This paper describes a series of research seminars investigating the contemporary capacities of architectural ornamentation in the context of computational design and digital fabrication technologies. The pedagogy explores potential overlaps between ornamental systems and logics of performance-driven design, challenging students to formulate a critical agenda vis-à-vis the relationship between the two. How can material assemblies produce innovative, symbolic, or communicative visual effects while also addressing specific performance criteria? What kinds of new aesthetic, figural, representational, expressive, and spatial qualities can emerge from such a synthetic approach?
The material focus of this research is on processes of casting and forming—workflows that allow for the production of difference within repetitive systems. Parallel to the material research, students develop robust digital, parametric models that enable iteration and evaluation of the work both qualitatively and quantitatively. Within this hybrid workflow, students develop wall systems of modular yet variable components that respond to specific performance criteria, such as daylighting, visibility, or acoustics.
By cultivating a fluency across analog, digital, material, and virtual modes of working, the pedagogy suggests one way to meld computational thinking with architectural design. The projects demonstrate an understanding of how to correlate larger-scale performance criteria with design decisions at the scale of the individual component. The emphasis on proof-of-concept prototyping insists that students grapple with material realities of tolerance and assembly. And the positioning of the research within the historical discourse on ornament encourages students to think strategically, intentionally, and critically about how they integrate computational processes into their work.