ACADIA Reflects on 20 Years
Teachers and researchers in this field, instead of inspiring respect among their academic colleagues for their efforts to integrate technology and design, are blamed for the many growing pains.
Fortunately, however, this frustration is often vented through research into solutions. Most of the projects presented at this year's conference concerned research inspired by the drive to adapt existing tools to real educational and professional needs and to explore new tools and methods to solve real problems.
One example is a Web site developed at Cambridge University, UK, by Simon Ruffle and colleagues for an extensive 20-year construction project now in progress. The Web site explains the master plan to a lay university audience and seeks ways to solicit their feedback for the project's architects and planners.
In contrast to upbeat declarations about collaboration by project extranet vendors, Ruffle has encountered reluctance among consultants to publicize their preliminary design work and among cynical Web readers to believe that their input might actually be used to influence future design directions. These observations, along with lessons learned about how best to graphically portray planning information, will affect future development of this Web site and possibly of collaboration systems in general.
Projects presented at ACADIA often result from observations of the difficulties students have in applying existing professional software. An example this year came from Jin-yeu Tsou, Selina Lam, and Theodore W. Hall of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. They had asked their students to use computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis software to evaluate and develop a natural ventilation system for a building in the hot-humid, densely urban environment of Hong Kong.
Unlike the intuitive (and inaccurate) approach to considering air flow in and around buildings during schematic design, CFD analysis is difficult to integrate with creative design thinking. The researchers discovered that most students focused on either design or analysis, to the detriment of the other. Their experience suggests the need for better integration of simulation tools throughout the design process. Solving this problem will ultimately benefit practitioners, who also have difficulty designing for natural ventilation.
Another common theme among ACADIA presentations is the problem of coping with the now overwhelming amount of information available to designers. Architecture students who once went to books, periodicals, and slide libraries for case histories, now flock to the Web for images and information. But the quantity and easy access of images does not mean that there is a balanced amount of interpretive data to guide them through it. Several projects look at ways to organize architectural case history databases so that searches for precedents can be made more fruitful for both students and practitioners.
Other projects tackle problems more likely to occur in practice than in school. For instance, Ho-Yeong Julian Kang, of Texas A&M University, is developing software to ease the creation of 4D models, in which construction schedules are embodied in and animated through a Web-based 3D building model.
Olubi Babalola and Charles Eastman, of Georgia Institute of Technology, are developing methods for interpreting the marks on paper drawings to create 3D models. Mark Burry, of RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia has set an example for an academic/craftsman collaboration in developing parametric models for the construction of Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia for use by that project's traditional masons in their stone-cutting processes.
Reflecting on 20 Years
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the organization, ACADIA invited all the past presidents to come and offer their insights about the group's successes and setbacks over the years. The twelve who attended participated in a panel discussion ranging in tone from positive to cynical.
There were kudos for ways in which members of the small organization have supported each other in their efforts to bring technology into architecture schools without neglecting the humanistic and design goals of traditional education.
There was also skepticism about the state of the art: asserting that the most-used commercial software falls far short of ideals for integrating the broad definition of design thinking, that students can and do use strong tools to create weak designs, and that technology is still irrelevant to the work of many students and architects.
Some panelists urged the group to take a greater leadership role, in, for instance, the new movements toward integrating quantitative and qualitative processes, using design data to control fabrication processes, and embedding "smart" technologies in the physical infrastructure.
While their professors worry about how to take technology to the next step in architecture schools, students are quietly taking ownership — and mastery — of the tools. To underscore the progress made every year in integrating digital media into design education, the 3D modeling software company auto-des-sys presents awards to a few student users.
The company, founded and run by Chris Yessios, one of ACADIA's founders and past presidents, develops form-Z and donates it to architecture programs worldwide through the Joint Study Program. Prizes for the best projects are awarded annually at the ACADIA conference.
One of this year's winning projects was "Railway Interchange" by Udo Gleim and Oliver Hauck of the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany. This project displays an unusual breadth for student work: it looks at transportation design at an international scale down to the building detail.
According to ArchitectureWeek editor-in-chief Kevin Matthews, who was on the jury this year, the use of digital media was thoughtful and innovative as well as broad: "...from maps and abstract transportation system diagrams, to analytical 3D views detailing the topology of system connection nodes, to detailed visualizations of delightful neo-Victorian train sheds."
Another highlight of the weekend's events was a keynote address by William Mitchell, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a leader in exploring new technologies and their applications, Mitchell exhorted his audience to think creatively about how to change and improve education.
MIT, setting an example, has instituted Web casts of lectures, put wireless pen computers in the hands of studio critics, and is conducting research into, among many things, 3D digitizing as a way to use physical models as input to analytical software. Reconnecting design communications with craft, Mitchell suggests, will be the way to return architects to their former leadership position in the construction industry.
Plans for next year's conference are already underway. ACADIA 2002 will be held October 24-27 at the California State University, Pomona (Los Angeles), California.
B.J. Novitski is managing editor for ArchitectureWeek and author of Rendering Real and Imagined Buildings.