Yildiz Technical Univeristy
8-9 July 2013
DIGITAL VERNACULAR: Democratizing Architectural Making
“Design, like war, is an uncertain trade, and we have to make the things we have designed before we can find out whether our assumptions are right or wrong… ’Research’ is very often a euphemism for trying the wrong ways first, as we all must do.”
Prior to the Industrial Age, most architecture was created by the master craftsman or within the vernacular trades where knowledge and making were aligned. The Industrial Age, and most recently the Information Age, shifted the role of the architect away from that of the “master craftsman” to the professional “knowledge worker.”2 As a result, a divide between “knowledge” and “making” in the practice of architecture occurred . This shift impacted an essential part of the architect’s process by degrading the symbiotic relationship between mind-and-hand and limiting the immediate design consequences that only “making” can provide. But recent technological developments have changed the economic model of design and making in architecture. The cost reduction in digital fabrication tools has re-established a connection between knowledge and making in architectural practice. It has provided new opportunities for craft, design, and architectural practice. The purpose of this paper is to examine these new opportunities and define what constitutes the digital vernacular.
Vernacular, as it relates to architecture and design, is defined by material availability, community knowledge, and access to tools. As J.B. Jackson observed in Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, the architecture of farmers and wage earners was transformed with the settlement of North America. The abundance of wood, paired with the settlers’ knowledge of woodworking, spawned a vernacular revolution that has been carried out to the present. The paper will seek to define the digital vernacular by evaluating each of the following variables: tools, knowledge, and materials. Using normative practice as a control, the paper will conduct a comparative analysis of these variables by examining economic viability (cost-to-wage ratios), logistical feasibility (training & facilities), and skillset availability within the domain of architecture (insourced versus outsourced). Using this data, and resulting guidelines, the paper will demonstrate the successes and failures of a practice using the digital vernacular as its primary project delivery methodology.
The focus of this research is not to build an inventory of equipment and methods; rather it is to develop a higher understanding of what constitutes vernacular practice within the digital age. Exploring the digital vernacular is not intended to seek new form-making, but to improve and inform our understanding of traditional vernacular methods and to enable a new generation of master craftsmen. This clarity is imperative as to ensure the quality of design and making with emerging technologies and help to prevent high-volume, low-quality results.