4.580 | Fall 2006 | Graduate

Inquiry into Computation and Design

Lecture Notes

All lectures are courtesy of the person named, and used with permission.

1 Introduction / Metaphor

An Introduction to Metaphor (PDF)

Metaphor is a powerful, conceptual device for structuring and thinking about an unfamiliar, new, or abstract domain of experience or knowledge (say, computation) in terms of another domain that is more familiar or concrete. We will examine the different, mostly unconscious metaphors that we use in thinking about and doing computation and design. We will look at the ways these metaphors highlight, emphasize, and enable some ways of thinking about computation and design, while disabling or marginalizing others. These reflections may point us to new ways of seeing and doing computation in design.

2 The Silent Game I

Guest: William Porter
Silent Game Rules (PDF)

In playing out the Silent Game, the intention is to provide a stage for experiencing directly and collectively some of the communication paradoxes that emerge from the design and reading of simple artifacts. The Silent Game allows exploration of how meaning gets embedded in, and conveyed through, form, and reveals issues of communication between builders and readers of an artifact. The Silent Game provides an opportunity to model some of these phenomena, play them out, and witness their interactions, thereby enlightening the mechanics of creation and recognition.

3 Metaphors We Design and Compute By [Review] The class was divided into teams and each one worked on the metaphors that the students used in their Statement of Purpose to structure their thinking about design and computation.
4 The Silent Game II

Guest: William Porter

[Review] Taking leads from the play of the Silent Game and from the reading of Habraken’s Concept Design Games, students were asked to formulate an issue that, in their minds, was not clearly revealed in the Silent Game, an issue that they could explore through some ingenious variation of the game. The issue might relate to areas such as confirmation of specific moves or of design intent, development of trust, differentiation of roles, exploration of design intent through its expression in different kinds of materials, differentiation of design rules, design styles, etc. Students were asked to derive a new game based on the structure of the Silent Game by introducing a variation, minor or major.

5 Design, Rules, and Cognition I

Guest: Takehiko Nagakura

With this module, the course begins to focus more on computation. The approach to readings and presentations from this module and on will be on at least two levels - one “reflexive”, the other “technical or methodological” - with lots of room for levels in-between. At the reflexive level, the focus will be on the informal assumptions and discourses surrounding a particular computational approach in design. The objective will be to develop a critical awareness of the metaphors that a particular approach uses to frame, explicitly or implicitly, thinking about design. At the technical level, the focus will be on the specific, mostly formal, techniques, methods, and applications of a computational approach, and the effectiveness and limitations of the approach. The technical level might also extend to a more “theoretical” level for some approaches.

6 Design, Rules, and Cognition II

Guest: Takehiko Nagakura

[Review] Open Experiment. The class was divided into designers and players. The designers prepared a set of shapes and assembled rules from an architectural drawing. The players used the rules to solve a design problem. Through this experiment, the class examined the roles rules can play in the representation of design knowledge as well as the different ways rules themselves are encoded to embody such knowledge.

7 Visual Calculating I

Guest: George Stiny
Visual Calculating (PDF)

The module Visual Calculating continues a theme – metaphor – with which the class is now familiar, and introduces related themes of framing, reformulation, and redescription as essential aspects of design. All are about new and different ways of looking at things in terms of what we already know or have at hand. In this module, these themes are visited in a very specific computational context, that of shape grammars.

8 Visual Calculating II

Guest: George Stiny

[Review] The class was divided into teams and asked to explore the differences between shape computations which support multiple readings and ambiguities in design, and computer programs. Given a shape rule and its results, each team was asked to define a computer program or algorithm (formal, precise set of instructions) that could do exactly what the rule does.

9 Machine Computing I This module introduces ideas and approaches to computation using machines, within the larger framework of computation done either manually or digitally. Through readings and practical hands-on work, students will consider the different representational systems and processes embodied in various approaches and tools. They will explore the implications of these representations and processes on the ways we think about and do design.
10 Machine Computing II

[Review] The class was divided into teams.  Each group explored the representations and processes embedded in the use of one of the following computational design tools:

(A) Shape Grammars

(B) Programming

(C) Geometric Modeling

(D) Parametric Modeling

Each team reconstructed a design using one of these tools, and considered how the tool directed, enabled, or limited their reconstruction, including their conceptualization and understanding of the design.

11 Digital Fabricating I

Guest: Larry Sass

Digital fabrication is an emerging field focused on the production of designs as physical artifacts. Unfortunately, gaps in production methods for practitioners limit outcomes. Currently, the process of design translation is overloaded with many laborious operations. For better computer performance, intelligent machines are required that think through small problems in design. Theoretically, these machines should build the correct solutions in the computer while the designer to continues working on problems of greater complexity

Sass’s research group, DDFG, explores next generation rule-based design that is both physical and visual. The goal is to build design interpreters that will translate a design concept to information readable by fabrication devices across scales, from chairs to skyscrapers.

12 Digital Fabricating II

Guest: Larry Sass

[Review] Students were asked to redesign and fabricate a chair for posting and publishing on the web. They were divided into groups of three – one student acting as CAD modeler/designer, one as fabricator, and one as evaluator/observer. Each group was required to redesign the “Noel Davis” chair: improving upon its looks, function or structure in order to fabricate a completely new chair from one sheet of 4’ x 5’ x ½” plywood. The new chair should be a work of art in appearance and function. In theory, the best designs will be placed on line for distribution and fabrication by rural Fab Labs around the world.

13 Design Knowledge I

Guest: Edith Ackerman

This module concerns the nature of design knowledge, and the construction, instruction, and computational modeling of this knowledge. Students will consider the roles of contexts, beliefs, and actions in knowledge construction and in professional education and practice.

14 Design Knowledge II

Guest: Edith Ackerman

[Review] Students observed and documented a glassblower at the MIT Glass Lab at work on a commissioned glass piece. They were then divided into teams and asked to produce a joint narrative and diagram of the glassblowing design process. They were asked to consider whether and how the glassblowing/designing activity could be automated – that is, if and how a program/machine could take design concept, intentions, and goals as input and produce a physical artifact as output.

15 Moving On This last class is an informal pre-pre-pre-thesis roundtable discussion.  Students were asked to reflect on their interests and aims when they first came to MIT, and how these have changed in their first semester here.  These reflections should take into consideration the topics covered in this subject, as well as ideas and work in other classes they’ve taken this semester.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2006