soft and wet materiality. Top down’ construction methods are being questioned by emergent ‘bottom-up’ paradigms. Autonomous digital bots are everywhere, whether they are real or software. We continuously mine Big Data. Augmented and mixed realities are now ubiquitous and Artificial Intelligence is starting to appear in architect’s the peripheral vision.

How do you place yourself and your practice within this miasma of change? I would argue right at the centre of the vortex, riding the surf on a continuing precarious but exhilarating trajectory. The architectural profession must be central to the development and continued evolution of agile, decent, dynamic, delightful and connected environments. Today, even the most dedicated Luddite cannot escape the digital world’s embraces, seductions and frustrations. As designers and human beings we flit between the real, the augmented real and the virtually real thousands of times a day. Our cones of vision have multiplied a thousand times in the last half Century. The seemingly crazy protocols of surrealism seem more appropriate than the white, clean and neat hair shirt restraint of modernism in this fecund technological era.. We live in a world where my duvet can blog, I can print a gun, or sex toy with my desktop 3D printer, I can create an augmented reality storm, or I can grab buckets of data about sites surveyed by my own modified scanner drones and I can take my client into their virtual building. All these and many more spatial opportunities and conditions are all architectural. We must grab these opportunities to continue to make our profession valuable.

Today we are able to create personal and public reflexive environments that exist both virtually and actually. We can choreograph their vitality, their sensitivity, their scale, their biological and mechanical ecological interactions, how we observe them, how they observe us, how they recognise us and how they fully accommodate our spatial and visceral desires. We are able to seamlessly hybridise materials, expanding the traditional palate of materials in many new ways.. We will be able to conceive of buildings and their sites as agile and, maybe, make really sustainable interventions that utilise carbon-negative synthetic biologies.

As an architect in the twenty-first century you need to think of your architecture as the first stirrings of a post-digital Architecture. Such terrain can include a variety of complex sub cultures of architecture that are all composed of differing degrees of the digital, the virtual, the biological and the nano-technological, interaction and reflexivity. Making sense of this entangled and pan-disciplinary world and creating architectural delight with it is what architects can bring to the twenty-first Century. This is our unique selling point.

Nothing is sacred in this new post-digital world, but there are many political, social and libertarian issues provoked by these technologies and the architectural profession must not ignore these either.

Kick out the Jams Brothers and Sisters!

Neil Spiller is Editor of Architectural Design

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