Negotiating agency: computation and digital fabrication as design media

Cannaerts, C 2015, Negotiating agency: computation and digital fabrication as design media, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Architecture and Design, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Negotiating agency: computation and digital fabrication as design media
Author(s) Cannaerts, C
Year 2015
Abstract My research investigates agency of computation and digital fabrication and its influence on the making and materiality in architecture and design.

Recent developments in the computation and digital fabrication have made these technologies increasingly accessible to architects and designers in practice and academia, taking it from a rare novelty to a ubiquitous part of design practice. This has opened up a field of design exploration and brought material-making and materiality to the centre of attention in computational design, affording designers control over production processes at unseen scales and resolutions.

The discourse in this field tends to stress the positivist impact of these technologies – better integrated workflows, higher precision, uninterrupted flow from design intent to material artefacts – describing them as transparent and neutral. The practice of working with computation and digital fabrication in design differs from these idealised processes: materials can misbehave, computer code inherits a world-view and assumptions based on engineering and geometry, machines have limits and depend on specific material supply chains. My research investigates the extent to which this difference reveals the agencies of materials, computation and fabrication, and tests the extent to which this can lead to new creative opportunities.

I have conducted my research through my creative practice and scoped it in a designerly, practical, artistic, and scholarly context - my work consists of a series of design experiments, design studio-led investigative projects and workshops. Developing the research coincided with establishing MMlab, a research lab predicated on hands-on experimentation, fabrication and making. The research was further developed through literature and project review, collaborations and discussions with a community of practice at conferences and the practice research symposia. My exegesis groups the research in three explorations, each consisting of a framework, a number of case studies and a reflection. The first, Design and Making explores the role of making during the design process and materializing as a way of exploring rather than concretizing design ideas. The second, Code and Matter, explores how materiality and fabrication are encoded in computational design models. The third, Allographic Machines, explores designing in negotiation with specific fabrication machines. A number of inquiries were developed through these three explorations: the negotiation between design intent and the creative significance of the unexpected as well as the expected outcomes of design processes; the negotiation between the agency of the designer and the agency evident in materiality, computation and fabrication, the allographic qualities of external agencies in design.

The contribution that my research makes to new knowledge can be located within the specificity of the explorations: firstly, making explicit the agencies uncovered through the explorations; secondly, recognizing these agencies to be negotiable; and thirdly, developing design projects through negotiating these agencies. Fourthly, next to these specific contributions, a more general modus operandi has been developed for negotiating external agencies as a designer: an agile, prototypical approach to evaluating rapidly changing technologies in design.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Architecture and Design
Subjects Architectural Design
Keyword(s) design
digital fabrication
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Created: Fri, 10 Jul 2015, 14:21:38 EST by Keely Chapman
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