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Futures for Data and Design

Futures for Data and Design

Posted on: March 15, 2021

Technologies continue to evolve at an alarming rate. The entrepreneur, inventor, and futurist Ray Kurzweil describes the fast growth rate of computational technology as “The Law of Accelerating Returns”, in which the pace of change in technology and its powers are accelerating exponentially (Kurzweil, 2005). He describes our future world as one in which biological and technological systems merge, and there are no distinctions between physical and virtual reality, a concept known as the singularity, which was introduced in a statement made by John von Neumann in the 1950s (Kurzweil, 2005). Although the world, and humanity, may be a long way off from this hypothesis, what is clear, is that technologies continue to evolve at a rapid rate, and the data-rich resources and computational technologies that we have at our disposal influence and shape our culture, society, and future.

We have entered into a new era of computation which has been referred to as the “fourth industrial revolution.” In line with concept of the singularity, this current revolution differs from the third industrial revolution (the era that includes the invention of the PC and the internet, known as “the digital age”) in the reduced gap between digital, physical, and biological worlds, as well as the accelerated speed at which technology is changing (Schulze, 2019). This current era is based on big data, artificial intelligence, VR/AR/MR, robotics, sensors, and scanning technologies.

Data Matter Design

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How does this impact architecture and urban design? What roles do the architect and designer play in our contemporary society and culture that relishes in, or just feels the need to adapt, and keep up, with these rapidly changing technologies. While that question remains to be answered, there are notions suggesting a need for architects and designers to shift their roles and responsibilities in the design and fabrication process. How we define these new roles may be based on the development of abilities, proficiencies, and a certain nimbleness in working with data, computation, emerging materials, virtual reality, scanning technologies, and robotics. This book highlights architects and designers who are, and have been, working in this manner, as evident in this curated collection of essays and research projects. However, this is a small sampling of a much larger population of architects and designers who are working as computational design specialists, visualization experts, roboticists, programmers, and entrepreneurs, spanning the academy and profession. Randy Deutsch describes how the current and near future advances in technology are establishing a new paradigm for architects and designers, known as “Superusers,” individuals who go beyond being a mere design technology specialist, but possess certain skillsets, mindsets, problem-solving abilities, and leadership qualities to lead in shaping the future of industry (Deutsch, 2019).


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While Data, Matter, Design provides distinct technological categories, none of the essays or projects fall within a distinct, singular label. Rather, they span and merge in various ways to include a range of data-driven and computational processes, as well as interdisciplinary approaches, to design and fabrication. This results in a range of scales of thinking about architecture from the scale of the human body to the scale of cities, and opens up a much broader range of how we define architecture, that is based on networked data, ecological fitness, bio and environmental metrics, biotic and abiotic materials, machine learning, cyber physical systems, robotics, and merged digital/physical spaces. Davina Jackson describes how the current state of architecture, jolted by disruptive technologies, is morphing architects from drawing buildings, to devising any apparatus that can support emerging potentials for living, resulting in professionals from other disciplines having an increasing role in creating buildings (Jackson, 2018). This resonates with the work and research presented in this book, and our interest in exploring new opportunities and possibilities for the future of architecture through experimentation and speculation; new forms of architecture that embrace the accelerated pace of technology, advances in computation, and data-driven design.

Deutsch, R. (2019) Superusers: Design Technology Specialists and the Future of Practice. London, UK and New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Jackson, D. (2018) Data Cities: How Satellites are Transforming Architecture and Design. London, UK: Lund Humphries.
Kurzweil, R. (2005) The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. London, UK: The Penguin Group.
Schulze, E. (2019) Everything You Need to Know About the Fourth Industrial Revolution. CNBC, cnbc. com. Available at: www.cnbc.com/2019/01/16/fourth-industrial-revolution-explained-davos-2019.html. (Accessed: November, 15, 2019).

This blog is an excerpt from Data, Matter, Design Edited By Frank Melendez, Nancy Diniz and Marcella Del Signore