SENIOR FELLOW

Mario Carpo

April - September 2011
Mario Carpo is Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology since 2009, as well as Visiting Professor of Architectural History at Yale University since 2010.He graduated from the University of Florence in 1983 with a degree in architectural history. He began teaching Renaissance architectural theory and history as an assistant professor at the University of Geneva, and worked subsequently at the École d'Architecture de Saint-Etienne, at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris La Villette. He has been visiting professor at several European and American Universities, such as Cornell University, the University of Copenhagen, and the MIT. Furthermore, he was a research fellow at the Clark Art Institute and the Getty Research Institute (2000-2001) and head of the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) from 2002 to 2004.



Fields of research
History and theory of architecture; history of media and information technology; cultural history; history of art and technology.

IKKM Research Project


Further to the recent publication of my essay The Alphabet and the Algorithm (MIT Press, 2011), which outlines an interpretive history of the digital turn in architecture and design from the early 1990s to the end of 2009, when the book was sent to print, I would now need to probe some theoretical and critical issues more directly related to the present (2011) debate on digitality in architecture, which sometimes confirm, sometimes infirm my conclusions in that book.

New technical advances are steadily extending the reach and the effectiveness of digital tools in design and manufacturing. Yet the theory of digital design appears to have anticipated most current developments, and some could argue that the time of theoretical excitement may already be over--only technical implementation may still be ongoing and be open to further discoveries. Since the early 1990s, much has been said and even more vaticinated on digitality in architecture. Many of those anticipations have come or are coming true. Does anything remain to be said? Have thinkers and visionaries already abandoned the field, and left it to bookkeepers and bureaucrats, or to a new generation of worn-out imitators and digital mannerists?

This pessimistic outlook is compounded by the most recent twist of the digital turn toward participatory design. Digitally supported, open-ended interactivity had been in some respects anticipated by post-modern thinkers, economists and marketing strategists, and starting from the mid 1990s some of the pioneers of the first digital turn have already largely experimented with it, and tested its creative and theoretical boundaries. In its more recent technological avatars digital interactivity has been enthusiastically embraced by the building and the construction industry, but today many architects and designers are increasingly finding it problematic, if not unpalatable. From its early modern beginnings, architectural design has been predicated upon the architect's full authorial control upon the making of form, and on the architect's intellectual ownership of all end products of the design process. Digital parametricism, more recent developments in building information modeling, as well as the increasing adoption of open-sourced, customizable software, are patently going counter to this early modern and modern tradition, and digital tools are ever more prompting architects to confront new and apparently untested models of hybrid or participatory agency. Are these models really untested? If modern authorship is indeed at stake, is its demise a threat or an opportunity for the design professions? To what extent would such new, post-authorial modes of agency be suitable or viable options for a new, post-industrial and post-modern society?

These fundamental issues, which question the very same future of digitality in the shaping and making of our physical environment, also point to a number of related stylistic matters: is curvilinearity an accidental or an essential aspect of digital design and fabrication? Is there a non-curvilinear o even a minimalist digital style? And why is digital making so often associated with curvilinearity anyway? To what extent do the modern notions of precision and of notationality still apply in a fully digitized design and production chain? Lastly, is there a style of making which, technically or symbolically, best represents and expresses the nature of the digital age?