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AI & Pizza / The culture of copying.

It has been said a lot about AI, and it's needed to underline that Artificial intelligence is a generic expression that it's grouping different uses and technologies, that at least, in our field, design, at the moment it's mostly regarded as a text to image generator.

At this point is redundant to say what it is, or to show what at least, means, since what it's producing is just the result of the next leap in software design, and for us, working in the design of artificial environments, objects, images, it seems to be a new old way of doing, or, in other words, competing. I have seen countless examples from professionals and amateurs alike with good, bad, average, or horrid results; anybody can claim to be producing high quality renderings of not so new things that can be called art, design, or even architecture. But is this text to image production something that should be of concern?

The short answer is no.


Because although AI applied in such a generative, easy form, is new, it is based upon an old human way of proceeding, that (for now) works on pre-existing data. Eventually the whole system will start to produce a different reality, but so far, everything has an allure of déjà vu.

Years ago, while studding, I attended a lecture by Peter Eisenman. I felt quite bored until the time for the questions. One student asked, Mr Eisenman, what's architecture for you?: immediately I thought (and many maybe too), what a stupid question, but the answer was brilliant, such a long, boring lecture gave light to a moment I'll always remember.... He took some seconds, and eventually said, architecture is everything you don't need in a building.

I think that we'll have to build more servers now not only to host silly tik tok videos, games, porn and tv series but also loads of images (and in the near future videos too) that are reproducing at a pace that's even faster than that of bureaucracy, where, AI in design has being used so far in a very old fashion, because that way of proceeding has been around for quite some time, as at the end, AI as an entity does not exists yet, it is a tool that ultimately comes to existence when put in motion. The machine is not producing without been asked, the AI it's for now just another piece of software. A brilliant one.

CAD/CAM means what it means, again, it is obvious, but for quite a bit between CAD/CAM and a certain generation of architects there was a person. I am part of some of the first waves of professionals that were born with computers, computers have been in my life since a very young age, and when I was studding architecture, computers were already being used for generating images, making plans, calculations, and everything that's needed for a building, hence, reducing times, costs, but, I remember that in certain design studios in the faculty, computers were banned, hand drawing was mandatory, Rothring pens were compulsory and the use of computers was something that many of us had to work with later on. Hand drawing is essential to me (I have studied with Sir Peter Cook after all), but it's only as useful as any other way of putting into this reality what's first in the mind, the banning as I could later experience, was more the result of an inter generational struggle rather than a practical fact of the future practice.

I have been teaching for some years design and architecture design and I have seen everything, from hand sketches to definitions made with grasshopper or python scripts; I have studied during the hype of the parametricism ( if such word exists), and I've been a priest of it myself, making me to move between professionals who were using scripting in order to produce certain geometries, results, although I have not gone beyond the use of grasshopper in some cases, at the end, every single tool serves for the production of a certain idea, but since a long time, after analyzing my own background, I started to understand what's really under the parametric architecture label. I have seen many different ways of generating forms in architecture, from scripts to animations that were stopped in certain ways, ways of proceeding that were analog to what previous generations of architects would do with models or random sketches, therefore, I understood that many who started more or less when I did, were victims of a system, we were, an interface, something between a computer and someone else who was certainly not coming from the video game culture and unable to use one.

Many times, I would be very much overstretched with changes, with software and interfaces where a box had always the same dimensions. A different box had to be a total new box. Someone would come to my screen and say this has to be bigger, longer, with more or less floors or columns, windows. Once I had to make a stair consisting of two intersecting spirals, but respecting certain regulations, and eventually any change in some clearances would make the whole 3D to collapse, to avoid that, I have then used some tools that were parametric. My brother told me very much at the beginning of our studies, while showing me a cube in the first version of 3Dmax, “this is a parametric cube”. The label had not been yet created, although it was already there and was clearly an easier way of changing things inside a project, but the parametric became a need for us to change things for a generation that couldn't, what I mean, we were eating pizza at 11pm in an office, trying to figure out how to change everything overnight, changes that were mostly about dimensions, we needed to modify things without having to re-draw a complete 3D. At the end, a parametric design (architecture is built so we can only talk of architectural design tools that are parametric) is something that, either it's used in an environment where you need to make changes for some reasons, or you have to respond to the taste and insecurity of someone who has not a clear idea on what's wanted (a differentiation with scripting should be done, but exceeds this writings) . The apex was when I'd get an order (cannot call it otherwise) as follows: draw the whole façade of the building (a tower), and he continued, “towers have an entrance hall, that has to be as high as two floors, it has a development, that has balconies, and needs to have something special on top. The middle of the building is given, boring, the hall and the top are the only points where you can be creative.”

