Cognitive Estrangement in Digital Design Practice
Conference contribution, 2010
The development of digital practice in architecture has over the past 20 years seen an open-ended, innovation driven development, covering territories of formal and generative design, fabrication, and production of building components or full scale structures. A parallel track in discourse has discussed the technological, cultural and societal meaning of the work, as post-project commentaries, or as actual drivers and pre-requisites of the work. As financial crisis and environmental concerns have shifted the attention of design discourse in general, the digital field is looking for new meaning. Concepts such as performance or affect emerged over the last decade as primarily aesthetic motivations, but their ambivalence and dual meaning makes them also useful as signifiers for architecture that deals with efficiency of energy and material. These considerations, previously seen as constraints in digital design process, are now becoming drivers and prime motivators, in order to link speculative practice with global issues. Another approach to making a previously internal discourse accessible to the outside has been to set it in an historical line of progression, in the extreme case in the definition of new styles such as Parametricism. In the latest iteration of this venture its main advocate Patrik Schumacher is calling out for a stylistic war in which Modernism would finally be replaced, claiming that style is the only aspect of architecture recognized to the society in general. As material and climatic performance becomes more important than its cultural and aesthetic counterpart, and a global diversified field of experimental practice is appropriated into a formalized manifesto, there is a risk that the open ended innovation of the past is shifted into a more conventional problem solving mode of practice.
There is therefore a need for other trajectories for the future development within digital practice and discourse, in which an experimental and speculative approach can include relevant contextual issues in regards to imminent cultural, societal and environmental concerns. A look to other creative fields may give important clues, and a particular interesting field is the literature genre of science fiction. With a long tradition of informed speculations on how technological innovation or biological evolution can instigate profound changes in society, there is extensive literature theory to draw on.
This paper will examine particular concepts within science fiction theory, such as the idea of cognitive estrangement put forward by Darko Suvin, referring to the double aspects of plausible extrapolations on technological evolution and with fantastic elements that introduces something previously unknown to the reader. It will re-assess these concepts and discuss their relevance in a speculative yet informed future mode of digital practice in architecture. It will draw on the author´s own design practice, as a partner of the Krets design research group, and revisit a series of projects exploring parametric design and fabrication strategies. In this way it will outline a mode of design practice that is given agency through an integrated conceptual narrative layer, avoiding the fallacy of the manifesto in favour for informed and project specific speculations on possible futures.