Digital architectures of imagination
(University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
I take up Crapanzano’s challenge in two related ways: One explores imaginative horizons enacted in digital design practices in architecture. The other relates these to ongoing work in anthropology seeking to expand the horizons of the field to understand creativity and cognition in a digitising world.
Paper long abstract:
Crapanzano highlights questions of time, contingency and memory as key elements for the anthropology of imagination. I add technics to the mix and propose an inquiry into creativity and innovation in digital architecture as a way of exploring the genesis of imaginative horizons. At present, digital technology not only changes notions of design but also holds the power to fundamentally re-structure its practices. The completion of Gaudi's Sagrada Família cathedral in Barcelona offers a case in point: with few surviving instructions to work from, architects instead use the material memory of existing buildings as templates for design research into possible architectural futures. This would not be feasible without extensive use of scripts to customise digital tools according to the contingencies of the buildings. Design scripting literally re-imagines the tools and practices of architecture, forwarding a privileged view of the double nature of imagination highlighted by Crapanzano; every time we creatively and imaginatively overcome a problem we open new horizons for imagination itself. In this vein, the study of digital creativity and cognition should open new venues for ethnographic research into imagination. My presentation will proceed through a short theoretical framing before investigating case studies from the literature on the Sagrada Família. I will show how the design team draw on materials, memory and contingency to collapse the distance between material and digital elements in the completion of the cathedral; and discuss this interpretative play as a template for an anthropology concerned with how technics constitute the horizon of our imagination.
Creative horizons: steps towards an ethnography of imagination