Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Architecture at UCLA

Models and graphics taken from the UCLA architecture exhibition hall.

...a sheath for airplane wings?!

Having been in the West Coast for close to two months now, I've had a chance to have a taste of the recent fad that is CNC milling, both in SCIArc and in the UCLA School of Architecture. It almost seems like the attention to craft and handiwork (more so in UCLA than in SCIArc) has been relegated to a thing of the past, now that the milling machine or stereolithographer can do it better than anyone can anyway.

Yet, where does this lead to? Might we see a swing of the proverbial pendulum towards a design direction that places full emphasis on how nicely curvaceous one's architectural forms are (similar to how you might describe a lady vamp), and therefore, a misplaced emphasis on much mastery over the modelling tools you have. Except that I could be wrong - what seems, to me, to be a dangerous fad could actually be the harbinger of a new "ism" in architecture and construction!

This is tangential to the titular post, but a similar swing of (again) the pendulum can perhaps be attributed to our attitudes towards 3D animation cartoons. When Pixar released Toy Story back in 1995, we heaved a collective "whoa". When whatever studio it is releases Happily N'ever After in 2007, we yearn for the latest Studio Ghibli production, or the Disney classics of yesteryear (as far as animation goes anyway). Notwithstanding even a great storyline or the most lovable critters one has ever seen, the fad of 3D animated films seems to have wore very, very thin.

Toy Story, Pixar, circa 1995

Happily N'ever After, (?), circa 2007

Howl's Moving Castle, Studio Ghibli, circa 2004

Same goes for photorealism in architectural visualisations. What were awesome visualisations, in 3D Studio no less, in the 1990s now look terribly cheap, in the light of what Brazil, V-ray and other engines can achieve. There is no end to the quest for photorealism in visual simulations, yet, after a while, would anyone really care how photorealistic your images really look?

Which leads me to this. There's a talk on the quest for impossibly photo-realistic images at the UCLA Broad Art Centre (kudos to Jawn for the heads-up), scheduled for 13 February. (More info here, down the middle of the page.)

An excerpt on the matter of discussion:
"Historically, the holy grail of the computer graphics community has been to produce highly realistic images simulating lifelike environments, objects and characters. As advances in photorealistic CG tools, realtime graphics and displays race ahead, we can begin to wonder further: How and when will digital content eventually afford the viewer immersion and transport to holographic, alternate phantasms for entertainment and education? What are the stepping stones along that path? Let's turn an examining light on our energetic, unselfconsious quest for this holy grail. We’ll rewind and fast forward our thoughts on the topic with experts from the research and film communities."
In some ways, it is actually very encouraging (and for me, previously unencountered) that members of the creative industry are actually going, hey, let's stop this for a while and take a step back, and see where we've come and where we could be headed. Much, much resource has been put into the quest for photorealism - the development of newer, better, best rendering engines, the massive processing power needed for these efforts, the massive number of man-hours that have been put in in order to make the leaves on every single tree in the animation rustle, when more could've been put into screenplays, storylines - or in the case of architecture, the architecture itself.

So maybe, a few years down the road, we might just see the same thing happen in architecture, insofar as an over-reliance on CNC milling, parametric design, etc. are concerned.

I could be wrong, of course. Much of what is deemed meritorious in any creative vocation is, after all, a question of taste.