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Towards Digital Ornament

Part 2 Dissertation 2009
Nick Walkley
Manchester School of Architecture | UK

The early years of the twenty-first century appear to have witnessed a reversal in attitude to that of the twentieth. The preference for pure expression in the arts has subsided to a revived interest in decoration. The work of artists, designers and architects has become noticeably more ornamental. The computer is at the root of this change. The speed at which finer elements can be drawn, replicated, manipulated and brought into reality has now caught up with the accelerated pace of the modern world. Ornament is again an option, not an unnecessary expense.

Naturally, many designers have chosen to embrace it as a way of keeping ahead of rivals in a fiercely competitive industry. The world in the digital era shall be visually much richer and deeper as a result. Architecture has begun slowly with this ornamental revival. The computer technology driving it is beginning to become more accessible to the profession and will aid architects wishing to resurrect ornament.

Designers such as Tord Boontje and Elena Manferdini are figureheads of the new revival. Their work shows a new style of ornament that is very different to pre-modern design but has similar intentions. Whether architecture as intricately detailed as Gaudi’s and AWN Pugin’s can be achieved through digital design methods is yet to be demonstrated, but the early indications are that this is a likely possibility.

Retrospective Note

Since the dissertation was written now over 18 months ago, many of the predictions made are beginning to manifest themselves to actual events, and at speed. There are noticeably more products and designs making use of digital fabrication technology, which has itself become more accessible. In addition, Tord Boontje has since been appointed as Head of Design at the Royal College of Art, a position set to further his already substantial influence over emerging young talent. Although still only in its infancy, the early identification of a newly emerging creative style looks to have been accurately predicted.

Nick Walkley

Nick Walkley’s dissertation is notable because he put what he learned into practice by designing a Gothic concert hall for his thesis project. It was an outrageous and original piece of work that used the most modern methods of construction to create something that was very far from the Modern Movement. Nick benefited from meeting Rupert Soar of the Loughborough University Rapid Manufacturing Unit which gave him an overview of the state of the art in rapid prototyping. The unit is attempting to print a house using technology borrowed form termites. I was introduced to Rupert via the EPSRC and it is good to see that contacts made through research conducted at Manchester University can feed into work at the School of Architecture that is shared between the two universities in Manchester.

Andrew Crompton

Mr Andrew Crompton
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