After a very successful shift to a fully virtual experience in 2020 in response to the covid-19 pandemic, ACADIA (The Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture), once again held its annual conference online in 2021. Titled “Realignments: Toward Critical Computation”, This year’s actions marked the 40th anniversary of a conference that brings together practitioners, researchers, academics and theorists to present and discuss new ways of utilizing software, calculations and manufacturing towards the end of better architecture and design.
In light of pressing cultural issues of race and social justice and inequality, Realignments sought to answer the question, “How can the computational design community critically address issues of liberation, intersectionality, and our computational publications?”
The conference was chaired by Behnaz Farahi (California State University Long Beach), Biayna Bogosian (Florida International University), Jane Scott (Newcastle University), Jose Luis García del Castillo y Lόpez (Harvard Graduate School of Design), Kathrin Dörfler (Technical University of Munich ), June Grant (blinkLAB), Stefana Parascho (Princeton University) and Vernelle AA Noel (Georgia Tech). Cameron Nelson (Cornell) served as Conference Project Manager.
Unlike previous iterations, interactive workshops were not held at the same time as the conference, but several months earlier, which took place on 11 and 12 September online. In line with ACADIA’s tradition, research paper presentations covered a host of exciting projects and topics, including new approaches to CNC milling and 3D printing, new tasks for robotic arm manufacturing, and continued inquiries in the emerging field of artificial intelligence and machine learning in architecture. Although it did not detract from the importance of the research in the newspaper section of the event, perhaps the most notable part of the event was the change that occurred with the keynote.
Keynotes migrated away from typical ACADIA-n research on robotic arms, advanced manufacturing technology, new mold search, new material applications or project presentations, instead stepping back and talking about more basic issues of data, bias, ethics and inclusivity. This was a welcome response to a world that has changed so drastically since the most recent personal conference in 2019 (“Ubiquity and Autonomy” at the University of Texas at the Austin School of Architecture), where the celebrities were Thom Mayne, Pritzker Prize-winning founder of Morphosis, Dominique Jakob, co-founder of Jakob + MacFarlane, and Harlen Miller, senior architect at UNStudio.
Instead, the first keynote, “Critical Computation: Participation, Intersectionality, and Emancipatory Design,” featured Lesley-Ann Noel, who presented emancipatory design and design thinking; Amelia Jones, who countered the inherent whiteness and neutrality that design and technology often presuppose, and notes by Kzysztof Wodiczko, Ronald Rael, and Virginia San Fratello. Rael and San Fratello offered work close to traditional architectural practice, focusing on sustainable materials technology with their Cabin of 3D-Printed Curiosities, an accessory in Oakland, California, with a 3D-printed ceramic tile facade and a 3D-printed transparent bioplastic interior. Another project by Rael and San Fratello, Casa Covida, combined 3D printing with domestic and traditional adobe earth building materials to create three outdoor rooms with truncated conical rooms – one for cooking, one for swimming and one for sleeping. In a panel discussion at the end of the session, Rael described the impact of their work by saying, “We do not work with utopias or dystopias; we work with realities.” He stressed that design tools, such as the open source Potterware app that they developed in Grasshopper that Casa Covida came from, that allow people to empower themselves can go much further than individual buildings or spaces.
The second keynote session, which delved into a whirlwind of rapid technical issues, discussed AI, data, bias, and ethics with Benjamin Bratton, Sarah Williams, Lauren Lee McCarthy, and Caitlin Mueller. Bratton acknowledged that much of the discussion and skepticism surrounding artificial intelligence has been about surveillance and data integrity issues, emphasizing that it is important not to confuse “implementation for ontology” or what AI is currently. used for does not necessarily mean that it’s what AI is is. Instead, Bratton argued that the problem of artificial intelligence and its relationship to surveillance capitalism is not artificial intelligence per se but “romantic, narcissistic, bourgeois liberal individualism per se” that focuses on individual consumer behaviors.
Williams and Bratton discussed whether the most important data involve humans at all, concluding that although some of the most important social and political data (coal, electricity, land use flows) include humans, it will not lead to modeling individual human carbon footprints. to industrial decarburization. “
The third keynote, which included Paola Antonelli, Justin Garrett Moore, Mariana Popescu and Lydia Kallipoliti, discussed “Design Imperatives in Social and Environmental Crises.” Affects countless questions and projects from XXII Triennale Milano 2019 (Broken nature) such as slave ship technology and redlining maps, the KnitCandela project by ZHA Code, and the problem of upcycling, the speakers all focused on the role of the imagination in social and ecological issues.
Perhaps most profoundly, Moore viewed the engineering and ingenuity of slave ships as a shameful exercise in calculation and design that radically changed the world. Moore asked us, “What other fantasies can change the world? What is our opposite?” After criticizing the famous sustainability book Cradle-to-Cradle by William McDonough to reduce ecological systems to an optimized capitalist mode of production, Kallipoliti drew a link between the slave ship manifestos and a current atrocity of design, the dense and windowless proposal for Munger Hall at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The last keynote panel, “Emerging Trends in Response to Critical Computation and Practice”, led by Jenny Sabin, heard from Charlotte Malterre-Barthes on a global moratorium on building construction in response to COVID-19, Martha Nowak on circulation simulations and drone robots, and Dr Dori Barrel stall about “technical nightmares.” Speaking of decolonization of design and technology, Tunstall said that the story of progress is deeply embedded in technology, but the notion of progress must be examined: progress for whom? Tunstall pointed out that software that we use and take for granted is often based on master / slave relationships. She also made that connection as dystopian “technical nightmares” that science fiction movies like I robot, are rooted in white fears of the slave revolt; the coup for the machine that looms in the white imaginary is based on racist animus. We need to change the underlying consciousness of technology, she concluded.
Overall, ACADIA 2021 was a comprehensive and exciting culmination of many branches and voices in research and design in an accessible online format. The 41st edition of ACADIA is scheduled to return to personal programming in the fall of 2022 at the Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania.