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Wouldn’t it be cool if …

I play a brainstorming game from time to time in one of my classes that starts off with “wouldn’t it be cool if ..” and almost always goes someplace interesting from there.  On several slightly longer time-lines, here are some things that I think are kind of cool this spring.

… you came to the [DMG] Open House?  

On Friday, February 10, the [DMG] (Design Machine Group) will showcase some of the work being done by students in the group. We really hope you’ll come by and check us out.  It’ll help you answer the “What is the DMG?” question the next time you hear it, or “Where is the DMG?” It may even help you answer the question “What’s next in design computing?”  Because that’s what we try to do.

Stop by and interact with a smart wall element, shape space with hand gestures, chat about mass customization or the potential for material properties to be incorporated directly into digital models,  check out at a prototype mechatronic forming system, or use a Wii Remote to fly through a SketchUp model.


… there was an advanced degree in design computing?

The department of architecture has offered courses in 3D modeling, computer literacy and digital media for more than 30 years. Fifteen years ago it was becoming clear that we had enough coursework that a student could focus significant attention on computing in architecture, but the accredited MArch degree program lacked the space and flexibility to support such a focus. At that point we committed to hiring additional faculty with expertise in computing and we began to develop a proposal to mount a new degree, a Master of Science in Architecture, with the intent that it house several advanced studies, starting with design computing. That proposal was approved in the spring of 2001 and this spring the MS in Architecture Program in Design Computing (MS.dc) turns ten.

Of the 16 MS.dc graduates to date, 5 have gone on to PhD studies and 9 have taken jobs in architecture or other design fields. We’re pretty happy with that record.


… there was a design computing research group?

When we started the MS program we wanted to foster discussion across the department, raising the overall level of knowledge and discourse about design computing. The MS and MArch share coursework, but the MS does not require design studio. So as to foster the sense of community and culture that a studio has, we established the Design Machine Group as a “research studio” where MS, MArch, and undergraduate students working on design-computing research projects could find a home.

Over the last decade, more than 75 projects have been carried forward by 65 student and faculty members of the [DMG].  Some 31 theses, about half of them MArch  theses, have been completed, and over 30 papers have been presented at academic conferences or published in peer-reviewed academic journals. Find more info on the [dmg] website at http://dmg.be.washington.edu.


… we had Digital Design Studios?

When the DMG was getting started and the MS was in the planning stages, the department bought a studio full of computers and began offering Digital Design Studios. These asked questions related to the intersection of computing and architecture, and, being physically adjacent to the [DMG], they provided a fertile ground for ideas to cross over between the two groups during casual conversation.  Now a days, most studios are defacto digital design studios, but I still want to know what kind of buildings a university needs if all the students use Skype. You can find the archive of the past projects online at http://dds.be.washington.edu.


… we did digital fabrication?

It was about that time that the department bought it’s first laser-cutter as well. Poorly vented and under-powered by today’s standards, it nonetheless opened the door to ideas of digital fabrication in the department. It was slow going for many years, as the highly successful furniture studio was already well established around an alternative set of core values, but in the last couple of years we’ve seen huge leaps forward in terms of equipment, course development, and interest. These changes have refocused the MS and DMG with more emphasis on direct fabrication. There’s even a “certificate” available to recognize students in the MArch who focus on digital fabrication.


… you got involved!

We’re not done yet. Bring your ideas and your energy and share some of it with us. We’d like to work with you, whether you are interested in pursuing a design computing topic in your thesis, want to talk about simultaneous pursuit of both the MArch and MS, or are up for a focused exploration on the cutting edge of architecture and computing.


Associate Professor Brian Johnson has taught and conducted research in design computing since the early 1980s. In the 1980s and early 1990s he administered College computing and led several projects to bring additional computing resources to the College and to integrate them into studio teaching. Since the mid-90s he has led the Department and the College onto the web through demonstration web projects, software development, and course offerings. He has served as Director of the Design Machine Group [DMG] and as faculty advisor to the Master of Science in Architecture Program in Design Computing since 2004.

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