Speculative Conception

The Canadian Architect Digital Media Awards (formerly the Art of CAD) has embarked on a more holistic approach to attracting experiments and projects that integrate and exploit digital media through a more dynamic generative design process. New advances in technology have allowed both architectural firms and individual students to explore the digital realm in ways that can engage the client and further research the ways that architecture is produced.

The 2004 competition was again sponsored by Autodesk, Business Information Group and the Works Visual Art and Design Festival in Edmonton, where selected entries will be exhibited from June 25 to July 7, 2004. We have attempted to include, as much as possible, a description of the process, limitations and intentions of each of the winners in the following pages.

Nicholas Moshenko, Shane Williamson and GianPiero Moretti were this year’s jury members. With the redefined parameters of the awards program, the jury were generally impressed with the nature of the submissions and their attempts to introduce new modes of thinking into the digital realm.

Jury Comments

Nicholas Moshenko If there is one statement that I can make regarding this year’s entries in the Digital Media Awards, it would be: students rule. Certainly as a result of the change in competition guidelines, and quite possibly the client-driven reality of commercial work, students dominated most categories, showing a willingness to experiment with some exciting and varied media. It seems that the shift from “CAD” to “Media” has caught many off guard as if, suddenly, work done without experimental technology has become invalid or uninventive. While some entries truly stretched the limits of current technology, the most successful entrants presented ideas in a challenging manner using readily available media. True, the continued advancement of personal computing power played a role in the ability of the entrants to explore these ideas, but the ability of the artist plays a more important one.

Perhaps it is a result of this shift that we saw a weaker showing in the traditionally plentiful field of photo-realistic entries. Despite previous juries’ speculation about such work and its role in visualization and design, I believe that the opportunities for expression with today’s breed of photo-realistic tools–which are not limited to rendering engines–have never been greater. Hopefully, more will take on the challenge next year of creating works using this medium that challenge our notions of photo-realism and bring more commercial artists back to the awards.

Shane Williamson The challenge of how architectural design processes might be re-articulated to address active engagements with digital media was the source of experimentation for many of the submissions for this year’s awards. Within this context, it is refreshing to see the use of digital tools transcend the normative role of visualization and become an integral part of generative design methodologies. Entries to both the speculative and the applied categories showed an awareness of the capacity for computation to produce multiple copies of schema that supports an iterative design process in which otherwise tentative operations can be performed without reservation. Although incomplete and abstract, artifacts produced through such means are inherently speculative and highly influential to the outcome of a creative process.

In addition, two award recipients were recognized for their proposed use and/or alteration of visualization and fabrication technologies. Such technologies have enabled new aesthetics that are largely informed by a design and manufacturing paradigm that puts forth a material world created and formed using a process where design, analysis and production have become a relatively seamless collaborative process dependent upon digital representation.

As a whole, the submissions varied widely in both content and composition. Many of the student projects were able to more clearly convey systematic design strategies. As well, the distinction between “professional” and “amateur” visualization is becoming increasingly blurred due to expanding personal skill sets and the availability of software. Despite the advent of increasingly sophisticated digital rendering tools, the jurors’ discussion extended beyond the role of photo-realism and addressed broader issues of design inclusive of digital media.

GianPiero Moretti This year’s Digital Media Awards gave us an opportunity to reflect on how techniques in new media relate to architectural representation. On one hand, the speculative category constituted a window on theoretical works that explored the various means of exploiting the many techniques and various tools available to architects today. On the other hand the applied category which included many submissions by professional firms, allowed us to measure the ways in which digital media can contribute to a “real” and built architecture comprising our contemporary landscape.

In my opinion, there are several fundamental questions that relate to a debate surrounding the use of new media in architecture. In what way can the use of these new tools in digital media contribute and benefit to the transformation of an architectural project? Do advances in digital media allow projects to rise above and beyond the traditional means of conceiving built spaces? These are questions that allow us to refine the role of representation in the development of a project and its raison d’tre in relation to the building and the city.

The introduction of new forms of media in conceiving of and representing space facilitates the comprehension of a projected or proposed design, enabling the translation of the spaces themselves. This allows a better understanding of the spatial and temporal play of a given project, as well as a multiplicity of views and a supplementary tool for the conception of spaces. This “extension” of cognitive possibilities will also permit the creation of new complex forms and the possibility of realizing details otherwise unattainable.

