IoA Institute of Architecture

University of Applied Arts Vienna

Theory of Architecture

Mario Carpo, o.Univ.Prof. PhD
Andrea Börner, Univ.Ass. Dipl.Ing.

Modernity as we knew it is coming to an end: not due to social revolutions, nor to ideological proclamations, but due to technical change.   Starting from the 1990s digital tools for computer-based design and fabrication have prompted the rise of a new techno-social paradigm: digital mass-customization, or the mass production of variations at no extra cost.  Modern factories needed standardized mass-production to achieve economies of scale; digital fabrication is not affected by economies of scale, hence needs no standards.  The post-industrial economy of computation is a flat marginal cost economy; an economy without scale.

Furthermore, second generation computational tools are now adopting new methods for quantitative problem-solving that are utterly alien to the methods of modern science.   These new post-scientific methods, only partly related to vintage Artificial Intelligence, are based on heuristic search and brute force calculation--simple arithmetics performed at unimaginable speed.   Of no use to humans, these methods are very effective when used by today's electronic computers.  The combination of digital mass-customization and computationally driven, adaptive automation is poised to upend the way we produce, consume, exchange, and appraise almost everything.

Starting from the early 1990s the design professions have been remarkably successful in understanding, utilizing, and giving visible form to the new digital technologies for design and fabrication.  To this day, the design professions are among the most alert interpreters and the most sought-after specialists of all things digital and computational.  These competences are even more necessary today, as new social, economic and environmental challenges threaten the very foundations of the world in which we live.  Many of the global issues we are confronting today, from the disappearance of industrial jobs to global warming to the crisis of political representation are, at least in part, the consequence of botched up or mismanaged technical change.  The design professions are uniquely positioned to reassess, reimagine, and indeed, redesign technology.