Paper on CAAD and the Reimagination of Architectural Memory ca. 1970 in SIGCIS ’18 “Stored in Memory”, St. Louis

I gave a paper on confluences between postwar experimental architecture and academic experiments with computer-aided architectural design software, specifically centering around new conceptual and technical renditions of architectural memory, in the 10th Annual Meeting of the Special Interest Group for Computing, Information, and Society, part of the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT). Full abstract below:

Software for “Sociology’s Hardware”: Experimental Modernisms, Computer-Aided Design, and the Reimagination of Architectural Memory ca. 1970

This paper examines the reconceptualization of architectural memory as informational abstraction in utopian experimentations of postwar architectural modernism and its ties to research on computer-aided architectural design in the late 1960s. It weaves together technical infrastructures, intellectual debates, and institutional settings that engendered a new imagination of architectural memory not as remembrance, commemoration, or mnemonic activation of architectural form, but instead as a sequence of synchronic spatial configurations, amenable to mathematical representation and analysis, and “storing” states of human behaviour.

Specifically, the paper focuses on two computer program prototypes developed by Hungarian-born French utopianist Yona Friedman: a prominent figure of postwar “radical” architecture in Europe and participant of early research on computer-aided design in North America. The FLATWRITER, presented at the 1970 architectural World Fair in Osaka (Expo ’70), and YONA (Your Own Native Architect), developed from 1973-1975 in the context of MIT’s Architecture Machine Group NSF-funded project Architecture-by-Yourself, were both conceived as tools for do-it-yourself architecture and urbanism. Friedman promoted these software prototypes as both instruments for, and mathematical articulations of, his utopian visions of ever-changing architectural and urban assemblies affording urban mobility — a proposition epitomizing Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius’s professed definition of architecture as “sociology’s hardware”.

The FLATWRITER and YONA were implementations of a mathematical rendition of Friedman’s architecture-theoretical propositions, which he had developed during research and teaching appointments at MIT and the University of Michigan between 1964-1971. In it, Friedman suggested using labeled planar graphs to map the spatial configuration of domestic and urban space in tandem with “activities” of its inhabitants. The graph collapsed architectural memory into a storing of, and recalling from, a series of prefigured states. Friedman imagined the graph as both container of architectural memory and design possibility. It enabled recording and storing the different states of architectural and urban form that was persistently ephemeral, ever-changing, amnesiac. At the same time, through a simple exercise of graph combinatorics, it could reveal all possible future states of one’s house and city. 

The paper situates the development of these programs at the intersection of modernist displacements of architectural time and memory with the intellectual and material infrastructures of computer aided design. Ultimately, the goal is to open a conversation on how modernist theoretical commitments about architectural memory were reified in, and also inflected by, early computer-aided design programs and human-machine interfaces.