Analog Alchemy and Digital Digressions: Hybrid Practices

Hybrid Concept Drawing. Irving Convention Center. Image by Bradley Walters with RMJM Hiller.

Over the course of the last decade, the critical discourse around contemporary architectural practice has tended to eschew celebration of singular, expressive, and emotive authors in favor of collaborative team-based practices. It has been represented increasingly by a successive shift in production from active (and willful) actions towards passive (analytic or found) actions. The most lucid examples of this are in the use of digital tools to introduce highly programmed and/or random geometries into the work. Digital algorithms introduce successive steps of differentiation and change, creating complex images and forms while often disguising their humble origins. And like the arms and legs of the marionette, digital splines are motivated by a field of unseen actors, giving them fantastic movement and form. In academic studios and practice, these digital lines and codings proliferate complexity. While indicative of our contemporary experience, this complexity also serves to obscure the hands and the operations at work: those who input the values, pull the strings, and induce change. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, we hear. The show is elsewhere.

In practice, there is a breach emerging between those who employ these digital tools and those more familiar with work made by hand. And with each successive graduating class, that space of difference continues to grow. While it is easy to either romanticize the days of yore or revel in the new world to come, it is important to recognize the value of hybrid constructions that neither dismiss the old nor reject the new. In practice, it is this inbetween work that brings us closest to a direct connection between hand and eye, between technology and production, and between history and the future. It also opens a door for crossing social, cultural, and generational bounds, to build bridges of knowledge and experience.

This paper is about opportunities for cross-pollination. It discusses modes of work: those that move from analog towards digital, those that move from digital towards analog, and those strictly analog and digital works that anchor the extremes. Analog production methods include consideration for models, freehand drawing studies (human figures, architectural spaces, and speculative constructions), and painting. Digital production includes consideration of digital models produced with Revit, Rhino, and SketchUp, amongst others. Recent work by AWAKE, RMJM, and Hillier Architecture is used for specific citations.

This paper was presented at the 2009 Design Communication Conference, 25-28 March 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The paper was subsequently published in the refereed conference proceedings.

Following review by an independent editorial board, the paper was selected to be published in Representation 2009-2010: Journal of the Design Communication Association.  Edited by M. Saleh Uddin.  Marietta, Georgia: Southern Polytechnic, 2010.  17-24.