Re: Re: Design Conceptualisation: The Rise of CAD

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For either photomontages or 3D mock-ups to have any worth in the planning system, they should be carried out by a third party not attached to the developer. I worked in a planning consultancy and I recall one of the senior associates saying ‘We can’t use that one, but this one looks great! Do you think we could get [the company that produced them] to re-do these from a different angle?”

Current thinking about 3D visualisation seems to reflect dis-connection between designer, and digital tools. Before personal computers, laptops and palm pilots, there were mainframes and minicomputers. Noone was allowed near a mainframe computer except a special team of ‘high priests’ who maintained the computer and cared for it. In the post world war II era, computing was ‘too expensive’ to allow people direct access to. Now a computer with more power is found on a livingroom floor. But years before the Playstation became a reality, the interface with a computer, was a clerk you spoke to at a desk. If you were lucky, you were permitted to submit ‘a calculation’ written on punch cards. The ‘high priests’ who cared for ‘the computer’ would feed the punch cards into the computer for you. The computer would serve a whole institution, and represented a very large capital investment. After a week, you would return to the big glass building, which housed the computer, and receive the results. This often involved ‘a business trip’ to a different country or state, because computers were so precious, rare and valuable. Sometimes, if a punctuation mark was misplaced in the code, you would receive a useless result or perhaps no result at all. You would have to wait for another week and hope the program executed properly the next time.

Even though times have changed, architects still use 3D visualisation as if it were the 1940s. You don’t need creative people involved in this process of running back and forth. All you need is a team of bureaucrats to ‘go fetch’. In the old days, the trip to the big glass building, was treated like a business trip for executives working in banks etc. The bank purchased computer time on the mainframe to calculate interest rates etc. Nowadays, any member of the public, can look up interest rates on the internet. In the architectural practice in Ireland today, we hold onto the notion of the ‘high priest’. Because older architects in charge are more comfortable with the separation of a designer from technology. It preserves a neat and organised view of things, appropriate in the post WWII era. The architectural designer, or masterplanner has to wait while the high priest massages the computer code into a result everyone ‘is happy’ with. At the end of this very long and expensive process, a kind of deal is struck, where the client goes off with the image. Having paid a computer administrator for computer time and expertise with a ‘digital airbrush’. This method of computer usage, is a long ways from the interaction the architect has with other objects, like drawings or cardboard models. Where the designer can work up a solution directly and discuss it in real time with fellow designers.

Brian O’ Hanlon.

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