Chronicle | Post-History of Architecture: the digital revolution

"In France, we killed the fine arts system, but we did not kill a modernity that was sometimes a little academic," says Antoine Picon *, a Harvard professor. "Technological change first corresponds to a cultural change, otherwise the technology remains isolated and does not interest anyone," he says. Three-part meeting * *.

Article published in the architect's Mail (12-06-2013):

Claire Bailly and Jean Magerand: What difference do you make between the Revolution (punctual event) and the preparation of the revolution? Antoine Picon: For there to be a revolution, there must be before the beginnings of a realization. I did my thesis on the School of bridges and pavements. The study focused on a period from the mid-eighteenth century to the nineteenth century. The pupils of the school then disused the consequences of equality on a great nation, from the end of the years 1770, ten years before the French Revolution. Philosophers and the encyclopedia have their share of responsibility. The revolution is the realization of an inevitable change. In technicians only or in all policies and philosophers? I tend to think that the technique is not cut off from society. The company itself is asking the technology to solve many problems. Some may be mistaken. Thomas Diesel's case is famous. He wanted to invent a little engine. This was part of the utopias of the late nineteenth century, where everyone could believe that the new technological era, thanks to electricity in particular, would be marked by industrial deconcentration. This deconcentration had to break with the spatial logics of a first technological revolution based on a massive industry; Hence the idea of making small engines to work with the family. Finally, Thomas Diesel, believing in designing a small mechanic, invented the eponymous engine, which finally equipped trucks and submarines. The error is possible. Let's take the case of digital. It is interesting to observe different phases: the beginnings, with Nicolas Negroponte, or later, the Medialab at MIT. The idea was to model the process of developing the project and make the computer a partner in the design. From the years 60 to the years 80, there were many who ensured that assisted drawing would not be a solution. Finally, during the years 1990, the assisted design was very widespread. It is only today that we see problems related to design modeling. In digital, evolution is not linear. Round trips are frequent. 02 (@TamaLeaver) _ S. jpg Is this versatility inherent in digital? Not. The techniques undergo the same fate. For example, for a very long time, the videophone did not take, for various reasons, some of which were social. Today, the tool is slowly coming back with technologies like FaceTime. The return is done by other means and in an optional way. Fundamentally, technological changes are first and foremost cultural changes, otherwise technology remains isolated and does not interest anyone. The advent of the computer was only possible by the information society that preceded it. Colossal data processing needs have emerged at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The computer arrived 50 years later. This does not mean that the techniques, then, do not change the giving. Is there not a big gap between when a technique is invented and when it becomes domestic? If we take computer science in architecture, we can distinguish several moments. There was an experimental phase, around the end of the years 1950, and then in the early 1960 years, some ' fiddling ' with electronic tools that were still not very maneuverable. There were experiences, but the profession was only slightly affected. The profession was only concerned from the moment when the home world, with the advent of the microcomputers, was. Macintosh and the first PCs arrived at the agencies at the same time as in the homes. It was a matter of using word processing or spreadsheet applications. No one could foresee at that time the importance of the computer in the conception. One of the first initiatives was ' Pearls Studio ', imagined in 1994 at Columbia by Bernard Tschumi. This was an experiment proposing for a project to use only the computer as a graphical tool, among other things. Replacing the rotring with the computer is an conceivable hypothesis in the mid-90 years. Since then, everything has gone very fast. In 2000, the dean of the Princeton School of architecture was still wondering whether he would wire his school or not. Today, in 2012, there is no doubt that in order to make architecture, it is necessary to know how to manipulate programs and software. The chronology is much more recent than some imagine. 03 (@andrewcparnell) _ B. jpg Can we say that there is, on the one hand, the computer as a tool and, on the other hand, the computer as a device binding the conceptual evolution and influencing the project approach? Both went together. Greg Lynn, for example, was one of the first theorists of machine use. He already described, in an article-' folding on architecture ', dating from the beginning of the years 1990-his ideas about computer-aided design, which will later serve as a program to the architecture of blobs. At the time, the computer is a possibility among others. Reference is also made, for example, to the Hollywood morphing techniques. In clear, the theoretical program of use of the machine arrived a little before the machine itself. Again, the machine did not transform things from the outside. Already within the discipline, evolutions were felt. In the Anglo-Saxon world, the terrain was cleared by various researches, including those of Peter Eisenman (who Greg Lynn worked on, ed.) In the years 1980. In France too, there have been people who have thought about assisted conception as at Gamsau in Marseille. There is a history but the French were probably more surprised than the others. Through your different speeches as a teacher, what do you think is the place that this technological universe can take in the teaching of architecture? What I propose in general is a triangle space/society/technology. Within my historical gaze, the weight of the present has been much stronger in recent years. We are experiencing a revolution of great magnitude, so we have to be interested in it. Contemporary changes are at the heart of my teaching. Whatever the country, I obviously see a real difference between architects and engineers. However, all are faced with the same need to question the relationship between society, space and technology. This seems to me to be a fundamental question. Overall, French architects are very cautious about digital. Young generations, between 20 and 30 years old, show little differences, including considering their country of origin. While cultural differences remain, most architectural students are now much more aware of digital issues than they were before. For example, when I was teaching in Portugal, I was struck by discovering students who were very similar to American students. Globalization has made a kind of ' world culture '. We can deplore it but also observe the good sides. Among them are the collectives of reflection on contemporary problems. That being said, there are still local specificities; In France For example, we stay very focused on the city, more than in the United States. The American city remains, despite its plans of regulation and its new urbanism, more a city of objects, like the Asian city. 04 (@funnypolynomial) _ S. jpg France inherited the debates and the Italian influence of the years 1970-1980 and the conception of objects is often dependent on urban logic. This is also one of the reasons why the digital revolution was experienced with more mistrust, because it appeared as a kind of unbridled formalism. Who could have foreseen that we would see this very curious alliance today, between a kind of Haussmann nostalgia and the legacy of the modern movement? In France, we killed the fine Arts. Have we killed a modernity sometimes a little academic? Interview by Claire Bailly and Jean Magerand * Antoine Picon, general engineer for bridges, waters and forests, is professor of History of architecture and technology and director of doctoral studies at Harvard (Graduate School of Design and Architecture) * * After the first part ' to architects, duty of inventory ' and ' Post-History of Architecture: The digital revolution ', we will publish the third and final part of this interview ' architecture must be perplexed ' on 26 June 2013.