hacker [hak-er]

noun

“a microcomputer user who attempts to gain unauthorized access to proprietary computer systems”

“a person who engages in an activity without talent or skill”

But, read a little further down the page (courtesy of Dictionary.com):

“a person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities; one who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations”

Far from the definition that typically comes to mind (of some ungrateful misanthrope spreading ill-willed viruses to the masses out of his parents’ basement), the “hacker” of today refers to a much broader persona. Rather than conveying poor quality of work or ethical dishonesty, the idea of hacking now refers more directly to the connections forged between various environments. To hack is to find (or make) a path where previously there was none, whether it be between different software programs, or between our bodies and necessary prosthetics, or between our analog environment and our new digital realm.

We hack our bodies, we hack our environments, and we hack our very own design processes: but how aware are we of the underlying structure of the tools we’re using? Do we know how computers think, or do we just use them mindlessly, struggling to adapt our own way of thinking to their convoluted interfaces, picking and choosing our results from their analyses as we see fit? The computer presents to us a powerful tool set, from advanced computational analysis to rapid prototyping and manufacturing. But as is the case whenever multiple parties of different mindsets work together on a project, the integration of computer technology in design requires an understanding of what the possibilities, as well as the limitations, of that power really are. Communication is key. You shouldn’t have to be able to write code in order to use a computer properly, but understanding a bit more about the nuts and bolts (1’s and 0’s) that form the foundation of computer architecture will allow you to utilize that tool in creative and powerful new ways.

“Digital design” is neither a new formal style of architecture nor an overhaul of current practices: it is, rather, the chance for creative minds to tap into the power of advanced scientific analysis. No longer do the two need to be seen as opposites, nor should anyone have to spend time becoming fluent in a new “language” in order to transfer information and design intent between the two approaches. Interfaces between designer and data (Revit, Rhino, AutoCAD, etc.) have repeatedly tried again and again to smooth this workflow, but the results are growing ever-more complicated. These interfaces may be connecting us to our data, but they are doing so by building a wall that we can’t see around. They are cementing our separation, rather than allowing our direct access. Trapped in the language of the program, our capabilities for design become constrained by our inability to communicate our ideas with the computer.

So how do we fix this? Revit is no doubt an indispensable tool in most of our offices and many of our projects, and not many designers are itching to learn how to write computer code. The solution is not in convincing designers to become programmers, but rather in building an interface between designer and data that allows him or her to communicate ideas in digital terms – in reducing the human-computer divide. Connect the designer to an elemental, if not necessarily technical, understanding of computation and form. Affect the interface between man and machine, re-engage the senses and controls that are natural to us – maintain computer interaction as half-human, instead of forcing the user to use mouse, keyboard, toolbar, and screen to “translate” his thoughts.

Our world is headed into a digital future. It is not a future to be lost in, or one that will replace our analog environment. It is a lens, a parallel, a conjunction; and with the right understanding and the right communication, that juncture can propel our designs into beautiful, fulfilling, sustainable new realms.

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