Practice/Field: Architecture and New Media

Digital media has underwritten the scenario of architectural practice. It's ubiquity in the design process has generated what can be thought of as the field, or the conditions of the scenario. Within the parameters of the field conditions, which includes the texts of historical praxis, structural plans and existing landmarks, a negotiated and reconciled practice takes place. The media itself circumscribes its presentational and representational modes. Drawing, for instance, is no longer an inscription. In this scenario it is a mediated authority; a digital rendering. "The textual/rendering surface has become permanently bistable. We are always looking AT it and then THROUGH it, and this oscillation creates a different implied ideal of decorum, both stylistic and behavioral." (1).

The shift of writing and drawing to rendering within the digital is suitable to a medium "...which, in contrast to all other historical writing tools, are able to read and write by themselves."(2)Not only the surface but the activity of designing with new media has destabilized the situated act.

"Case-based reasoning (CBR) is a paradigm for problem solving which emphasizes the role and use of situated experiences. In general, problem-solving using CBR is based on making analogies between the current problem-solving situation, and previously-encountered situations stored in memory that provide information relevant to solving the new problem."(3) With networked media, the project team can modify and collaborate on one model from remote locations and update in real time.(4) The architect is no longer the sole provenance of memory and reason during the development of models. The computer can both recall and dredge previous models for similar design logic while using emergent and evolutionary models to generate new design morphologies.(5)

So what is the new "ideal of decorum, both stylistic and behavioral" that is implied by this scenario? Digital media renders it's effect. Within the parameters of any program lies it's domain. The architect designing in digital media, whether it be computer aided design(CAD) programs or totally immersive virtual reality simulations, is the interventionist, the performer. The ideal within an environment which can quickly become delimited is augmentation. The precedence of hypertext parallels the activity within this ethos. Augmented reality(AR) systems, those which layer virtual schema, by means of various head mounted display (HMD) devices, over the user's reception of light from the physical world, potentially allow a feedback system between virtual and physical data.(6) This scenario implies an interplay between what is proposed by traditional architectural imperatives and the range of virtual, digital models; a practice in and of an augmented field. In a saturated new media design climate, the practice and field become a site of mediation of effect and an assertion of architecture as other than a potentially servo-mechanistic category.(7) What becomes apparent is that new media applications will facilitate this work climate if they are non-immersive and generate a straddled use of data streams in the design process. Augmentation increases the field and allows a form of "hyperarchitexture".(8) The use of immersive simulation technology for the presentation and mark up of structural data, encloses the practice and field within a vacuum, in the text of the media itself. If digital media has permeated the practice/field and architecture is seemingly embedded in the conditions of this media climate, the activity of the designer becomes ecological. The field is the totality of the digitally mediated events, both contingent and stored. The designer, while exploiting the capability of the media event, is constantly averting it's inscription in the design by extension and hyperintervention.(9) The practice of media ecology in architectural design is a syntactical endeavor whereby the effects generated by the computer are contextualized and augmented by the designer. The practice field is a site of hypermedia ecology.

1 Dollens and Lanham, "HyperArchiTEXT", Sites Architecture, 1993, Lumen, New York, (p. 5-6)

2 Kittler, Friedrich, Literature, Media, Information Systems, 1997, G+B Arts International, Amsterdam (p.147)

3 Gero, John S and Maher, Mary Lou, "Current CAAD Research", Key Centre of Design Computing, University of Sydney,, {john, mary}

4 "Thus, the success of a virtual design studio depends not so much on the tools which are pro vided or the problem set but more on the extent to which the participants are aware of the task they are getting into and the effort they put into collaboratively defining methods of work." "Tools and Channels of Communication: Dealing with the effects of computer mediation on design communication"; Kvan, West, Vera, ( ences/VC97/papers/west.html)

5 Gero and Maher

6 Bertol, Daniella, Designing Digital Space, An Architect's Guide to Virtual Reality, 1997, John Wiley and Sons, New York, (Sections 8, 11, 14)

7 McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964, McGraw Hill Co., New York

8 Dollens and Lanham, p.4

9 "Digital writing celebrates the loss of inscription by removing the trace from acts of erasure. What is undone is as if never done.", Novak, Marcos, "TransTerraFirma", Sites Architecture, 1995, Lumen, New York, (p. 35) (...inscription is a closure of the process or text...a mediation in the posibility of ongoing practice)

10 makrolab 2000 - rottnest island ( "Three primary global research fields have been identified within the Makrolab frame.

These are: TELECOMMUNICATIONS, MIGRATIONS, WEATHER SYSTEMS We at Projekt Atol and Makrolab see these fields as the territory, which we will identify, map, cross and investigate in the next 8 years, during the rest of the planned life of the project in all senses and directions. From their physical, to their psychic, social, political and artistic dimensions. Makrolab is a processual work-machine and will be continuously developed con tent wise and also in its technological aspects. The designations Makrolab projects will get in the temporal sense are un1, un2, un3, un4, un5, un6, un7 and un8. The different technologi- cal improvements and systems updates, will get the designations of mark I, II, III, IV, V and VI. The Makrolab project consists of the Makrolab architecture and modular environments, sensors, sustainability and energy production systems, food productions systems, communica tions consoles to communicate with it, networks and integration systems, publications and lectures. We want Makrolab to constantly investigate and move between reality and all its complexity and art in all its creativity."


©Scott Weiland 2000
Scott Weiland is a freelance editor, writer, and curator. He is an associate Interaction Designer at R/GA Digital Studios and is currently developing an editorial project for the journal, New Observations, entitled, "New Observations in New Media Art".
He is co-founder of Digital Art Source (