Architettura e second digital turn, l’evoluzione degli strumenti informatici e il progetto

Giuseppe Gallo

Architecture and Second Digital Turn, Doctoral Dissertation, Giuseppe Gallo, University of Palermo

Giuseppe Gallo
PhD University of Palermo, Department of Architecture

Doctoral Dissertation, University of Palermo

Year: 2021

Gallo, G., 2021. Architettura e second digital turn, l’evoluzione degli strumenti informatici e il progetto, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Palermo.

The digital condition that has gradually hybridized our lives, transforming atoms into bits, has now cemented itself in our society, enriching post-modernity and determining a new form of liquidity that has sharpened with the advent of the internet.

It is a historical moment marked by a new digital maturity, evident in our diverse relationship to data and in the spread of advanced machine learning methods, which both promise a new understanding of contemporary complexity as well as contribute to the propagation of the technical apparatus throughout the world.

These changes, so profound as to affect our culture, are changing our way of perceiving space, and therefore of inhabiting it: conditions that undoubtedly have repercussions on architectural design in its capacity as a human activity geared towards human beings. The increased complexity that has touched our discipline with Postmodernism has meanwhile found new support in Derridian deconstruction, in a historical moment marked by great emphasis on the opportunities that digital tools offer. These are means we first welcomed into our discipline exclusively as tools for representation, and ones that then themselves determined the emergence of new approaches based on the inclusive potential of continuity and variation.

None of the protagonists of the first digital turn could probably have imagined the effects that digital culture would now be having on architectural design. A digital culture that has become increasingly stronger due to almost thirty years of both methodological and formal experimentation, as well as to organizational and instrumental changes, starting with the rise of BIM to new algorithmic possibilities represented by visual programming languages and numerical simulations. These have been the primary tools of concentration in the push towards digital, a digital which today has reached a second turn in the field of architecture, identified by Carpo in new design approaches that are now possible thanks to the larger availability of data.

A condition that inevitably affects both science and architectural design, but which, nevertheless, fails to fully share a contemporaneity where technology spreads its wings as far as architecture is concerned, thus affecting the meaning of our role within society.

With these multifaceted considerations as a starting point, and fully aware of how complex the dialogue we must engage in in order to reconstruct a neutral, historical, and organic as possible vision of the phase that architecture is experiencing, it is my opinion a holistic approach must be established by us. One that is both inclusive and capable of expanding to the point of acquiring a philosophical perspective, as well as being able to attend to areas that cover technical, operational, methodological, instrumental, and relational details. This objective is one I have striven to keep alive throughout the three years of my doctoral research, which in its various phases looks at the mutations that digital technology is producing in society and therefore in architectural design. My research is enriched by the inclusion of ten interviews with prominent protagonists of contemporary architecture, for whose time and availability I am grateful.

  • Steven Chilton director of the SCA studio, a highly experienced designer who founded his studio a few years ago and has already built several architectures in Asia;
  • Daniel Davis PhD in computational design, former director of WeWork research where he developed methods and research on the application of machine learning methods to the project;
  • Aurelie de Boissieu PhD in parametric design and London head of BIM at Grimshaw, author of research on interoperability;
  • Xavier de Kestelier Director of Hassell, former head of the Specialist Modeling Group of Foster and Partners, responsible for international projects and research carried out in recent years;
  • Al Fisher PhD in architectural engineering, head of computational design of Buro Happold;
  • Harry Ibbs Technology director of Gensler Europe, former head of BIM and IT of Zaha Hadid Architects;
  • Arthur Mamou-Mani director of Mamou Mani and Lecturer at the University of Westminster;
  • Andreas Klok Pedersen London director of BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group, responsible for several international projects;
  • Edoardo Tibuzzi Engineer and architect in charge of the computational design of AKTII;
  • Pablo Zamorano head of the computational design group of Studio Heatherwick.

These testimonials, together with 30 case studies and 45 software sheets, allowed me to see the complexities of contemporary design up close and personal, and they represent a central part of this thesis, which equally aims to provide a historical interpretation of the challenges posed by contemporaneity and to identify the responsibilities that we must uphold for human beings to remain at the centre of our work.

Research Aims

  • Identify what effects the implementation of digital technology has on society and our different perception of space;
  • Define the contribution made by those precursors of themes, methods, and processes that laid the foundation so that approaches developed today may flourish through the aid of computers, by comparing their thinking to that of contemporary theorists and designers;
  • Identify new demands affecting architecture in terms of requirements, metrics, and project materials, by investigating to what extent these changes are the result of progressive digitization in architecture, and what responsibilities they pose to us regarding our role;
  • Define processes, skills, roles and organizational structures that have spread among architectural firms in the last decade through new digital paradigms that animate architectural design;
  • Observing how the communication dynamics of the web, together with the new technical possibilities of representation, produce an imbalance in the values that enliven the contemporary architectural debate;
  • Reconstruct the evolution of digital tools and paradigms from a historical perspective, evaluating how much they are a result of processes internal or external to our discipline, and how they are influenced by contributing figures far from the architectural project;
  • Measure the actual spread of the various digital tools adopted today within the architectural design process, attempting to reconstruct a landscape as neutral as possible, far from commercial hype;
  • Evaluate the actual competence and awareness of architects in the adoption of strategies based on the implementation of digital tools capable of addressing the complexity of the project, weighing the results;
  • Investigate the relationship between architectural design and open-source tools, measuring their effective implementation and the breadth of their contributions, observing potential and constraints that limit their spread;
  • Consider the first applications of machine learning to architectural design, building a comparison between research results and the actual applications developed within the practices, measuring their weight throughout the architectural design process and identifying any possible drift.

Structure of the Dissertation

Structure of the Phd Dissertation: Architecture and Second Digital Turn, Giuseppe Gallo 2021
Structure of the dissertation

The thesis consists of an introduction, 5 chapters and a Conclusion. Introduction, Chapter 3 and Conclusions were presented in two languages, Italian and English

Chapter 1 – Contemporary society and Architecture

  • 1.1 Research study on Contemporaneity
  • 1.2 From the grid to the net
  • 1.2.1 Architecture and Information Networks
  • 1.3 Technics and Society
  • 1.4 Space and Contemporaneity

Chapter 2 – The architectural design project, New Complexities

  • 2.1 Considerations on the architectural design project
  • 2.2 Architecture and the digital: some precursors
  • 2.2.1 Luigi Moretti
  • 2.2.2 Buckminster Fuller
  • 2.2.3 Frei Otto
  • 2.3 Venturi, Einsenmann, Gehry and Hadid
  • 2.4 The first Digital turn
  • 2.5 The second digital turn

Chapter 3 – The Architectural design process in the digital age

  • 3.1 New solicitations for architectural design
  • 3.2 Design Process and roles in contemporary Practices
  • 3.3 Simulation
  • 3.4 Relations with other design fields
  • 3.5 Architectural design and communication

Chapter 4 – The evolution of digital tools in architecture

  • 4.1 Information technology and Architecture, from CAD to Virtual Reality
  • 4.2 The History of the Computational Curve
  • 4.3 The Building information model
  • 4.4 The diffusion of software and programming languages in architecture
  • 4.5 Architectural workflow and Interoperability
  • 4.6 Architecture and open-source tools

Chapter 5 – Machine Learning Methods and Architecture

  • 5.1 Machine Learning
  • 5.2 The relationship between machine learning and Architecture
  • 5.3 Research in Architectural design and open issues


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