ACSA Panel on Architectural Intelligence

Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 8:00am to Saturday, March 25, 2017 - 4:00pm

The School of Design's Molly Wright Steenson will be co-leading a panel on Arcitectural Intelligence at the ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) Conference. From the event website:

Once a distant technological dream, artificial intelligence (AI) today is a subject of wide interest, with promises that machine intelligence and autonomous interaction will alter our daily lives. More than ever, artificial intelligence—the intelligence exhibited by machines with a learning capacity—is a vital architectural concern, as the designers of smart cities and applications for the Internet of Things deploy machine learning with big data and responsive systems at an architectural scale. The AI imaginary can be both thrilling and dastardly, and at the architectural scale, the ramifications of AI play out most vividly. In this panel, we seek to explore a long history of the architectural and spatial engagement of intelligent systems.

The relationship between AI and architecture is not new. Artificial intelligence was defined as a term in 1956, and starting in the 1960s, architects such as Nicholas Negroponte and the MIT Architecture Machine Group, Christopher Alexander, and Thomas Moran began to explicitly engage and collaborate with AI research, postulating new design methods, and designing artificially intelligent learning machines and expert systems. Moreover, architecture's relationship with intelligent systems predates the computational paradigms that transformed architectural design protocols after World War II. The English term "robot" is a translation that originates from the title of Karel Čapek's 1920 play R.U.R. ("Rossum's Universal Robots"), the transformable mechanized set for which was designed by no other than Frederick Kiesler. Siegfried Giedion discussed 18th century automata and Pierre Jaquet-Droz's "writing doll" (1770) in Space, Time and Architecture (1941) as precedents for modern automatic telephone network and technological innovation. It is through such cases that both architects and historians anticipated the dissolution of intelligent devices into seemingly ubiquitous systems.

In this panel, we invite papers that explore the intersections of architecture and artificial intelligence. In particular, this panel asks: How does one even start to compose such a history in architecture? What kinds of fantasies, imperatives and mandates have diachronically elevated the design of machine intelligence systems into a contemporary matter of concern? Which theoretical constructs and material artifacts does one mobilize to thread such a broader, deeper narrative, ranging from diagrammatic Vitruvian machines to 18th century automata to deep-learning to data mining algorithms, and beyond? We are especially looking for papers that uncover previously overlooked systems of architectural intelligence, perform novel readings of canonical objects of architectural history, and consider non-Western and non-computerized approaches to artificial intelligence. Proposals addressing such questions across scales (from the body, to the sensor, to the city), objects, infrastructures, and eras are welcome.