Nicholas Moshenko is founder and partner of DesignStor.com, a 3D visualization/web development studio based in Toronto. After studying architecture at the University of Waterloo, Nicholas worked in the visualization industry for several years before launching DesignStor.com, which currently works with architects, developers and property owners on a wide variety of visualization and web projects.

Shane Williamson is an Assistant Professor of Architectural Design and Computing at the University of Toronto whose research and teaching interests involve an exploration of manufacturing and production technologies related to architecture and industrial design. Most recently, Prof. Williamson was the recipient of a Canada Foundation for Innovation New Opportunities grant for the establishment of a new Digital Design and Production Research Facility at the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.

GianPiero Moretti is Assistant Professor at the cole d’architecture at l’Universit Laval in Qubec City. He graduated from the Polytechnical University of Turin in 1989, and has been a member of the Order of Architects of Turin since 1990. Since arriving in Canada in 1996, he has worked with architect Anne Vallires on projects in Canada and in Italy. Moretti and Vallires received the Prix Marcel Parizeau from the Ordre des architectes du Qubec in 2003. His career combines teaching, research and practice, and his interests include the transformation and representation of the built environment.

Everyone who works with computers seems to develop an intuitive faith that there is some kind of actual space behind the screen.

William Gibson

The Databank describes the integration of two increasingly understandable modes of information gathering–the digital and the physical–to reveal an architecture that draws from and is inspired by our digital realities. The [con]fusion of these two polar situations results in mediated reality whereby digital objects and/or
surfaces are layered upon the actual physical environment in real time with the use of the head-mounted display (Databank Personal Viewer) or the mobile flat panel monitor (Databank Window Viewer).

Augmented or mediated reality represents an alternative to or an advancement from the dormant field of virtual reality. Unlike virtual reality that seeks to replace physical reality, augmented or mediated reality only seeks to add, or in some cases, remove information from the surrounding environment. The cyborg architect will wear the Databank devices throughout the day as a means of mediating his digital architectural visions within the constraints of a physical environment.

The limitations of current digital design media was the premise for the Databank project. The absence of true 3-dimensional space in digital model-making and representation is the most detrimental aspect of digital design. Current digital design processes merely involve the representation of 3-dimensional space in 2 dimensions, creating an abstraction. The Databank allows for the freedom of creation in a true 3-dimensional physical space at full scale. The cyborg architect composes and lives his personal reality using his innate ability to navigate physical space. Harley Grusko

Moshenko I’m not sure which is more remarkable: that a Masters student was able to modify off-the-shelf hardware and open source software libraries to create a real-time, 3D camera matching device, or that it was done at a Canadian school of architecture. The ramifications of this type of device for the architectural community are potentially ground-breaking, as I imagine myself being able to stand on site and “sketch” in 3D, thus experiencing a true convergence of design and visualization. This entry and its accompanying documentation will keep me busy researching for weeks in preparation of building my own!

Moretti The innovative approach of this “architectural” performance creates interesting avenues relative to the spatial perception of real and imagined architectural spaces. The use of hardware as a means of mediating between reality and virtual reality contributes to a new vision of space and its structure.

Design Conception Applied: Winner

David Collins, Mississauga

Warehouse and Office Complex

School of Architecture, University of Waterloo

Form Z 3.95, Photoshop 5.5

This image was produced for a building construction studio project at the University of Waterloo. The purpose of this project was to develop a new rhetoric for skin design in industrial buildings, and to study what effects that skin might have in an urban context.

Using a single panel, and a variety of conventional architectural representations, one is able to convey both the technical aspects of a design solution as well as the aesthetic. Texture, light, reflections, shadows are all integrated into this one drawing, where one can see both the tectonic elements as well as the visual implications of each element.

I use digital media to convey my concepts. I find it almost impossible to convey the same amount of information using any other form of media. David Collins

Moshenko This entry is remarkable in its ability to convey a relatively large amount of information in a single drawing. These types of collage images seem to have fallen out of favour in the commercial world, yet as this entry displays, could still be quite relevant. I appreciate the author’s attempts to abstract the base photograph which was probably quite marginal, rather than create a sunny, cheerful rendering. The resulting image is powerful and seductive, and demonstrates a photographer’s eye.

Williamson This is a very seductive project. The subtle combination of rendered content within a still photograph presents a highly sympathetic reading of both materiality and site specificity.

Moretti The apparent simplicity of this representation permits clear and direct communication of a complex process. The synthesis of the elements of composition, context and construction is achieved in a masterful manner.

