Digital Media: Errors and Omissions

errare — to move without clear direction, departing from truth, norm, or some other analog of unity

omittere — fail to use or do, neglect to mention or speak of, to disregard

This digital media course is a survey of errant techniques in the production of architecture and architectural imagery — design methods which consciously enact technical failures and semantic absences. We will chart a political, theoretical, and historical path alongside aberrant spatial, aesthetic, and technical practices from the Renaissance to the post-digital. This history proposes a critique of systems which subscribe to a ‘logic of maximum performance’ and make claims on a lossless world of 100% efficiency, one that is not subject to contingency, latency, or other forms of uncertainty. This opposition explores a notion that designers are uniquely situated to challenge these claims of total systematic control, through their habitual manipulation of signal-to-noise ratios. Counter to the definition of errors and omissions in architectural practice as the primary source of liability for the architect, the class will construct a framework for architectural production which integrates procedural errors and deliberate omissions into techniques of analysis and speculation. The course will posit the errant and the omitted as vital contemporary techniques for opening up black box design processes and for intervening in broader cultural and political discourses.

Historical and contemporary precedents of errors (failures, mistakes, accidents, mistranslations, corruptions, etc.) and omissions (redactions, occlusions, exclusions, rifts, lapses, deletions, etc.) in computing, art, and architecture will be the principal topic of study as explored through lectures, readings, discussions, and design exercises. Such case studies include the falsification, redaction, and blurring protocols of governmental and corporate entities, alongside a series of artistic and spatial works which decode and critique these top-down prescriptions of illegibility through bottom-up audio and visual practice, including Kazimir Malevich, Robert Rauschenberg, John Baldessari, Jenny Holzer, Thomas Ruff, John Cage, William Basinski, and others. In addition to conscious obfuscation (either authoritative or subversive), another genre of aberrance of interest is the technological imprint which inadvertently frustrates the communicative intent of objects and imagery. By drawing from these extra-disciplinary media practices, the course will attempt to extend architecture’s cultures of digital representation.

Contemporary digital methods of such processes will be the focus of a series of technical workshops. These workshops will revolve around scripted, nonstandard workflows within standard software packages: Rhino, V-Ray, Grasshopper, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, and Microsoft Excel. The technical thrust of the course is not oriented towards the development of virtuosity in any particular tool, but rather in cultivating literacy in the technical substrates of our design processes and equipping a critical disposition towards the outputs of those processes. Discussions will be accompanied by a series of texts by Jonathan Crary, Hito Steyerl, Mark Fisher, Rosa Menkman, and others.

The course format consists of weekly three hour sessions of lectures on class topics, accompanied by a discussion of the weeks’ case studies and readings, followed by a software workshop led by the course instructor or TA. An iterative series of design assignments will engage the historical and technical references introduced in class.