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Archaeology of the Digital

Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. May 7–October 13, 2013

The current reach and transformative power of the digital makes us forget that it grew up in our midst. In architecture, especially, we have become accustomed to thinking of digital technologies as foreign forces that invaded, conquered, and remade the profession in a new image. The exhibition Archaeology of the Digital documents four projects of the late ’80s and early ’90s, each spearheaded by an established architect at the peak of his powers, in which existing technologies were adapted for architectural use.

The exhibition’s opening room contains four models and four images, each pair corresponding to a project by one of four architects: Frank Gehry’s Lewis Residence; Peter Eisenman’s Biocentrum; Chuck Hoberman’s Expanding Sphere; and Shoei Yoh’s roof structures for Odawara and Galaxy Toyama gymnasiums. Each project corresponds to one room, in which a varied collection of materials documents how the project served as a beachhead whereby its architect entered, explored, and appropriated the digital. The final room of the exhibition contains computer hardware and programming manuals for the software the architects used to create the projects on display. The centre’s website makes available video interviews with the curator and the architects.

As the digital came of age, some architects, at least, invaded it proactively, taking what they wanted and modifying it to suit their own requirements. Indeed, the spoils of their adventures constitute the seeds of many of the digital tools commonly used by today’s architects, such as Form Z and Digital Project. The exhibition argues, ultimately, that the digital became architectural through the initiative of particular architects, who appropriated it to serve their particular needs.