Digital Fabrication


By: David M.Sperling and Pablo C.Herrera


Digital FabricationThis was a rich and challenging process of capturing an ever changing scenario. Mapping, as Janet Abrams and Peter Hall remember us, “has emerged in the information age as a means to make the complex accessible, the hidden visible, the unmappable mappable (…) mapping refers to a process – ongoing, incomplete and of indeterminate, mutable form”.

Digital FabricationOur mapping highlights a recent context of starting and development of fab labs in Latin America. Beginning in university research centers, and consolidated in university platforms, this movement expands with the formation of laboratory networks and the emergence of studios and independent researchers investigating and exploring new uses for digital fabrication in architecture and in related fields.

Digital FabricationThroughout this mapping process we contacted 50 of the 70 estimated fab labs in the region, of which 31 consistently responded to a survey aimed at recognize their works, lines of action, infrastructure and human resources, uses and applications of digital fabrication. At the end, we reach the labs presented here. As a sample of the recent yet already effervescent scenario of digital manufacturing in the region, the exhibition presents, for the first time in Latin America, the production of 25 laboratories of universities, research groups, architecture studios and independent researchers. While the first activities started 15 years ago, 2/3 of the fab labs were created in the last three years. In this scenario, the majority of the fab labs surveyed are bond to academic research institutions and half of them have a large variety of machines installed. These are followed by fab labs linked to universities or private studios with a medium or small variety of machines installed.

Digital FabricationThis mapping shows, for example, the predominance of applications in the production of small objects in relation to the manufacture of molds for construction or manufacturing machines, but indicate a more equal division of uses in several areas. After the predominance of design prototypes and models for teaching, uses targeted to industry, art and heritage and actions in social process (communities and impaired people) have similar results. Fab labs mapped are geared to a variety of activities involving the training of human resources, design processes and research of different uses and applications of digital manufacturing – with few cases showing a narrow specialization.

Digital FabricationThe exhibition design is inspired in the environment of an architecture studio, seeking to fluidly connect laboratories and their models, images and texts. Each lab sent a video exploring the processes of conception and fabrication of its work – they are in the exhibition and anyone can access them on the Internet, spreading these works. In reference to file-to-factory processes we have included a FILE-TO-EXHIBITION space for the interaction of a wider audience with digital fabrication, in this case a 3D printer.

Digital FabricationThe use of the term “Homo Faber” in the title of this exhibition seeks to recover associations with inherently human actions of transformation and reflective elaboration by means of “make”. The interrelationships between architecture and digital technologies, initially confined to the sphere of representation and then reviewed and directed to the sphere of cognitive and design processes, present nowadays other possibilities for the manufacturing processes. Inevitably, such dynamics place epistemological questions for the field. Design and build, or think and make, the built environment both critically and synchronous to the transformations of each age is one of the greatest challenges of architecture in its history and this condition remains with digital manufacturing.

Digital FabricationThe philosopher Hannah Arendt had already distinguished in The Human Condition (1958) “labor” – the animal laborans action governed by the “how” and addressed to the satisfaction of personal needs – from “work” – the homo faber action directed by “why”. If this action is still instrumental and directed towards an end – and therefore not disinterested as the action of the zoon politikon – it is an inherently human action to shape the world, which has some freedom and a public dimension, conditions for creating a common sphere.

Digital FabricationMore recently, “Homo Faber” is the title of the trilogy that the sociologist Richard Sennett has written about the material means in production of culture and a common world. It is about man as “maker” and the skills it needs to sustain everyday in life. In The Craftsman (2008), the author explores the pleasure of making things with hands, linking material consciousness and ethical values. Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation (2012) explores the challenges of accomplishing something cooperatively. Making and Dwelling, yet to be released, will focus on open systems and urban design. Make, collaborate and produce the city are the Homo Faber trilogy for Sennett.

Digital FabricationIn the design field, “Homo Faber” is the title of a series of exhibitions and a trilogy of books – Homo Faber: Modelling Architecture (2007), Homo Faber: Modelling Ideas (2008) and Homo Faber: Modelling, Identity and The Post digital (2010) – organized by Mark Burry, Peter Downton, Andrea Mina and Michael Otswald. They are the result of a research keen to explore specificities and relationships between wander and critical reflection enabled by manual production models and the acceleration and the highly iterative procedures of digital media prototyping.

Amid the context of apparatuses and programs, Flusser’s philosophy was interested in the question of “freedom”, that is a “strategy of making chance and necessity subordinate to human intention”. For him,

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