THE DIGITAL PAVILION
An investigation of a new building type
Illustration by Dhruv Shah Aka Lodaya and Bronte Allan, 2020.
The digital pavilion is a tool for contemporary architectural design that explores the digital domain and its relationship to the architectural product. Analogue as well as discrete fabrication techniques and the idea of automated design and construction processes are directly linked to the building type of the digital pavilion. However, on closer inspection, all of the design strategies of the digital pavilion described in my dissertation reveal that the approach to digitalization is still very much dependent on manual work, which, in many respects, determines contemporary attitudes towards technology. Since the beginning of the modern age, the pavilion has dealt intensively with labour and the tools available to humans in making resources as processable as possible. The digital pavilion represents a primary idea, a first method, or even a universal concept of an architectural product. Through developments over the last two centuries, industrialization has had a strong impact on the concept of industrial pavilions and furthermore, through digitalization, new possibilities have come to dominate the architectural discourse. The digital pavilion as a building type therefore represents a significant contribution to the definition of the digital in architecture. In order to explore how contemporary challenges are addressed in my dissertation five digital design strategies are described followed by a closer description of a digital pavilion concerned with the strategy of analogue assembly.
The digital pavilion will be used as a platform to showcase novel methods in architectural discourse and thus point out the sophisticated automation processes of our production industry. A product-by-making for sale, so to speak, in a still highly experimental field of an evolving industry in which human craftsmanship seems to take second place. If you take a closer look at the processes involved, you will notice that human craftsmanship is a central figure in the creation process of the digital pavilion and is therefore closely and constantly related to automation.
Design strategies of the digital pavilion examine how industry, materials and the builders' and architects' roles are approached. This results in new perspectives regarding the role of the builder. In his project ‘Augmented Bricklaying’ Gramazio Kohler for example creates a controlled bricklayer who follows the instructions and calculations of the machine, thus functioning as an apparatus of his own human body. The robot acts as instructor and the human as executer. This contrasts with Achim Menges' projects of robotic fabrication at the University of Stuttgart, where the industrial robot is taught to react in unpredictable circumstances and to act adaptively. Adaptive processes are taken one step further using materials that cannot be predicted mathematically. Jenny Sabin demonstrates this in her pavilions, where forces of different nature collide, using materials such as adaptive fabric structures. Here the interaction between materials, the structure and the human touch remain part of the construction through to the end of the process. This is addressed quite differently by Kengo Kuma, who prescribes each of the particlized building elements fabricated by local artisans. He manages to apply his method to larger building scales, that go beyond the scale of the digital pavilion and further applies these techniques and methods to bridges, museums and residential buildings. Different from the design strategy of manual discrete assembly, the digital discrete does not attempt to employ manual skills, but rather hopes for complete integration into the industrial landscape and the establishment of a truly digital process in architecture. Here, a vision for digital processes is presented, that proposes an improved adaptation to larger building projects, even if, in the case of the digital discrete, this has not yet been achieved. Therefore, the digital pavilion is seen as a platform that offers the right scale for both man and machine, creating a seamless collaborative workflow by experimenting with novel design strategies.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the goal is to achieve a completely automated process in which the designer takes on a differentiated role, perhaps as a kind of supervisor. Another equally daring comparative term could be used to describe the architect: ‘primus inter pares’ – as ‘the first among equals’ – i.e. in terms of their position, the designers are equal to the others, their achievements are not of higher or lower significance or effectiveness – their ‘special position (function)’ in this comparison is a ‘representative’ position, i.e. a typical characteristic and/or representative position (to the outside world), sometimes being the person who makes the final decision. This allows greater freedom to explore the boundaries between industrial products and architectural design, creating a design product by planning the digital pavilion (that tries to represent both the physical and psychosocial components of specific architectural issues of our time). Thus, the digital pavilion shows how technological and human-based creations correlate with each other, while at the same time exploring their limitations – an attempt to create an interdisciplinary as well as a universal mode of product-finding. With that in mind, the digital pavilion is still a test-product, an experimental platform, on which digital and analogue processes interact to find a solution for a future-oriented architecture.
 The Programmed Wall, ETH Zurich, 2006, Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich, 2006, https://gramaziokohler.arch.ethz.ch/web/e/lehre/81.html.
 Kengo Kuma, Relativity of Materials, The Japan Architect 38 (Summer 2000), 86.
Copyright of image: © Dhruv Shah Aka Lodaya and Bronte Allan