Programming Design and Space

Computation is an immensely powerful resource that now is widely available, and programming is the language to tap into that resource. I’ve had some experience programming in various languages, but I’ve never reached the point where I could output anything particularly useful. I’m hoping to reach a level at ITP where I can really cross that threshold that lies between my prior casual understanding into a richer connection to a tool that is carrying a heavier and heavier load in everyone’s lives.

Deeper Understanding

I’m a strong believer in the idea that inspiration can come from one’s capabilities and capacities. Tools extend our capabilities but they only do so effectively when we understand how to use them. A craftsperson may find it difficult to conceptualize a bookshelf without understanding a table saw, a hammer and nails. A stone carver may have an entirely different notion of what a bookshelf could be based on the tools they have in their shop.

Regarding the power of computation, we’re well aware at this point of what it has achieved, but are we aware of everything it can achieve? I hope to gain a deeper understanding of its strengths and deficiencies and see if there’s anything I might be able to contribute with my unique design background. I see this exploration going in two potential directions:

  • Computational design
  • Computationally augmented space

Computational Design

Nike’s FlyKnit technology is a great example of something that required computing power to achieve beautiful results.

Computational design is a much simpler pursuit of mine. While there are some great examples of computational design that already exist in the world, I would love to be able to augment my design practice with this kind of capability without letting it define my design sense. Some of the things computer programs excel at that people are terrible at are small repetitive tasks that require a great deal of precision. In the past artists used production assistants and interns to achieve this, but now computers can handle that process. Additionally, design can be then customized more efficiently by allowing computers to do that work as well. If an object has been designed with a particular algorithm that somehow accommodates for a specific context, changing that context is as simple as running the algorithm with a new input. Much more efficient.

Computationally Augmented Space

Ikea has thrown their hat into the smart-home arena as well. Image courtesy of Wired Magazine.

The other avenue computational media that I hope to pursue is one that incorporates thoughtful algorithms into the environments that we inhabit. Already they play an intense role in the cars that we drive, yet there is still a vast deficiency in how they operate within our houses. The first subject that has made progress in this arena is within energy management. Nest is a key player in this area and already are facing numerous competitors. Philips Hue has made inroads into lighting with GE not far behind. It won’t be long before these various systems start to develop a coherent means of communicating with each other. However, what else are we missing? Is there a means of idealizing furniture arrangement by running numerous simulations to see where users, based on their usage habits, gravitate for certain activities? How about walls that can be adapted to offer varying degrees of privacy? Perhaps an algorithm that takes an audit of items that haven’t been used within your house recently that could then be automatically offered on Craig’s List for a competitive price or one of the numerous sharing services that exist. Offices will offer their own set of unique circumstances ripe for exploiting. I’m purposely staying away from the “more screens” paradigm that we all appear to be gravitating towards, but that will also have spatial/environmental implications and make use of computational power as well.

Coding as Exploration and Discovery

Additionally, I’m a fan of the logic that coding uses.¬†One thing that gives me great satisfaction with this particular medium is the relationship between action and consequences. The division between coding an algorithm and seeing the resulting outcome makes for a lot of surprises (and often even more headaches). This makes coding feel more like an exercise of exploration than creation which takes a bit of the pressure to be a creative genius off my shoulders. I like the notion of tinkering more than the act of creatively conceiving.



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