Design Conception Applied: Honourable Mention

Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc./Cicada Design

The Esplanade, City of Medicine Hat Arts and Heritage Centre, Auditorium Section

3D Studio Max, Lightscape, Photoshop

Medicine Hat’s new Arts and Heritage Centre, located in the downtown core, will accommodate the community’s need for a combined performing arts, visual arts and heritage preservation venue. The intimate 700-seat auditorium is an exemplar of flexible theatre design accommodating both “proscenium” and “one-room” configurations for a variety of musical and dramatic performances. The section demonstrates the possible configurations and acoustical capabilities made available through the fly tower, the retractable forestage reflectors, the hard surfaces on the floor and balcony fronts and the continuous wooden construction of the orchestra shell and theatre wall which can be adapted according to performance requirements.

The burden of misplaced literalness in computer-generated imagery can be onerous. Our office operates under the assumption that there are three important and discrete ways in which CGI can assist the design process:

those related to describing the sense of place–the ability to summarize, imbue with relative detail, give emphasis, delicacy and focus;

those related to the exploration of the building’s geometries and shapes–the ability to quickly and intuitively respond, in the virtual 3D space, to the contextual and compositional forces of form, space, order, surface, and mass in light;

and finally those related to the technical and scientific fulfillment of a component or an assemblage.

While there are many tools for creating elegant imagery, there are far too few for either intuitive exploration or for practical links to manufacturing and production. Diamond and Schmitt Architects

Moshenko While technically competent, I found this entry to fall short in breaking new ground. The sectional perspective is certainly inviting, and the authors are obviously very talented with their software of choice. However, given such proficiency and experience, I was hoping for something previously unseen that would continue to push the boundaries of photo-realism as these types of works did years ago.

Williamson The sectional perspective is a formidable representational tool. This is a wonderfully executed rendering seemingly unique to Diamond and Schmitt Architects in the context of these awards.

Design Conception Applied: Honourable Mention

Hariri Pontarini Architects

Bah’ Temple for South America

Autocad, Maya, CATIA

This design was developed for an international competition established by the Universal House of Justice to design a scheme for a Bah’ Temple of South America near Santiago, Chile. The brief called for a nine-sided domed structure with nine entrances to symbolically welcome people from all directions of the earth for prayer and meditation. Our starting point was to create a glowing temple of light comprised of translucent stone leaves forming the outer shell, with a delicate wood tracery as an inner layer.

Initial inspiration was drawn from the shape of an egg, the experience of looking up under a canopy of trees, and patterns of hanging icicles, as explored through sketches, renderings and 3D models. Digital rendering programs drastically pushed the design in new directions and allowed us to experience space in new ways. However, the return to a 3D model was important to enable us to clearly visualize the design concept.

Conventional CAD programs could not bring the complex conceptual design to reality, and thus demanded the introduction of a more sophisticated product design, development and manufacturing tool not normally used in the field of architecture. Although this slowed down the design process and demanded a significant investment in both the technology and the education of our designers, our hope is that this investment, learning and excitement will continue beyond this project into our futu
re work. Hariri Pontarini Architects

Moshenko Among the many pages of this entry could be found some potentially compelling images. As a digital sketchbook, the images provided a glimpse into the process of the design, which is remarkable for its use of high-end software (CATIA). Some careful editing of the package would have made this a much stronger entry.

Williamson Presented as a work in progress, this project stands alone amongst all submissions in its use of parametric technologies within the design process. As an exposition of vignettes and screen captures, this submission portrays a project at various developmental stages. Rather than present an alienating view of technology, the Bah’ Temple offers a glimpse of dynamic criticality and authorship immersed within the realm of digital media.

Moretti The design process used to generate the forms for this complex project merits a mention. In effect, the use of software not traditionally used in architecture permitted an important conceptual jump in the development of this project. The progression of design and the spatial conceptualization of the structure is clearly expressed in the series of renderings that demonstrate the various design phases of the project.

Design Conception Speculative: Winner

Paddy Harrington, Toronto


Master’s thesis, Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto

Rhinoceros, 3D Studio V12, Photoshop, Premiere

This project is a thesis project completed in January 2004 for the Master of Architecture Program at the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto.

It speculates that the essential role of architecture may be a search for the design of a fundamental structure that will shelter all the information required to continue life after a universe-destroying black hole.

