Centennial Chromagraph

This paper by Adam Marcus describes the design, fabrication, and assembly process of Centennial Chromagraph: a large-scale installation recently constructed for the centennial anniversary of the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. The project is an exercise in data spatialization; using computational design tools to generate formal and spatial constructions with large quantities of information.

Built from 100 plywood ribs and 8,080 colorful No. 2 pencils, the project oscillates between representational and atmospheric readings, serving both as a sculptural installation and as a communicative visualization of the School’s history. In this regard, it represents an alternative approach to notions of “Big Data” within contemporary design practice—one in which the powerful quantitative techniques of computation are leveraged to reveal new qualitative, aesthetic, spatial, and communicative possibilities for architecture.

The paper reviews initial analog research, digital mapping and visualization studies, and the development of tectonic and spatial logics that proved effective both representationally and atmospherically. The project stakes a claim for a new sense of computational craft, in which the techniques of Big Data and the artifacts of the algorithm yield surprising and unexpected tectonic qualities that are contingent upon both the computational and the material. In doing so, it offers a model for contemporary design computation to engage explicitly with age-old architecture notions of detail, ornament, pattern, and effect.

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