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interview ISSN 2175-6708

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português
O francês Antoine Picon, professor da Harvard Graduate School of Design e teórico preocupado com as múltiplas relações entre a arquitetura e a tecnologia digital, é entrevistado pela dupla de professores brasileiros Gabriela Celani e David Sperling.

english
Antoine Picon, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a theorist who is concerned with the multiple relationships between architecture and digital technology, is interviewed by the Brazilian duo Gabriela Celani and David Sperling.

how to quote

CELANI, Gabriela; SPERLING, David. Architecture makes life meaningful. Interview with Antoine Picon. Entrevista, São Paulo, year 19, n. 074.02, Vitruvius, jun. 2018 <https://pop.www.vitruvius.com.br/revistas/read/entrevista/19.074/7014/en>.


Gund Hall, Harvard Graduate School of Architecture and Design, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968-1972, arquiteto John Andrews
Foto Gunnar Klack [Wikimedia Commons]

Gabriela Celani and David Sperling: Your Preface to Terzidis' Algorithmic Architecture (2006) starts with the question: “what should be the exact scope of the computer's involvement with architectural design?” And you also say “what if the radical other revealed inside the computer was actually inside us?” Then, you finish by saying that the book is not about computers and architecture, it's about architecture. In other words, computation is already embedded in the profession. What do you think is the involvement of computers in architecture nowadays, 12 years after that book?

Antoine Picon: What I said in this book was part of an argument which had not necessarily to do primarily with computers, which is to say that, in order to be creative, you cannot be only yourself, you have, so to say, to divide yourself and to let some otherness to emerge in the middle of yourself. A little bit like the Kabala, I think. At some moments there is the idea that God withdraws within he/herself, so let some space so that creation can occur. So I was saying: what if the use of computer was something that facilitated this rise, the surge of the otherness inside the creators? So it had not much to do with the world of computer-aided design, which I think is extremely important, but it was a more general philosophical argument, if you like.

GC/DS: Do you think that has changed, since then?

AP: I think the computer has had a tremendous effect, or otherwise I wouldn’t have written three books on digital culture, architecture, ornaments, smart cities, etc, etc. So yes, I think it’s changing a lot of things. It’s changing the procedures of design, it’s changing also the status of design. One of the things I’ve tried to develop for a book or article is that we used to think of architecture as a novel mode of being, as if the project was an expression of a kind of idea, a stable idea. I think design is becoming more like a strategy, more kin to chores or actions, so in some ways the ontological status of design has also changed.

GC/DS: Here at Harvard and at MIT you can see that students are all using digital tools. But I believe they are still using it more with representational purposes than as a tools for thinking. Those who do some programming only use it for minor aspects of the design, such as generating a random pattern, parameterizing a structure, optimizing something, but not really in the sense that Terzidis was proposing in his book, for augmenting the architect's perception of design possibilities, creating more complex algorithms. You also don't see much integration between algorithmic generation and building information modeling BIM. What do you think is the reason for this lack of integration between abstract and concrete ideas in the digital realm?

AP: We used, in traditional thinking, to oppose the concrete and the abstract, but in the computational world most times the most concrete is at the same time computational. That is, in some ways, abstract. So there is a kind of blurring of this distinction. And I think more and more design is about being very close to experience the greatest materials, etc. and at the same time be computational. Kenneth Frampton, for example, has accused the digital of dematerializing architecture. I think it has not dematerialized architecture; it has actually materialized it in a different way. There is a long passage at the end of my new book on materiality and architecture [La matérialité de l’architecture].

GC/DS: This question also had to do with two paths that computation has been taking, one towards parametric and algorithmic design and the other one is more concrete, in terms of building information modelling, simulations and representation. I see a kind of a divide between these two trends…

AP: Yes, I think it’s not over. But I think the most profound divide actually has not to do with that. I think the most profound divide is between those who are interested in sustainability and a kind of return to a more traditional assessment of material massivity and computers. I think we are going to move inside this contradiction for still some time. I’m not that akin on parametrics as such. I think parametrics is a tool. I don’t believe like Schumacker that this is going to be the big integrated thing. I think BIM is going definitely to develop, I think it’s just right for architecture, actually. It may be a chance, but also a big threat, because it means that if the designer doesn’t control BIM it’s going to be deprived of power or authority. It’s actually a huge question. The concrete and the abstract are part of the same evolution. On one hand, thinking about the deep procedure of design, how it’s going to evolve. In 20 years from now, perhaps, we’ll see no design form anymore, but design algorithms or procedures that define categories of form, which is very much what parametrics if going towards, but this is one exploration and BIM is a more “concrete” one.

GC/DS: In some architecture programs like the one where I teach studios are focusing on sustainability and performance, using the computer basically for simulations and optimization, but in those that have traditionally focused more on abstract issues, such as here in Harvard, I would expect another use of computation. A professor at MIT told me she sees this focus on representation as a kind of resurgence of post-modernism. Do you see something like that at Harvard?

AP: My book on ornament dealt with some issues that are related to this. There is a profound evolution in the past 5 to 10 years of the students. There is a demand on making sense again on what architecture is doing in the world. Architecture as a form of action. So the question for example of politics, of social justice, all these questions are on the rise. It’s not only about being a successful starchitect. There is also the question of communication. How do we speak to the larger public. How do we communicate meaningful messages. And there comes in some ways the postmodern temptation. Because postmodernism is obsessed by the question of communication in architecture, in media, etc. So I think probably this return to postmodernism has to do with the unanswered question of meaning, which is a question that the digital has also not fully answered. This is one of the reasons I wrote the book on ornaments: to say these are important questions. You cannot just ignore them. If you don’t address these questions, things like postmodernism may come back, which I’m not advocating, clearly.

Laboratório de prototipagem, Faculdade de Engenharia Civil, Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Unicamp
Foto divulgação [Website FEC]

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