14: Archeology of the digital



There's no artistry to the way it´s done. The computer has become an opportunistic gadget for most of the profession, it is not taken seriously as a métier for design, for really coming up with a language that is unique and personal - Frank Gehry

Archeology of the digital is a research project between Greg Lynn and the Canadian Centre for Architecture that culminated in multiple exhibitions and ultimately, this wonderful publication.

The following projects were selected due to their use of computation in the design process in pioneering ways: Peter Eisenman's Biozentrum competition in Frankfurt am Main, Frank Gehry's Lewis House, Shoei Yoh's gymnasiums in Odawara and Galaxy Toyama and Chuck Hoberman's Expanding Sphere and Iris Dome.

 These projects are a carefully selected sample of the early adopters that underwent a generational change that upended the discipline's methods of design, and they represent a successful expansion of the architect's expertise repertoire: super computers, early 3D modelling environments, amateur scripting, 3D printing, 3D scanning, simulation.

The book is arranged in two main sections, the first section: Field Notes, is composed of interviews with the actors for these four projects; moreover, in order to get a better glimpse of those years, the interviews are not only about the architect's intentions but also about the people that collaborated with them, some of the the engineers, artists and computer scientists that contributed on equal footing: Bill Record for Chuck Hoberman, Chris Yessios, Benjamin Gianni and Joe Tanney for Peter Eisenman, Kenshi Oda for Shoei Yoh and Tensho Takemori and Rick Smith for Frank Gehry.

The second part of the book: Project Files, is a compilation of all the drawings, prints and files that document these four projects.

Archeology of the digital is an amusing read through the different versions of these tumultous years and offers a window to see how all of those connections were made possible, specially when one considers that Eisenman, Gehry, Yoh or Hoberman were not aware of the groundbreaking research they were being a part of, let alone being aware of the future ramifications of their work. As the thirty anniversary for these projects comes near, the discipline of architecture looks unrecognizable.

In each and every case, Hoberman, Yoh, Eisenman and Gehry approached the digital medium with insight and intelligence, treating the digital not merely as a tool but as a new creative medium that is integral to and an extension of their design process - Greg Lynn

Eisenman's computational method was set in motion through an understanding of the brief in the competition entry for a research facility in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. A project that was sadly, not built. The Biozentrum had an organizational scheme, a central diagonal spine with ancillary programming that was derived from a natural biological process of DNA formation. With access to an early super-computer belonging to the Ohio State University, he developed an algorithmic process with a linguistic logic that had to ultimately derive in architectural form, therefore its relevancy and novelty.

Frank Gehry's use of point-cloud scanning and layered 3D printing was used to invent a digital method equivalent of the free language of construction derived from physical models that mimicked baroque forms. Through those years of developing the Lewis house and the Barcelona Golden Fish sculpture with the early versions of the software CATIA, his working method got so precise and its applicability so arcane that would later define the career of an architect practice that had already won a Pritzker prize, through projects that would consist of the same formal language, such as the DZ Bank in Berlin and the EMP project in Seattle, USA.

Chuck Hoberman's scripting was used to reverse-engineer material properties previously incalculable with analog methods such as thickness and collision prevention. The newfound complexity threshold that could now be calculated culminated in those mesmerizing expandable structures, such as the Iris dome and the Expanding sphere.


Rather than building a structure in space, you would unfold a structure in space. That really triggered the initial thinking- how do you design deployable, transformable, pop-up objects that change themselves by themselves? - Chuck Hoberman


Shoei Yoh used computation for creating calculative scenarios for member modification, purely for structural reasons. A self-professed Frei Otto admirer, he was an early proponent of mass customization. Both the Odawara and Toyama gymnasiums possess a form-generation rationale that sprung from the site's constraints and a natural understanding of the material forces and stresses of snow loads and gravity in three dimensional frames.


I guess I have an aspiration to be in a certain kind of engineering tradition that is producing new types of structural art. It´s rational, and there´s hopefully lucidity to the thinking behind it, but insofar as it is pioneering, new things are untested by definition. Shoei Yoh

These projects represent the change of a generation’s knowledge skillset and comfort zone in the pendulous motion of a discipline that transitions from experimental to mainstream cyclically.

greg lynn

Archeology of the digital

sternberg press

ISBN 978-3-943365-80-1