MIT has been a pioneer in the use of computers for graphics from the very inception of the technique. In the early 1950s, solutions to differential equations were being displayed on a cathode-ray oscilloscope in its Lincoln Laboratory. In 1962, MIT’s Ivan Sutherland developed the SKETCHPAD system, giving birth to interactive graphics. At the end of that decade, Nicholas Negroponte came to prominence with his publication of the book The Architecture Machine, in which he discussed research and theories in computer graphics and in artificial intelligence, and proposed an architect-machine partnership, with machines that would be able to learn, evolve, self-improve, and discern shifts in context. The Architecture Machine Group was established range of man/machine matters far broader than that relating to the architectural profession, but which includes several architecturally relevant ones, discussed below. Negroponte returned to MIT, after serving as director general of the French Center for Computers and Human Resources, and became director of the Media Lab. the research arm of the Arts and Media Technology program for which a new building by I.M. Pei & Partners is now being completed. The Media Lab is devoted to advanced research in broadcasting, publishing, and computing, and their overlapping uses in education, entertainment, and scientific pursuits. It is composed of ten group, including imaging arts and sciences (computer graphics and animation, holography and holographic movies, high -definition television, and modern print media), human-machine interfaces, and computer music and drama. The Architecture Machine Group, directed by Professor Andrew Lippman, was a unit within MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, and its program of research was incorporated into the Media Lab.
One project developed by Tyler Peppel of the Visible Language Workshop combined computer graphics and live action video and can assist in the redesign of the urban environment including external and interior design. A video representation of an urban scene can be altered by using digitized frames from that video sequence or from other digitized sources (photographs, drawings, programmed images, and other videos).
Professor Patrick Purcell and Art Historian Henry Okun of the Group have also developed a video library, or graphics information system, for architecture, called Archfile (as well as Picassofile, a prototype for the fine arts) in which the interactive data base. The architectural data base comprised over 5000 building records from MIT’s Rotch slide collection, which the user can see as video images on a color monitor according to classifications selected on a touch-sensitive screen (all buildings in Connecticut after 1890, all schools in the U.S. by Aalto, etc.). As the selected video images are being protected on one monitor, basic reference materials concerning those buildings are being displayed on the other screen.
The Group has also developed “how to” manuals (how to repair a car, for example) that combine movie film and text and are activated by touch; Alter Ego which can, among other things, read electronic mail messages, talk to you (in a computer-produced voice that sounds like a hoarse toad), and pass on messages to you–if it recognizes your voice; and other programs. Professor Purcell has also prepared a “Strategy for Computer Education in a School of Architecture,” part of the Athena Project, a major initiative on the MIT campus linking computers and education, and is presenting a new course of architecture students, covering digital modeling, information processing, and calculation, in a new Computer Research Laboratory of the School of Architecture and Planning. Ohio State university.
Ohio State’s School of Architecture requires that every student take an introductory course in programming and graphics. For those who wish to continue, there are three elective courses in the development of computer-aided design tools–not simply computer graphics. According to one head of the school’s computer laboratory, “There’s a considerable difference between those schools that teach computer graphics as an end in itself and those that view it as a design tool. The graphics-oriented schools have produced some amazing computer images, but they’ve moved away from the needs of the architectural profession.”
Ohio State’s master’s degree program in interior design involves about an equal number of architecture, computer science, and computer-aided design courses. Current thesis work includes software that, from a table of room adjacencies, develops bubble diagrams and schematic floor plans from which the architect can then select and manipulate; software that quickly builds up three-dimensional models from a library of shapes; and software that generates lettered and dimensioned plans, sections, elevations, and details rapidly by zooming in or slicing from those models.
That software will form the basis of a computer-aided studio to begin in September. “Computerizing the design studio,” says Yessios, “has become a fad, with several schools that have done little computer work up to now buying CAD systems. That won’t work. The commercially available software is just not adequate for design education; you must develop your own, which takes time and an experienced faculty.” University of California, Los Angeles
UCLA’s graduate school of architecture offers two introductory computer courses that most students take. The school emphasizes the importance of concise, elegant, well-written programs, taught through a series of exercises that generate increasingly more complex drawings using Pascal programming.
Completion of the two introductory courses allows a student to enrol in a computer-aided design studio that will explore the effect computers have on design. As the head of UCLA’s architecture and interior design program, states, “Some people fear that computers will limit their creativity. If there are any limitations, they are due not to the computer itself, but to a lack of understanding of it as a design medium.”
Research at the school has focused on the programming of various formal languages: “Students have developed a program that will generate house plans based upon Frank Lloyd Wright principles.
The same could be done for Le Corbusier, even Gaudi. By modeling the compositional ideas in their work, the student understands it in a different and more profound way,” according to the professor. He also sees the computer “increasing architects’ sensuous involvement with a design by allowing them to experience a building more fully than is possible through drawings or models” as well as “providing architects with more time to explore design options and details.” Carnegie-Mellon University
“Carnegie-Mellon has completely reoriented its architectural curriculum around the computer,” says Professor Robert Woods. “We’ve done so with two premises. First, architectural education has needs other than those of industry, which has used computers essentially to increase productivity and efficiency. Second, the architectural profession is undergoing major structural changes because of the computer, allowing us to generate and evaluate far more data than ever before possible and forcing us to be more explicit about design decisions.”
Carnegie-Mellon mandates that architecture students take courses in programming and computer modeling. And the school uses computers in its various technology courses, with a trial computer-aided design studio scheduled for next year and the complete computerization of studios scheduled within the next four years. “The goal in studio,” says Woods, “will be to make the design process more explicit and to show students where different software fits into that process.”
Of the research going on by faculty and graduate students in the master’s and Ph.D. programs, two areas stand out. One involves the development, says Woods, “of software that makes using the computer as facile as using pencil and paper.” The other, spearheaded by Professor Delmar Ulbright, involves software that rapidly generates and evaluates interior design alternatives.