Tinker, Tailor, Gesamtkunstwerker | Villemardian Dreams

“Come here Architect, paint it a little red. This is the future if we don’t fight”

Wolf D Prix, Design Principal,COOP HIMMELB(L)AU [5]

“The arrival of the robot is a net loss”

Bill Gates, Founder, Microsoft

“Making or tinkering requires desire, fleshy fingers and a BIM tool or two to aid in the act…CAD’s crashed again.”

Marcus Örmándé, Frustrated BIM Presenter, CSA Architects, 2014

Postcards by Villemard, L’An 2000

The history of artificial or automated tool aids in production has its basis in the earliest mills powered variously by water, wind and miserable donkey, all to be eventually replaced by fossil fuels. Early mills and the structures encasing the functional mechanisms observed a direct relationship of function and form: quite often the settable geometry such as grind stones determined the overall structure: an early display of Hans Scharoun-esque inwards-out design if ever there was one. Industrialisation coupled to the growing complexity and cost of these mills led to the reduction of the maker within the act of production as the cost and efficiency gains began to outweigh the risk of fleshy control and intervention. The modern coalescing of industry into global conglomerates further predicated upon efficiency and profit led to production solely as an act of the owner, proprietor or marketer. Architecture and design (William Morris excepted) has suffered a relatively recent fall from that of principal maker to that of enabler and negotiator with the means of production. The recent capitulation was in part due to the introduction of CAD, programming and sequencing tools that proliferated and eroded the unique status of the architect. Anyone, in effect with the right program can commission a building and the cultural programme be damned. Simply put: it’s quite often the builders’,engineer’s and the purses’ terms not the architects’ and the poverty of design of most built structures in the last three decades is telling.

There is however, a new emergent paradigm due to the synthesis of contemporary manufacturing and computing. Robotic armatures, 6-axis subtractive mills & additive processing have in turn eliminated a stage in the means of production providing a direct conduit from Architect to Built form . It’s a Villemardian Dream come true, BIM is our liberator and Robots (not the Slavic kind) are our friends. The data that a Designer-Maker produces, replete with all the cultural & aesthetic information is identical from digital model to CNC tool path to made object.


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Projects from Norman Foster’s British Museum Great Court outputted design data directly to manufacturing robots designed originally to melt car windscreens under gravity to shape. Wolf Prix’s BMW Welt used a number of differing automated machine processes, bending, folding and water jet cutting to produce his complex ‘cloud-brain’ at the heart of the project. Designs by Archi-Union Architects in Shanghai, Chengdu and elsewhere employ the use of additive manufacturing: in the form of requisitioned car-making robots reprogrammed to lay bricks. The complexity of the brick design could only be produced by a capable Architect producing the data and outputting directly to a machine: contemporary builders would baulk at the complexity. Heatherwick Studio’s recently completed Zeitz MOCCA in Cape Town is the first example of this Villemardian dream in adaptive reuse. Concrete slipform silos: itself an early form of automated, pneumatic construction were LIDAR scanned, subtractively designed on the studio computers and outputted to the construction team as precise 3D data for precision, laser aligned deconstruction. At a more intimate scale, skilled designer-makers are utilising automated machining to directly manufacture small objects: from ceramic vases to chairs, tables and hooks.

In effect we are all back to tinkering. free from interference, with a totality to our art.


Next week is a full Podcast with Designer-Maker-Architect-Musicologist Dr. Emma Matthews engaged in producing Gesamtkunstwerks with these contemporary tools.

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