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The Digital Cage

Part 2 Dissertation 2012
Matthew Austin
University of Technology Sydney Sydney Australia
John Cage was one of America’s most well-known contemporary composers. His use of chance-based techniques in his compositions – namely the Music of Changes, in which Cage flipped a coin to free himself of having to make decisions based on his personal likes and dislikes – allowed him to remove himself as the formalizing agent from within his process. Similarly if we consider the architect and the introduction of computational techniques within the design process a startling similarity between Cage and the digital architect is revealed.

This paper takes the chance-based work of Cage and describes complexity-based digital architecture – defined within the context of this paper is defined as the experimentation of, and production of graphical outputs with an inherent architectural thought process – as a direct analogue in order to uncover a culturally based fallacy within the discourse of architecture, namely the importance of control within digital processes. The paper therefore looks at the notion of control within these two processes and argues that it is the ability to relinquish control of the processes – and thus remove oneself as the formalising agent – that allows Cage and the architect to get unobtainable and significantly different outcomes.

In conclusion the paper argues that the notion of ‘being in control’ of the computational design process is a grossly incorrect notion enforced upon it within its infancy by the architectural profession reacting to and trying to control the computer within the cultural frame in which it is comfortable. Further still the dismissive critique ‘the computer is the designer’ of these complexity based digital processes is equally applicable to much more simple digital processes in which the architectural profession inescapably requires to function.

Matthew Austin

Professor Stephen Harfield
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