Posted on February 23, 2022 at 1:21 pm

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The Digital in Architecture: Then, Now and in the Future Plan drawing

There are digital elements in everything we do, from the infrastructure that helps us navigate our world to the things that allow us to communicate with one another. The usage of digital tools in architecture, such as those provided by, is growing rapidly and becoming more widespread. The growing interest in the influence these technologies are having and will have on our daily lives has increased the usage of these tools in architecture schools, small independent businesses, and multinational corporations.

The Digital in Architecture: Then, Now and in the Future Plan drawing




This article will examine the important breakthroughs in digital thinking in architecture from the late nineteenth century to the present. We follow the timeline as it goes back in time to help us predict what might happen in the future.

Origins: Morphological Thought

The future of architecture in the digital era is strongly intertwined with our understanding of our relationship with nature. Architectural design in the 19th century has been influenced by the findings of Charles Darwin and the structuralist ideas of D’Arcy Thompson.

This theory was popularized by architect Louis Sullivan, who developed the idea of functionalism. The concept holds that a building’s design should follow its intended use. Frank Lloyd Wright and others who had worked for Sullivan early in their careers developed the concept of ‘organic architecture,’ emphasizing the significance of taking into account natural behavior while designing buildings.

From the way nature’s patterns and motifs were used to decorate buildings to their unifying geometric relationships, this idea permeated a great deal of work during this period.

The Proto-Parametricism


The Digital in Architecture: Then, Now and in the Future Plan drawing

In the early to mid-20th century, architects were profoundly impacted by their understanding of nature’s principles and the mathematics that support them. A new meaning for the phrase, “form follows function,” began to emerge during this time.

If its parameters can define a building’s function, architects can use mathematical formulae to design form, as per Italian architect Luigi Moretti. The sets of correlations that arose, according to Moretti, generated the concept of ‘architettura parametrica,’ in which the performance of architectural components is assigned specific parameters.

When one thinks about architectural processes and forms during a moment of technological progress, it is not the first time that architects have adopted an algorithmic approach to thinking about their work.

Antoni Gaudi, the Catalan architect who designed Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia (1882-1926), used a combination of computing and analog methods to create his models. When it came to designing, Gaudi rarely employed drawings, preferring instead to work directly with the properties of tangible and material objects. 

The American architect, systems theorist, and futurist Buckminster ‘Bucky’ Fuller was also a proto-parametricist. Fuller was a strong believer in the power of technological innovation to help people get more done with less and make better use of the resources they had. His work may be considered a pioneer to today’s digital design and fabrication in many ways.

Revolutionary Cybernetics

Cybernetics have profoundly influenced architecture and design since the second half of the twentieth century. This theory holds that all human and machine behavior may be viewed as a series of feedback loops, with inputs and outputs flowing back and forth. Cedric Price, one of the most innovative British architects of the twentieth century, is perhaps the most well-known to adapt this theory.

During the 1980s and 1990s at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, Julia and John Frazer used generative and evolutionary algorithms as a new model for the design process. 

The First Digital Explorations

Over the late 1980s and early 1990s, computational tools were increasingly important in the design process and the creation of drawings in the architecture and design profession.

American architect Frank Gehry employed digital technology to build design techniques and design software. His effect on the usage of computational tools can be more widespread. This iterative design method was evident in Gehry’s first computer-aided project, the Lewis Residence (1989-1995), which he used for years of experimenting.

The architect created what he dubbed a “morphological diagram” by using computers to explore various design alternatives.

Gehry and his colleagues developed a CATIA interface to make it easier to realize their ideas and keep them true to Gehry’s vision. Any unique machine tolerances were not considered when creating the data supplied by this software. Gehry Technologies created a separate BIM program called Digital Project based on this technology.

The Journey from Virtual to Physical

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, architectural notions studied in previous decades were realized. During the financial boom, vast sums of money were poured into architecture.

Architects who had previously solely worked on drawings, animations, installations, or small buildings could compete for large-scale projects. The search for more expressive forms of architecture has resulted in some of the most recognizable structures in cities worldwide.

FOA’s 1995 design for the Yokohama International Port Terminal was considered futuristic at the time. The top of the terminal simulates a dynamic landscape so that visitors can travel fluidly from the exterior to the terminal’s interior. The notion was made possible via computer-aided design.

Rise of Internet

Later, the World Wide Web was born. As a result of the advent of new communication technologies, collaboration – essential to any architectural practice – could now happen faster.

No more waiting for architectural drawings made the design process painfully tedious. This allows people in different regions to work on them almost in real-time. It is now common to see numerous offices working together on huge international competitions.

Computing Nature

Academic and industrial partners collaborate to find new shapes and forms using generative design processes. An extensive body of collaborative design research spanned across disciplines and industries, tying together diverse characteristics into intricate networks that took shape as the network’s dynamic relationships evolved.

AA Emtech focuses on material behavior biomimetics to explore the potential of future emergence and natural systems in architectural design.

Later, the Institute for Computational Design (ICD) at Stuttgart University integrated this method with research into innovative fabrication technologies. ICD continues to work with industrial and mobile robotics, often at the scale of a pavilion.


Technological advancement in architecture allowed morphological thinking to evolve in the 21st century. It gave new life to notions of non-linearity and agent-based modelling through digitalization.


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