The Data Made Me Do It


MARCH 13 - 15, 2015



The balance of agency in architectural design culture is not fixed, but rather is in a constant state of renegotiation. New technologies of design do not directly determine social relationships, but are among the network of actors in this space - designers and specialists, professionals and clients, software and users, data and drawings - that compete to shape the diffusion of design authorship and the social distribution of design work. This reality has become especially apparent in recent years, as many cultures of design have embraced new and ever more sophisticated data-driven techniques while simultaneously experiencing major territorial shifts and challenges to their domains of practice. The research theme for the year-long 2014-15 studio investigates the dynamics of new technologies of design and the changing notions of design authorship, with focus on two divergent scales: data-mining as a new way of understanding the urban environment, and declarative design as an approach that disrupts traditional notions of the relationship between software tools and the physical realization of architecture.

Although the practice of data mining has expanded exponentially for proprietary applications and commercial purposes, the development of data-driven design methods demands further attention. Such attention should be keyed not only to the data rich urban environment, but also to related issues - including the rate of climatic change, the scale and scope of urbanization processes, and the intensity of non-formal settlement construction - which make the need for new approaches to urban data collection, coordination, and integration even more urgent. It is apparent that new tools, techniques, and methods are required that can sufficiently respond to the dynamic urban challenges of the 21st century, as are new theoretical, scholarly, and policy approaches that attend to these rapidly transforming civic dynamics.

Similarly, the application of a "declarative design" method to the design and fabrication of architectural-scale form suggests a new form of software that is at once accessible to designers and capable of effectively encapsulating specialist knowledge - thereby lowering barriers of entry, while simultaneously challenging the status of professionals. Where advanced architectural fabrication was once the exclusive providence of a shrinking consortium of experts, we now find an expansive and heterogeneous landscape of designers, toolmakers, and machinists that suggest new models for the realization of architectural form that effectively synthesize these roles.

As a vehicle for the exploration of these questions, the symposium brings together leading scholars, researchers, critics, and practitioners for a series of discussions about the consequences of big data, data-driven design, and their latent potentials for design, planning, and activism. Following the first two days of panel presentations and discussions, an additional day of this event will present a series of workshops for researchers working in this area about recent developments for data-driven design and the coordination of big data for urban and environmental research, advocacy, and intervention. Integrating scholarly and theoretical questions with project and practice-based approaches, this multidisciplinary symposium assumes that these trajectories cannot be adequately explored in isolation from each other.

As forays into big data analytics support increasingly innovative design strategies, and as new theoretical approaches and policy frameworks shape the future of urban data politics, the symposium asks how, why, and for whom: Data Made Me Do It.


Sara Dean
Kyle Steinfeld
Etienne Turpin

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