The Social and Environmental Impact of Incorporating Computer Aided Design Technologies into an Architectural Design Process
Gunn, W. (2006), ‘Gesture, speech, drawing and writing: CAD and the architectural design process’. In: Architects of the 21st Century: Agents of Change? Proceedings of the Nordic Association of Architectural Research Annual Symposium. School of Architecture, Copenhagen, Denmark: KADK
365 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2016 Last revised: 19 Oct 2016
Date Written: January 9, 2002
Studies in the history of architecture tend to focus on form, leading to a narrow emphasis on visual aesthetics. Adopting an anthropological perspective my research sets out to widen this understanding, by considering how architectural knowledge influences conceptual orientation and how this, in turn, affects the perception of the environment and subsequent decision-making processes and ways of working. Specifically the research explores the problems and potentials of the introduction of computer aided design (CAD) tools into architectural working practices and how this impacts on existing traditions and relations with the environment. The argument focuses on the relations between agents and technologies, and on the representation of these relations, working between the realms of the abstract and the material. Within the architectural design process, knowledge is shown to be situated, embodying a process of thinking and acting within a social context. This challenges the assumptions that action is controlled by an interior process of thought, and that thinking is separate from doing. My findings show that architects do not separate thinking from doing during the developmental phases of a design process. I argue that the interrelations between human perception, creativity, innovation and skill, within a group design process, should be understood in context, hot as abstractions but as grounded in the activities of persons within a field of social relations. My research focuses on the following areas: the interrelations between tools and landscapes of use; simulation, automation and control of human movements; processes of representation and transformation in the domains of vision, verbal dialogue, touch and manipulation; self-definition and identity formation within sociotechnical relations; doubt, hesitation and the creative process; problems of acquiring and sharing knowledge between disciplines and across sites; visual thinking and decision-making processes; correlates of tool-use, imitation and learning. Ethnographic material was gathered during sixteen months of fieldwork, between September 1997 and June 1999. Field research was conducted principally in Norway, Finland and Denmark. It involved thirty structured interviews, unstructured discussions, archival research, the development of a seminar and participation in a multi-disciplinary workshop involving a systems designer, a cultural historian, and an anthropologist. Professionals from the building industry, systems designers, historians of science and technology, anthropologists and philosophers were involved in the project. Interviews were conducted in Norwegian and English. The bulk of the Norwegian field research was conducted in the city of Tromso in collaboration with a number of architectural practices. During the final four months, I was working with an architectural practice in Oslo while undertaking a case study of how CAD technologies were incorporated into the design process for the new Alexandria Library in Egypt. My research shows that CAD technologies are being incorporated into working processes as means of reinforcing traditional practices. The capacity of CAD technologies to assemble diverse kinds of information is understood by a number of architects as a way of regaining control over the building process. At the same time, developments in the design of CAD technologies directly impact upon how architects understand the performative aspects of traditional knowledge systems within the architectural design process. The thesis demonstrates how anthropological studies of technology can help to understand the relations between agents and technologies in new ways. It offers an enhanced understanding of what is meant by situated action, especially with regard to the dynamic interrelations between gesture and speech. Moreover the study highlights the contribution that anthropological knowledge can make concerning the problem of human/machine communication. Finally, the thesis presents new ethnographic material in an area of the anthropology of technology - namely, architectural design - which to date has been little studied.
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