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Beyond Digital Tectonic

March 20, 2015

How digital revolution is changing the way architects design? How computational tools can improve designers workflows?

The Data informed Structures course, among the Master in Advanced Architecture at IAAC, tries to answer these questions and has been an amazing opportunity to improve my computational skills.


The following text is a brief essay I have written at the end of the course.



The nexus linking architecture and tectonic has always been narrow and from everlasting to everlasting it was strictly related to the knowledge of materials and fabrication techniques.
However, since the beginning of the Nineteenth Century something started to change. Nowadays that bond is not a limit anymore, but a new real world of possibilities. 
The strength of this potential expresses itself through architectures characterized by plastic shapes, facing the laws of physics.

Nevertheless, which is the link between those free form architectures and their structure? Does the formal innovation introduce a tectonic innovation too?
Many contemporary projects are characterized by an outer “skin”, that is the most important part of the building in terms of shape and innovation, but their inner spaces are usually organized in a traditional way. It is clear how in these cases the structure is not part of the architectural process, but just an element that must be there because necessary. The outer envelope is just a cap on a building in which structure and architecture do not interact at all.

On the other hand, some other projects try to reach an harmonious integration between tectonic and architecture. In these cases, the structure is the essential part of the building design and all the elements are developed in an organic (not in term of form, but in term of interdependence and continuity) and integrated way.  This second type of projects speeded up the development and the use of interactive and parametric finite element programs, which Karamba is a good example.
Nowadays, in the Parametric era, architects can use powerful and versatile design platforms, that embed easy and intuitive modeling tools, finite element calculation add-on and optimization solvers algorithms. 
These software lets the architect analyse and value his project from a structural point of view since the beginning and without needing the presence of a real engineer. Hence, designers can adjust their projects checking them step by step, and using the building structure as a key element of their creations, aiming to the maximum integration between tectonic and architecture.

A new way to look at the structure: 
“Building construction artistically considered”, is the simple phrase that Kenneth Frampton uses to describe the term Tectonic in his book entitled Studies in Tectonic Culture (The MIT Press,1995). According to Frampton, tectonic form derives from properties of materials, structural logic and the crafts of making. Tectonic and architecture have always coexisted, but during the last decades of the Twentieth Century some Academic establishments have turned their backs to the reality of construction, coming to realize excesses in which architecture and structure speak different languages. 
However, the coming of parametric software such as Grasshopper, but mainly thanks to the birth of add-ons such as Karamba, could invert this tendency. After a long time of divergence, tectonic and architecture can now converge again such in a harmonious way. This software allows to come back to a tectonic point view of architecture, it is now possible to tie the development of theory back to the essences of construction techniques.
These tools are a huge step further in architecture, because they can make us understand how the designed form (which is nowadays more and more free and excessive) has a deep effect on the structural building behaviour which can be improved with just few and small changes.


After almost a century of oblivion, the architect can now re-acquire the real control over the tectonic aspect of his project. 


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