John Hejduk Soundings Lecture: Mario Carpo, “Generative AI, Imitation, Style, and the Eternal Return of Precedent”

Black and white headshot of Mario Carpo

Event Description

Generative AI does not create new images out of thin air; it generates images that have a “certain something” in common with a selection of images we have fed into it.  This selection, often called a “dataset,” can be generic or custom-made; either way, Generative AI automates the imitation and replication of some of its common visual features, often known in the past as styles.  Imitation was for centuries the backbone of the classical tradition in European art, and it was de facto banned by 20th-century modernism for many good reasons.  As the rise of Generative AI is bringing the practice of imitation back to our design schools and to the design professions, we urgently need to learn again what imitation is, how it works, what it does, and how we can deal with it today, in critical and creative terms.  Every dataset is a canon, but every reference to precedent is based on preference, and we know all too well that preference is often a proxy for prejudice.


Headshot of Mario Carpo in black and white.Reyner Banham Professor of Architectural Theory and History, the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL London; Professor of Architectural Theory at Die Angewandte (University of Applied Arts), Vienna (emeritus).

Mario Carpo was the Head of the Study Centre at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal from 2002 to 2006, Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History at the Yale School of Architecture from 2010 to 2014 and in 2017, Senior Scholar in Residence at the Getty Research Institute (2000-2001); Resident at the American Academy in Rome (2004); Guggenheim Fellow (2022-2023); etc.
Mr. Carpo’s research and publications focus on the history of early modern architecture and on the theory and criticism of contemporary design and technology.  His award-winning Architecture in the Age of Printing (MIT Press, 2001) has been translated into several languages.  His most recent books are The Alphabet and the Algorithm (2011); The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence (2017); and Beyond Digital: Design and Automation at the End of Modernity (2023), all published by the MIT Press.

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