Totems
in Log 26, Fall 2012

In the frenzied academic context of the digital project during the early part of the last decade, design education seemed to be defined by the development of computational prowess and characterized by disciplinary polarization fraught with anxieties about allegiances. The trajectories of the varied architectural agendas of our neo-avant-garde predecessors in the early 2000s were crudely bundled into two groups: those whose work aligned with the ambitions of the digital project, and those whose work did not. The former developed an affinity for all things digital, pursuing formal continuity, geometric complexity, and intricacy, while the latter developed an aversion to it, pursuing static, stark, and iconic form.

Some of us have resisted the lure to categorize our work singly, opting instead to hold out for hybrid, heterogeneous characterizations. We are self-constituted members of the postdigital generation—the “what happens after,” or in response to, the requisite digital. We are comfortable with the idea that we have not built impenetrable, life-long theses for practice, but rather are working with less rigid hypotheses that provide us with adequate governance for decision-making. We prefer to build up a culturally, historically, and intellectually charged center of gravity that is at once potent enough to offer stability and weak enough to be affected by greater, ever-changing spheres of influence.

Having witnessed the collective exhaustion of a phase of the digital project that was monopolized by aesthetic concerns, many of us are now motivated by the potential of a deeper, more thorough incorporation of computation and digital fabrication into our practice. As computation and digital fabrication become inextricably engrained in process, they have been resituated as fundamental rather than novel. This shift enables us to direct our attention elsewhere, allowing the emergence of new architectural agendas likely to produce nuanced work with multiple allegiances. Such projects can be described in pairs of terms that until recently might have read as contradictory: parametric and primitive, systemic and idiosyncratic, differentiated-repetitive and graphic, malleable and thick, rule-based and authored. As architectural motivations for the postdigital generation, these couplings are not only plausible, but thrilling.

The project Totems, a series of vertically oriented, proto-architectural models, represents a reconsideration of anachronous mechanisms of architectural form-making in the contemporary context defined by relational-modeling processes and robotic-fabrication techniques. Totems recasts formal mechanisms such as mirroring, symmetry, axes, perspective, anamorphism, and principles informed by Palladianism in an effort to diversify the formal vocabulary of contemporary architectures allied with digital processes. The attributes that are often associated with such archaic formalisms—hierarchical, figural, ornamental, highly articulated—seem novel again in the context of formalisms born of digital processes, which are generally nonhierarchical, fieldlike, surfacial, and thin. This study aims to appropriate instances of anachronous formalisms that are ripe for reconsideration with the intention of yielding strange, vaguely familiar, and nuanced formal languages.