New Technology, New Tectonics? - On Architectural and Structural Expressions with Digital Tools
Paper in proceedings, 2007
New digital tools are influencing the working methods and means of expression for architects and engineers. New technologies have made it possible to generate, handle and realise other kinds of forms and structures, and also started to change notions and concepts of architecture and its production. (Aish 2003; Kieran & Timberlake 2004) Structural principles are explored and distinctions between structural skeleton and enclosing surfaces – between the tectonic and the stereotomic – are starting to dissolve or put into new relations. (Forster 2004) Here are great potentials for integration of architecture and technology, new expressions, and effective, economical, sustainable structures. A discussion and development of the concept of tectonics is in this context of great importance.
Tectonics is a central concept in architecture, and has a long history. (Cornell 1996) It was also one of the decisive moments in the development towards modern architecture. (Wallenstein 2004) Kenneth Frampton can be seen as responsible for the position the discussion on tectonics has had the last decades. (Frampton 1983; Frampton 1995) He sees tectonics as a poetics of construction, but also as the aspect best suited to counter present tendencies to legitimise architecture in discourses outside its own discipline. Architecture as an academic field needs to lead a theoretical and conceptual development of its own.
The literature and research about tectonics are however to a very little extent taking the present technological situation into consideration. The concept of tectonic was during the last decades brought forward within a critique of modern technology and the consequences of mass-production. Tectonics was here formulated as a defensive concept in relation to the machine age, and has lead to a debate often with remarkably culture conservative overtones. (Wallenstein 2004) Anne Beim discusses “tectonic vision” as visionary investigations into new materials, technologies, structures, and practices of construction, as means to construct new meaning in architecture. (Beim 2004) She touches upon the influence of new digital technology, but these consequences are not analyzed or explored.
Missing and necessary today is a continuation with updated studies and conceptual elucidation of tectonics in architecture, through a development of a conscious, open and critical approach to the new technological and industrial paradigm. Attempts to discuss this has been done, but often in form of anthologies (Leach, Turnbull & Williams 2004) without efforts to integrated analyses and coherent theoretical consistency.
This paper investigates questions like: What consequences can digital tools have for the architectural concept of tectonics? How are tectonic thinking and “tectonic” architecture influenced by new technology and production methods? Do the digital tools establish closer relations between architecture and technique, more effective collaborations between architects and engineers? What architectural, tectonic expressions can it lead to?
Through analyses of buildings by contemporary architects – like Foster & Partners, Toyo Ito, Lars Spuybroek/NOX, Foreign Office Architects – the paper argues that we today are witnessing a development that may lead to a new kind of tectonics, with expressive potentials in buildings and constructions that simultaneously can be efficient, economical and sustainable. Consequently, there are potentials for the tectonic aspects of architecture in digital technology, but the conceptual framework needs to be developed.