The Digital, Tangible

As inhabitants of the built world, we’ve come to perceive materials as characters in the language of construction. The units of masonry spell arches and bonds, metals and glass speak plates and panels. Further, we come to recognize and understand materials through their performance. A polished round column in a craftsman home may stand beside a piece of trim – both made of maple, but each delivering its own perspective on the nature of wood.
Digital fabrication presents an inherent challenge to what is intuitively “known” about the behavior and function of each material. Specifically, the shift in construction from the unitized (sticks, bricks, and sheets) or industrially manufactured to computer-controlled additive and subtractive processes. Evidence of the digital design and manufacture process is becoming more present all around us. Be it plasma cut patterns in metal facades or the striation of 3D printed components, this transformation of materials and structures has created a physical manifestation of the digital world.

“Subdivision,” by Michael Hansmeyer.

When the direct output of a parametric model materializes in the corporeal space we inhabit, what are the tectonic implications? When we see a column and know that it was born inside a computer, how do we expect it to behave? We may come to accept the presence of these digital artifacts just as we have the seams of injection-molded plastic or text printed on paper. I suspect, however, that as the digital replaces more of the physical, and more of the physical is conceived in the digital, the line between the two will become increasingly blurred.

Cilento , Karen . “Subdivision / Michael Hansmeyer” 26 May 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Sep 2012. <;


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