Inés Ariza

Detail grammar

Nov – Dec 2015
Final project for Visual Computing I, Prof. Terry Knight, MIT
gypsum-based powder 3D printing
Inés Ariza
Rule-based designs of joints, Zprints.

How can we design new details when we don’t know how they should work?

Bret Victor asks a similar question in his article Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction to incite designers to deconstruct complex systems into simpler, visually explorable representations that are easier to read and understand (Victor 2011). Among other things, Victor is a programmer, so it is natural for him to break down problems into smaller, manageable challenges. But this well-known problem-solving technique is not exclusive to computer science. 

Robert Woodbury wrote to architects and designers in a similar quest to make parametric systems approachable and understandable. In Elements of Parametric Design, he hints about the hidden potential of explicitly representing ideas that are usually treated intuitively (Woodbury 2010). For designers, it is easy to think about intuition as a good thing. But what if our intuition isn’t nourished enough to solve the problem at hand? To go back to our first question, how can we design new details when the required engineering knowledge is not evident?

Details are compounds of technical aspects and aesthetic desires, easily categorized anywhere between fascination and boredom. They escape universal definitions and are hard to circumscribe. However, a good starting point to identify what they are made of is to look at their conventional drawings. Here, details are typically described statically, silencing intervening ingredients such as the flow of water or the vectors of the structural forces acting on them. The inside detail’s machinery can sometimes be hard to reconstruct. So now, in the era of simulation and computational thinking, it might be the right moment to ask: how are the diverse fields of knowledge that the details bring together, such as physics, construction, materials, economy, and aesthetics, combined and explained all at once?

Coming back to Victor’s questions, we should be aware that how we describe a phenomenon most surely affects how we understand it. Similarly, choosing a design description is not innocuous as it affects the scope of what the resulting design can be. For us, novice designers, we are interested in learning. And we are interested in finding accurate and flexible descriptions that would let us explore and learn about the space of detail possibilities.

Continue reading


A grammar for joints
Ariza, I., 2021 (unpublished)

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