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Calculation in Digital Architecture

A Historical and Conceptual Investigation of a Cultural Technique

F. N. van der Vlist

This paper proposes an analysis of software as an object in-the-world. By conceptualising topological calculation and its computation as cultural techniques, it is argued that techniques can and should be critically analysed in their own right as mediators with the capacity to introduce new and specific modes of ordering space and time-structures by reconfiguring or modelling their relationships differently. Building on previous insights by Luciana Parisi on algorithms in architectural and interaction design (2012, 2013), two lines of enquiry are developed to demonstrate what such an approach might look like: first, topological computation is situated within a larger conceptual space or genealogy of concepts and methods that developed across a variety of fields and disciplines. Second, I examine how these particular concepts and methods are mobilised or converge in specific instances of topological computation as technique or practical rationale, tied in with practices of contemporary computational architectural design and engineering that give it meaning and purpose. Rather than taking an object as the starting point of enquiry, the approximation to defining its contours of demarcation as an object in-the-world is taken as the main objective. This crosscutting approach to software and culture through techniques invites us to be skeptical of bifurcations – between the arts and sciences, the theoretical and empirical, the abstract or formal and concrete, the digital and physical, the structural and aesthetic, the skeleton and skin – and forces us to rethink concepts and methods based on geometrical assumptions.

cultural techniques; calculation; topology; invariance; control; digital design; computational architecture

Kind Assignment; Working Paper
Author F. N. van der Vlist
Instructor B. Rieder
Publication Date 2015, January 23
Institution University of Amsterdam

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