One subject of relevance to the field of architecture broached here is the idea that information is physical. Tom Siegfried, in his book entitled The Bit and the Pendulum, argues that all information, including digital information, is as physical as conventional matter, like rocks or the arrangement of atoms in DNA. This would argue for a change in the perception of digital media where computer-generated models and drawings are understood as more than representations on a screen, but as actual, physical objects. This change in perception should bring with it a change in our approach to digitally aided design. It is a powerful design medium that calls for a more serious engagement and investigation of its inherent physical potentials.

The film follows a narrative and is 14 minutes long. This exceeds the stated 5-minute maximum, but it was decided to submit the film in its entirety as opposed to in an abridged version. Paddy Harrington

Moshenko Along with being one of the most impressive entries to the competition, Ark is probably one of the more interesting films that I’ve seen in some time. As individual pieces, the components of this project are quite ordinary: 3D renderings are of basic quality, narration done in conversation style, photos from location scrapbooks. What makes this piece sing is the combination of great storytelling, careful editing and thought-provoking ideas that are conveyed through intelligent use of relatively basic computer technology.

Williamson The video accompanying this submission is very impressive in terms of both editing and content. The supporting imagery accompanied by narrative provides the ideal presentational vehicle for this architectural thesis. Although a clear winner in its category, I think that this project was perceptibly the least digital in nature of all the submissions. Accordingly, the submission’s clarity, execution and capacity for provocation were held in high regard amongst the jurors.

Moretti This project proposes a theoretical reflection on the role of electronic media in the development of architecture and its representation. The subtle game between memory and its image, along with its transformation across future generations is expressed in a clear and sensitive manner. The use of different means of representation is inscribed in a spatial and temporal continuum that takes the observer into an intriguing journey through a hybrid space where the real and the virtual are a mirrored reflection of each other.

Design Conception Speculative: Honourable Mention

Ritchie Yao, Toronto

The Being John Malkovich Project and The Alien Hiding Behind A Box

Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto

Rhinoceros 3.0, 3D Max 5.1 with Brazil Rendering Engine, Adobe Photoshop 7.0

The Being John Malkovich Project furthers my personal interest of exploring and developing architecture around elements of popular culture that seemingly has little connection to architecture. What resulted was a paperless studio project, which began in the study of editing techniques, and ended in looking at how a specific film can be reinterpreted into architecture. As the title suggests, the element of popular culture that serves as the basis for the project is the 1999 film Being John Malkovich by director Spike Jonze. A systematic process based on film editing techniques and the plot and the interaction of the characters in the movie was developed to generate an architectural form. Unique architetural forms can be generated from the systematic process since the forms are determined by the actions exhibited by a chosen character in the movie.

For the second submission, the architectural concept behind this fashion workshop was based on a narrative image of an alien hiding behind a box. The narrative is both a cursory image that came to mind during the initial site visit and a satirical look at the stereotypical premonition of an “architecture concept.” The narrative was developed in reaction to the often formulaic and perfunctory concepts found in architecture. My interest was to look for overtly outrageous elements that seemingly had little connection or relationship to architecture and to base a concept upon these elements. The building was created in semblance to an alien hiding behind a box. For the workshop, a comic strip narrative of a fearful alien hiding behind a box was used.

The site is an L-shaped narrow infill fronting onto both Queen and Euclid Streets. Architecturally the workshop is divided into three simple volumetric spaces: production, circulation and reception. The reception space fronts onto Euclid Street and is connected by a circulatory space that allows access to two separate production spaces in the front and back of the building. Ritchie Yao

Moshenko Both of these submissions focus on the author’s process of design, yet yield very different results. I found The Being John Malkovich Project to be a fascinating exploration of design through the use of digital video tools. While the motive and morality behind this project may be questionable, the work produced by it is beautifully disturbing and documented in a very seductive manner. The Alien Hiding Behind A Box shows the same touch in graphic documentation, but seems to lack the rigour of its companion entry when examining the process behind the project.

Williamson The Being John Malkovich Project proposes a form-finding approach to architecture that is highly iterative and subjective. The layered video study presents an intense audio experience accompanied by an unusual collapsed temporal view of the selected movie scene. Although I find the subsequent mapping exercises appropriate for their level of abstraction, the final project is largely unresolved. The strength of this submission lies in its clear and indexical presentation that belies its faith in a generative design methodology. The presentation of The Alien Hiding Behind A Box is alluring but the content is problematic. Allusions to an indexed study of form seem contrived and arbitrary. In my opinion, the first submission is far more deserving of this award.