How does technology impact architecture?

Mohammed Afana. Lecture

The changes that computers are bringing to architecture are related to the innovations of the Industrial Revolution such as steel, electricity and elevators affecting, for example the concept of structure and skyscraper. A good example of an architect that was interested in the effects of the industrial revolution was Mies van der Rohe. He knew how to take advantage of the benefits that the Industrial Revolution created.

Puffing billy, an early railway steam locomotive,1814

Mies van der Rohe’s most famous building, Seagram Building in New York (1958)

Today we are witnesses that the idea of architectural project is not the same as it was during the Renaissance, the Baroque or even 20 years ago. We are now in the Digital Age where architects, we find a new way to represent, express, generate and construct buildings through digital information. By using processes and techniques identical to those employed in the industry and this is the most important aspect of the Digital Architecture. However, many people, architects and students interpret that the features of the digital architecture is the rediscovery of complex curving shape.

CATIA  System

Tabakalera New Media Art. San Sebastián

Digital Technology allows complex calculation, a variety of complex forms to be created with great ease using computer algorithms and increasing the possibilities in architecture design, rather than simply production. Digital Technologies are enabling a direct relation between what can be designed and what can be built, also they enable a real image for the building before it is actually built and you can see if it looks nice, ugly or looks like an unpleasant fly.

Technology can be very helpful in architecture. For example, Frank Gehry knows how to use those advantages of technologies and lead us to a new style and a new way of thinking.

Frank Owen Gehry was born Frank Owen Goldberg on 1929, in Toronto. Gehry moved to California, got a job driving a delivery truck, and studied at the University of Southern’s School of Architecture. He studied city planningat the Harvard Graduate School of Design for a year. He married Anita Snyder, who he claims was the one who told him to change his name from Frank Goldberg to Frank Gehry. In 1975 he married Berta Isabel Aguilera.

When we talk about Gehry we must also mention Craig Webb and Edwin Chan who work with him. He says, “They are my key designers right now.”

Computer and built models for Gehry´s fish sculpture 1992 Barcelona

In 1989, the Gehry office introduced a new design system to create a large sculpture for the Olympic Village in Barcelona. They used the same technique as the  Frederick R.Weisman Art and Teaching Museum (1992), the Guggenheim of Bilbao (1997), Los Angeles Disney Concert (2003).

In 1982 IBM announced the first version of CATIA mechanical design system. CATIA was developed by Dassault Systems, a subsidiary of the French aircraft manufacturer of Mirage jet fighters; however, CATIA has been continuously used to support the entire design process, from conceptualization through manufacturing, in a non-proprietary way that allows data to be interchanged. Dassault Aviation also relied on CATIA for the design and production of the Rafale jet fighter and the Falcon jet.

The discovery of CATIA enables Frank Gehry to be more creative with his sketching and his ideas.

The CATIA process demonstrated in a series of images of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

a CATIA engineer tracing model for digital input

b digitized points from basis for 3D computer model

c surface model is created from digitized points

d shaded surface model is created

e CNC fabricated milled model is made to verify accuracy of 3D computer model

f primary structure for building is created

g secondary structure is created

h cladding pattern and 2D drawings are created from 3D computer model

i finished building


Bilbao has now been become a pilgrimage destination as a culture capital. Just as Santiago de Compostela did for religious devotees during the Middle Age, the Guggenheim museum of Bilbao seems to cause rapture among those who reach it.

It is the equivalent of a cathedral in the digital age, filling the void left by general decline in religious faith, but the relics her – The art on the walls and floor are not venerated nearly as much as the museum itself. An important difference between pilgrimage cathedrals and the museum of Bilbao is the new materials and technology available to the architect today. Gehry chose titanium rather than troublesome limestone as a skin, because he likes the way that titanium shimmers when the light reflects on it and it becomes alive.

Frank said “I grew up as a modernist. Decoration is a sin, which is the mantra of modernism. So, if you cannot use decoration, than, how do you humanize a building? Material could be expressive.

The talent of Frank and CATIA’s capabilities enable the cathedral analogy because no other historical comparison seems to apply. The builders of Reims, Charters and Santiago de Compostela sought to use the highest engineering skills and the best materials available to them to reproduce the glory of God.

Guggenheim structure CATIA

CATIA has allowed Gehry to achieve tectonic construction that no Gothic or Baroque mason could ever imagine. Philip Johnson calls it the most important building of our time. He said that he wept when he saw the interior of the museum, because it provides irrefutable proof that the electronic revolution supplanted its industrial predecessor and that the profession will never face the same repressive physical restrictions again.

Technology has a revolutionary potential in architectural practice and it is transforming its boundaries. This does not imply that all architectural practices are now doing their work in a revolutionary way. Many architects and students need and must to recognize this transformation and think different. This is what is really happening, the idea of space, time, subject, object is changing and we are aware that it is hard for somebodies, but it is reality.

As Haneke shows us, in his movie Funny Games when the woman shot the guy and quickly the other guy took the remote control, pushed the button to turn back time and saying No No – This does not what really happen; It is what we may like to happen, but now I am going to show you what really happens.


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