Computer Control

The Canadian Centre for Architecture and Greg Lynn uncover the early history of digital design.

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 A view of the exhibition, with a model of Peter Eisenman’s Biozentrum, Biology Center for the J.W. Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in the foreground.

 © CCA, Montreal

It also required a different skill set. How do you think that affected architectural practices?
We would hear it over and over again, that there was a loss of authorship and control to consultants. You started to get these segregations of skill sets where some people became digital specialists and the architects were the generalists. The architects were struggling
to not have that segregation happen. Chuck [Hoberman] was the most extreme. He refused to have some specialist do that stuff; he just learned programming himself.

What were the different attitudes towards the computer?
They really looked at it as a member of the design team. It wasn’t a tool, it wasn’t a thing that had a neutral, noncreative role in the projects. Peter Eisenman treated the computer the same way he treated me. He gave us both the same instructions. But it’s going to be interesting to see how, three or five years later, a generation that had seen all that early work going on approached the computer. The paperless studios at Columbia University, for example, took the computer as a media tool and tried to figure out what it could be used for in architecture. You hear a word over and over—experiment. But they don’t mean a scientific experiment, where you test a hypothesis, they mean an art project: You have a typewriter and monkeys and hope something comes out of it. But here’s a bunch of older guys who integrated the computer into what they were doing, rather than treating it as an alien thing.

A perspective view of the Biozentrum project

Peter Eisenman fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. 

This exhibition is the first of a series, are there any particular themes that you’d like to explore in future editions?
In the next show, we’ll have between six and ten projects which posed the biggest problems for the CCA—everything has a mechanical-robot component to it and deals with scripting, animation, and expression tools, which are the toughest things to archive. The last show will be ten or twelve  large-scale buildings. And it will be the people that you associate with digital technology but in fact didn’t really come to it until the nineties, like Morphosis and Zaha Hadid.

It seems like the technology changed so rapidly that we have to work just as fast to write its history.
The historians that have been up to see the show were polite, but they’re quick to tell me I shouldn’t be involved. I keep saying that this is really about collecting the stuff before it’s gone, putting it in an institution that’s dedicated to scholarship, and recording the oral histories. Because there’s really no way, say with Lars Spuybroek’s Water Pavilion, that you can understand the creative process if you don’t have all the videos, the interactive technology, and the computer models. No historian could do their job without that material, and it’s all in the basement of Lars’s sister’s house right now. God knows, one more move by his sister and it could be lost. So we’re just trying to get as much of it in the museum for scholars as we can. 

Archaeology of the Digital is on view at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, through October 13

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