digital world, material boy
24 September 2012
Yes another one of my allusions to a song or movie title. We are living in a digital world, and I am a material boy. Let that song stick in your head all day today. Speaking of things sticking inside one’s head, a walk across campus (I teach part-time) recently reminded me of my college experience. Then I started to think of connections to architecture. Don’t you know by now, everything relates to architecture?
Last week I walked past a student and happened to hear him answer his cell phone and say hello to his mother. It dawned on me at that moment that I never spoke with my mother on a cell phone while I was in school, but how cool that would have been to talk to her spontaneously like that. When I was in school, we didn’t have cell phones. Only the elite had car phones and a few had those ugly bag phones that required a small shopping cart to carry them. In fact, when I was in school I never even owned a cordless phone throughout my many apartments. If you don’t know me, I attended college from 1985 to 1991. My phone calls home were usually routine and scheduled for weekends because long distance rates were cheaper then.
After watching that phone call, I began pondering the difference between the shift from material (physical) things and processes to digital (non-physical). I made me think about the ever-changing process of making architecture. This is a big discussion all on its own. Later I spent the drive home thinking about the many other things that have changed since I was in school.
Recently I started to teach another year of studio to first year architecture students and I started a few new designs in my office. This made me very aware of my avid use of trace and #2 pencils to develop and study architecture. We use them in our first year studio too. Physical tools are familiar to me, I can think with them and I don’t feel inhibited like I do when working on a computer. I know if you are under a certain age, you don’t feel the same inhibitions as I do. To show you my stubbornness and firm belief in the tools of pencils and trace (bumwad is my preferred term), I do not let my first year students use any other pencils than ones that need to be sharpened (no mechanical pencils). They succumb to digital tools soon enough.
Other cultural norms that were non-existent or popular while I was in college are email, the internet and BIM. In fact, I still have a box of letters from my wife (then girlfriend) that I’ve kept because in those days, we wrote each other letters. It was something material. I asked her recently what would we have done if we could have been able to text each other. She said “I would have known that you were going to be late like you always were.” A good point, but that’s not what I was going for at the time. No email (or texting) meant we had to actually communicate with each other with sounds, body language and often written words. The only emoticon was my actual face and the smiley faces she wrote to me.
As for computers and architecture, they existed, but I didn’t take my first CAD course until I was in third year (1988) and it was on a tiny Apple Mac. We carried floppy disks in our shirt pockets or backpacks. Now that I think of it, Architrion was actually a 3D system. I used to print out my designs on the “dot-matrix” printer and sketch over it with…you guessed it a #2 pencil (and a Sharpie). Rapidograph pens were also the norm.
I am not wishing to go back to those days or say they were any better or worse, I’ve just been reminiscing and wondering how life would have been different if I was in college now versus then.
I still love my pencils and trace. You can’t take those away from this material boy.
apple mac photo is from the Wikimedia Commons (used under the Creative Common License)
…there’s a bonus if you can figure out the first photo