STUDIO DATA

Digital Fabrications

Galo Canizares is a rare practitioner; he is an assistant professor of architecture but is an advanced digital technology user with projects that explore the edges of the web and data. He is right up my Straße. His work helps me position my practice, as he is somewhat of an outlier. Take his book “Digital Fabrications” for instance, a book of stories describing experiments with digital tools, is a little confusing. If you knew Galo was an architect and you read the title, you would presume there would be examples of structures and physical objects scattered through the pages, but this is not the case. Digital Fabrication is about the digital image, and fabrications relate to fabricating reality more than it does to the fabric of reality.

Interface

I often find myself exploring ideas outside architecture, getting lost down the rabbit holes of technology’s cultural influence. Galo Canizares is the same; he is architecturally trained but has successfully expanded his practice to investigate and experiment with the digital, particularly the effects of digital interfaces on design. Today, he argues, software is ubiquitous and influences culture through the information we produce, consume and share through technical interfaces. Digital Fabrications highlights how Architects often use a variety of software packages and applications without thinking critically about how these tools have changed their work.

Contexts

The book unfolds like a fun journey through unrelated explorations, first setting the stage with the political influence of software and interfaces, then taking an exciting detour to narrate the history of Earth from a Martian perspective. This shift to science fiction is inventive and a surprising twist, but it veers away from the book’s expected theme, digital interfaces and dilutes the overall message.

Experiments

The projects featured in this book are technically impressive. Canizares develops an "absurdly dumb Twitter bot that would potentially say smart things" (p129), incorporating an artificial architecture culture personality into the design. The web drawing app Malevi.ch interprets the twentieth-century 'Suprematist' artist Kazimir Malevich’s theory of irrational space into an interactive interface. The written explanation is interesting, but the outcome of a force-directed figure-ground pattern generator doesn't quite match the justification. It prompts one to question whether the tool was actually an experiment with matter.js and post-rationalised as a critical analysis of Malevich's work.

The Malevi.ch app by Galo and Jose Canizares

Discussion

Canizares's digital interface experiments are noteworthy, but his two essays titled 'Everything is Software' are the real standouts. These pieces connect digital media theory with architectural discourse, defining two key terms: 'postdigital' and 'postorthographic'. The 'Post-Digital' concept is exemplified by Carlo Listroti, who uses digital technology to craft architectural drawings that outstrip human precision and speed. In contrast, the 'Postorthographic' concept aligns with the work of Casey Reas, who uses pixels to generate images from data. 'Post-orthographic' signifies a shift from traditional 3D to 2D drawing techniques — like plans, elevations, and sections — to creating images based on pixels. Canizares argues that this 'postorthographic' approach ushers in a new form of dominant visual communication through social media, which in turn significantly impacts our social behaviours and collective cultural history.

So What?

I enjoyed reading the book, however, my critique would be that, at times, I found it difficult to follow the central point. A greater hierarchy of ideas through headings would have been beneficial, but I can understand the author's choice as this would steer the writing into a more academic tone. I appreciate how the book links the past to the future through digital media, but I was left pondering, so what do we do? Canizares does well to convince the reader that interfaces and interaction are the future political spheres of influence but treats them as foregone conclusions and inevitable. This gap stimulates an alternative and critical response where designers reappropriate or hack interfaces to counteract the political influence gained from interaction.

Canizares, G. (2019). Digital Fabrications: Designer Stories for a Software-based Planet. United States: ORO Editions/Applied Research & Design.