Narratives of Design Science

From Aldo Rossi’s Scientific Autobiography to Buckminster Fuller’s “Design Science”, the intellectual framework and heuristic tools of the exact sciences such as physics and mathematics have shaped the modern design of the last 150 years. Often latent but rarely neutral, the position of architects vis-à-vis these sciences has informed epistemic frameworks, institutional agendas, and formal languages. Indeed, contemporary attitudes and approaches to design technology and computation are inseparable from historical stances to mathematics and physics, often freighting nominally novel agendas in unacknowledged and unrealized ways.
At the same time the influence of mathematics and physics in design has often been idiosyncratic, mining deeply certain approaches while ignoring other, equally fertile ones. The result has created almost a plurality of quasi-scientific subcultures in the recent history of design, multiplying techniques and vocabularies as opposed to unifying or synthesizing them. This class will excavate the controversies, luminaries, and liminal characters of this history. The project of the course is to reconstruct vignettes in a microhistory of mathematical technique in design over the last 150 years, culminating with the current state of design computation. Drawing on critical texts and projects from De Stijl, the Ulm school, Buckminster Fuller, Maholy-Nagy, Kepes, Cambridge’s Centre for Land Use and Built Form Studies and many others, as well as reviewing in detail the techniques themselves, the class attempts to broaden the often narrowly contemporary view of computation by uncovering the obscured technical history of scientific appropriation in modernism in a rigorous and technically informed way.
The course has no prerequisites. Historical lectures and case studies will be supplemented by technical explanations accessible to non-specialists. Indeed, students of diverse interests and inclinations are encouraged to join.
Students will make an intermediate presentation and submit a final paper or analytic design drawings which examines a project, technique, or architect from the last century in the context of its technical of scientific ancestry.