Digital Habitus of Architecture

Hanife Sümeyye Tasdelen, Leman Figen Gül

Published Apr 14, 2021


The rapid growth of new media in the last decade has led to transformations in information and communication technologies as well as transformations in the production of architectural design knowledge and representations. According to Carpo (2018), information is so abundant and easily searchable that each user can find her/his own and each person doing the same search will come up with different results, and sometimes they would come with incompatible information. Furthermore, Google has already proven that no two searches are the same, every search in this universal archive-based on user preference, context, endless more or less secret parameters (Carpo, 2018). So, for architects, the main source of communication and information is the online interactions in digital habitus that has been spatializing for certain practices. The great amount of data is the new materials for architects and online searching that has become the initial phase to start designing. Also, digital environments have changed the conceptual design activities of architects that are gathering precedents, idea generation, concept articulation, and visualization (Abdelhameed, 2006). Thereby, all dimensions of the relationship with digital tools through the motivation of search behavior in the design process are important in the emergence of new design knowledge. The process of form creation and concept articulation become strongly based on using information, especially during the early design phase. Therefore, today perceiving the design precedents’ images retrieved from the digital media and repositories (in new media) are the key factors affecting the designers’ imagination. Herewith, the proficiencies of architects and designers in new media and internet practices as well as knowledge in design software and digital design are become essential (Author, 2018).

1.Novel concepts in digital design culture

Architects are confronted with new forms of knowledge in digital design that is a methodologically unique form of design (Oxman, 2010). In this view, theories and methods of digital design can no longer be conceptualized as the combination of computational tools and traditional formulations of design. One of the important terms is digital elitism that is used to describe the specialist skills required to utilize advanced digital technology (Oxman, 2006; Becker, 2017). In the field of architecture, the discussion of the cultural dimensions of digital design becomes the focal point in which ‘’elitism’ is also related with digital design skills, such as knowledge of multiple software packages, advanced computational design practices (scripting, parametric modeling, etc.), managing complex data models, etc. (Oxman, 2006). The trends in praxis show that digitally elite architects are increasingly prioritized illustrating the higher-level software skills and theoretical knowledge in digital design. Nonetheless, this paper is an attempt to explore the conceptual dimension of the process of the formation of architectural design knowledge in the context of contemporary digital design culture, rather than taking a holistic view of the architectural discipline in a sociological perspective. Based on our prior research (see Author, 2018). We propose and discuss an adaptation of Bourdieu’s Theory of Habitus through current praxis in the field of digital architecture.

2.Digital habitus of architecture

Habitus makes it possible for individuals to produce the behavior that the social context expects from them in a particular situation, without having to think about it (that is, to ensure the harmony between their subjective structures and the objective structures of the social context) (Jourdain & Naulin, 2016). So, the broad extent of Digital Habitus consists of general characteristics of our continuous operations within digital media and new relationships created by them. Some iterative processes in utilizing digital tools for design such as image processing, painting, sketching, and drawing, geometric, parametric or algorithmic modeling, rendering and animation preparation, etc. are existed. In addition, the process of searching and finding an inspirational digital object on the internet would be accepted as another repeated action in the digital habitus. In this paper, we are defining two fields of Digital Habitus of architecture considering the process of design knowledge production. As elaborated by Bourdieu, field theory conceptualizes society as structured spaces in which agents with habitus and capital struggle for dominant positions (Lia & Emirbayer, 2016). Agents who are involved in a field act in accordance with the target of this field and struggle to acquire or retain the capital that is specific to this field. In this view, actions are not mechanical or rule-based, but they are strategic (Bourdieu, 1990). In addition, the similarities and differences of specific strategies related to the economic, cultural, political, and social spheres of the action are applied by ‘agents’. Therefore, habitus is not static but long-term and dynamic. Bourdieu refers to agents as individuals, groups, or even complex social formations such as corporations or even states, here we will call them ‘Figure’i . The ‘Figure’ must maintain a certain degree of autonomy for the purpose and have some form of capital (Liu & Emirbayer, 2016). It is inevitable to discuss and reinterpret Bourdieu's Habitus Theory in the context of architecture practice. As the ‘Figure’ of habitus, architects, have the ability and the accumulation of digital capital that they would own, both online and offline including software packages and the knowledge of advanced computational design processes as such scripting, parametric modeling, managing and searching complex data models. The conceptual structure of the habitus has been tabulated from the stage of information acquisition to the stage of representation of the design knowledge by ‘Figure’ (Graph 1). The virtual/digital community populated by the ‘Figure’ is also affected by the social and cultural formation in which they existed. In the process of design, these designers/architects have created a digital habitus by transforming their digital capital into the informational practice in online and digital tools. The digital capital here is the key factor that will directly affect the difference between the design-related parties and the resulting value of the artifact (representational). Therefore, the digital competencies and skills that architects possess are becoming one of the fundamental factors constituting the 'distinction' between ‘Figures’ in the digital habitus. Besides in this new design culture, the differences that constitute the distinction are the software skills, the practice of acquiring online knowledge, the ability to effectively use social media and online navigation methods.

The design process is a knowledge-intensive activity. Every produced design knowledge and the product has a certain currency depending on its production process and conditions of existence. Today, the conditions of existence are shaped by the experimental projects in digital design and also by the new praxis. In parallel to this view, emerging media technologies and digital design practices have produced a pioneer theoretical understanding in digital design (Oxman, 2010). Oxman’s taxonomy of digital design methods demonstrates that various contemporary methodologies can be compared under the concept of levels of digital computability (Kotnik, 2010). In this view, there is a difference between representational CAD models and generative models of digital design in the sense of computability. Kotnik says that mathematization of contemporary architectural discourse can be observed in the other disciplines and it offers the possibility of a theoretical grounding of the relationship between the sciences and architecture (Kotnik, 2010).

Based on the above framework, we would conceptualize possible connections and flows of emergent ideas of design and practice in ‘Digital Habitus of Architecture’ as shown in Graph 1. We summarized the digital habitus in architecture that has two folds: online and offline ways of designing. In the offline field of the digital habitus, can be defined as the sum of practices done with digital design tools including using software packages, employing advanced computational design processes as such scripting, parametric modeling, etc. which can be used by architects during the design process. The online field of the digital habitus of architecture is related to the online searching and managing capacity of complex data (finding new concepts, models, etc.), digital fluency, and literacy in online spaces. As indicated, every field has its special capital forms and digital practices that would make someone distinctive and powerful from the others (Güzel, 2016). Lastly, the ‘Digital Habitus of Architecture’ is open to change and transform itself into other domains continuing to diversify and differentiate. This study was just an attempt to reveal and denominate existing attitudes of ‘Figures’ when exploring information and producing new knowledge in their design task-oriented habitus. We also tried to emphasize that the new digital culture of internet research (and searching practices) is also part of the design thinking on digital media. In further, considering the fact that the new digital culture produces completely different ways of thinking in the domain of architectural design, new studies can be carried out in design education in order to provide the effective use of digital media tools.

The definition of ‘Figure’ is developed for a MATERIART workshop of Sentient Space: Immersing in Alternate Realities that took place in April 2018 at the TOBB ETÜ by (Author, 2018). Based on this definition, Figure is a human being who experiences and also simultaneously manipulates the space around. Figures will be the main interactor with the space that physically surrounds her/him and embodies or extends to alternate realities upon interaction. These interactions may also be defined as being in changing matter in between the real and the virtual where the Figure becomes a part of alternate realities both as the creator of the space and as the user.


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