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Design at the Interface

Daniel Cardoso Llach
Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University


Newell-Simon Hall 1305 (Michael Mauldin Auditorium)

Video link


At the dawn of the information age Herbert Simon advanced a view of design as a ‘science of the artificial’ that could be expressed by statements of declarative logic, and thus formalized as a scientific, measurable practice. While Simon’s bold claim manifested larger techno-cultural changes, it also helped configure a modern epistemology of design as a techno-scientific, computational, ‘performance-based,’ and (for the most part) future-tense practice. Further, it helped design gain the kind of academic legitimacy that was elusive to trade schools, and its current place in research universities as a field of rigorous inquiry and debate. However, it also entailed a paradox. Imagined as a quantifiable and objective process —akin to an algorithm¾ design could theoretically be independent from culture, material, and craft. The abstractions and formalisms of information theory and scientific management underlying ‘Simon’s shift’ permitted a divorce (in Lewis Mumford’s sense of the word) from the material and cultural fabrics that are inescapably the sites of design practices. Because of their roots in information theory and cybernetics —and of the physical and conceptual distance they introduce between designers and the situations of their designs— computational approaches to design and fabrication are doubly exposed to this paradox, and often explicate technologies as either agents of creative emancipation, or as passive supports, and obedient makers, of design.

In this talk, I will explore early disclosures of this paradox in 1960s debates between automation and augmentation in design, which configured a new view of design as a human-machine endeavor, and through a discussion of recent research at the Computational Design Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon. With these, I will propose that there is much to gain from exploring critical, speculative, and poetic technological systems —and from intervening in existing technological design infrastructures— in ways that acknowledge the specificity of their own material, geographical, and social arrangements.

Speaker's Bio

Daniel Cardoso Llach is Assistant Professor in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture. His recent work includes the book Builders of the Vision: Software and the Imagination of Design (Routledge, 2015), which identifies and documents the theories of design emerging from postwar technology projects at MIT, and traces critically their architectural repercussions. His writings have been published in journals including Design Issues, Architectural Research Quarterly (ARQ), and Thresholds, among others, and in several edited collections. He is a Graham Foundation grantee and the curator of a current exhibition on the history and contemporary practice of computational design at the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon. Daniel holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, and a PhD and an MS (with honors) in Design and Computation from MIT. He has also been a research fellow at Leuphana (MECS), Germany, and a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge, UK. 

Speaker's Website

Jodi Forlizzi