Critical Computational Relations in Design, Architecture and the Built Environment

Special Issue Editor(s):
Yana Boeva, University of Stuttgart
Vernelle A.A. Noel, Georgia Institute of Technology

When it comes to computation in design, architecture, and the built environment, practices, methods, and tools frequently offer “neutral” and “optimized” techno-solutions to (social) design problems. Portrayal of these computational infrastructures as neutral solutions that open participation in design hides the social, political, and environmental entanglements involved in their creation and expansion (Nakamura 2014; Benjamin 2019; Bridle 2018). This narrative of neutrality conceals power that computer-aided design (CAD) software monopolies and technology providers hold (Cardoso Llach 2015). Neutrality also obscures these platforms’ embedded values and their relations to injustice, racism, and inequality. Another narrative and mission of CAD industries and their computational technologies is the optimization of processes, which in architectural computation has gone through three phases: form, fabrication, and now data (Marble 2018). Optimization through fabrication includes industrial off-site construction with robotics, manufacturing assemblies, and streamlining modes of production. Optimization through data includes new forms of automation and new ‘user-friendly’ tools that employ machine intelligence to ‘free’ designers from the ‘toll’ of repetitive and non-creative tasks. While these tools claim to be accessible, how they and their algorithms work are blackboxed. How might we interrogate the values and relations embedded in CAD tools and processes? What does optimization really mean, what does it look like on the ground, and who benefits? This special issue aims to shed light on and conceptualize the power relations between computational design, the built environment, and society.

The special issue invites articles that address the above themes. Editors welcome contributions that seek to understand and uncover the power relations between (commercial) CAD systems, computational design practices, technology infrastructures, knowledge, education, and their reproductions of bias at multiple scales. Submissions informed by critical computational design, critical algorithm / data studies, infrastructure studies, critical race studies, postcolonial, queer, feminist, and learning theory are encouraged as are those addressing digital tools, practices, and components from a range of disciplinary perspectives. In addition, editors are interested in critical analysis of methodologies and approaches.

Submission to this special issue is a two-stage process. Authors interested in contributing are invited to submit an extended abstract (500 words) for review. Authors whose abstracts are accepted will then be invited to submit a full paper (up to 7000 words). Full papers will then be double blind peer reviewed for acceptance into the special issue. You can find the full submission instructions here.

Important dates: Abstracts due: 31 March 2021; Full papers due: September 30; Final versions due: March 2023; Expected publication: Summer 2023

More information can be found in the full call for papers here.

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