Bob Sheil (Director of Technology and Computing at Bartlett)
In the post digital age, how we design has become of equal importance as to what we design. Never before have there been so many, or so varied, techniques and methods at our disposal each with the capacity to leap frontiers previously only imagined. Designing has become a liquid discipline pouring into domains for centuries the prime possession of others such as mathematicians, neurologists, geneticists, artists and manufacturers. Post digital designers more often design by manipulation than by singularity, and what is designed has become more curious, intuitive, speculative and experimental. Each of these new techniques vies for dominance amongst the cut throat trenches of advanced tooling. They battle to outdo one another, predict the unpredictable, promise the unattainable, materialize the immaterial, solve all our problems, and so dazzle the beholder that all previous paths to architectural wonderment pale into the archives.
Our new tools are more malleable than before, so much so, that no sooner do they graduate from beta mode than a brighter, fitter or shinier sibling has emerged. As recently as twenty years ago, when I began my architectural education, the methodology of designing buildings had largely remained unchanged in 500 years. Drawings were prepared by hand and evolved from the tentative to the fully costed. Things got built, sometimes in strict accordance to what was drawn, but not always, as records later captured. A few well known but rare individuals such as Pierre Charreau managed it all without such dogmatic trappings, designing his magnificent ‘piece de resistance’ (1927-1931) in collaboration with Bernard Bijvoet and the craftsman Louis Dalbet, largely through conversation and modelling. Before them Gaudi, and later through Prouvé, Price, Eames, and others, pioneering efforts to rethink the verbal properties of design moved us forward but the tools to manage it remained largely the same.
Now we are spoilt for choice, and are frantically catching up with the latest definitions on how the design revolution is to unfold. I describe work from this period as Protoarchitecture. Not a recognised word in any dictionary, it is therefore only part real, and that is how I see the material, part real, part ideal. Protoarchitecture recalls propositions that are prompted by vision rather than convenience. It may be plural or singular, evolutionary or revolutionary, temporary or permanent. It is at once a construct of the physical and the virtual. It does not conform; it is by definition, an exception, a transgression between drawing and making.