In short, I'd have to invent something with those simple, open but rigid parameters and since I was doing something commercial, I'll have to just combine images that were on my mind, (architecture literacy as Sir Peter Cook would call it) to try to guess the taste and expectations of my employer (mine were different) to produce an output. This would give on average an image per day. In some other cases, with other projects, I'll produce in a day 4-5 different alternatives for a certain task. As an example, once I had a meeting where a former employer showed me a train station in Japan made by an architect called Makoto. It was my job to assist in the design of a big, extremely long office building that would also host some flight simulators, therefore, I had to produce a set of alternatives, (Iterations?) for that building in Makoto's building style...... as that was the request. I do not have to mention that I hated such a way of working, and as a result, the open question would be, those architects I have worked for, how's that they were producing their own architecture? Was it any original? Could it be described as their own intellectual property? After that they would go on into show it in magazines or in lectures, eventually reaching at least their students as an example, where, I knew that not only the genesis of the project was not original, the whole design process was horrid.

Such a way of working is very common, extended, and it's the result of a lack of original ideas, fear of failing, laziness, insecurity, incapacity, greediness, but more important, bridging now my experience as a student to that of a professional and also as someone who has been teaching, it is, a problem of our education, where copying it's not only well received, it's encouraged.

Eventually I could preserve in those early years my own way of working, I kept myself original by doing in parallel my own projects and competitions, and also since I was a student, I learned to always have only one idea in my head and that idea I'd develop in the best possible way until it would finish as a 3d, a rendering, a diagram, a model or a sketch. The idea could be the right one or the wrong one for a given design problem, but at least, it was and has to be my own, because it's the result of my will.

So, will the AI be able to wipe out jobs like the ones I was doing for those architects? Yes. Will it produce tons of fake portfolios and be present as a way of generating architecture or design? Yes. Will it be used by clients or developers, or even architects/designers to preview something? Yes. Will it be something one would have to compete against? Yes.

Once, one person, one architect, referring to the Guggenheim of Bilbao, told me that the museum was wrong because it couldn't be more important than the art it was supposed to host, therefore it should be a none expressive building, something neutral (and this is a recurrent topic in museum design). My answer was simple and it even avoided the fact that the function of that particular museum had and has nothing to do with any art collection. In a broader way, if such buildings cannot be more important objects than the art that are hosting, maybe, the problem it's not in the architecture, but in the art itself that's eventually mediocre or of no importance at all. AI is a real menace for certain jobs and specific jobs inside our design discipline, but I don't think someone like Luigi Colani would have any fear from it, I don't think someone like Peter Cook, with tons of creative energy would feel to be at risk, since what this profession has lost, it's not the capacity of doing, but the joy of doing, and that's a problem that has to do with education. Once Sir Peter Cook, again, yelled at us, very angry, “at your age I was thinking on a guy that was watching TV and the very same sofa would transform into a bubble car and he would just go out from his apartment by pressing a button, you don't have an idea that's even near to that, and we were thinking those things in the 60s, what should you be thinking now?”

Many, those in danger most specifically, need to get back or discover altogether the joy of creating, since you can make your own tomato sauce or you can buy it already made in a can, at the end it's your choice, and nobody is born knowing how to cook, and by buying the can, or asking someone or something to do your cooking, you cannot pretend that it's your own creation, and that will be the limit of it, your own ego and curiosity and the pushing of one's own limits in terms of what can or can't be achieved. In my case, I have developed a different model in what's design, I can see the AI as a complementary tool as it was the “parametric” way of working, where there's a dialog with the machine as it would be with a collaborator or a partner, but most specifically with someone that by doing can also give some input, different to an entity that gets a very generic, base, simple, very open code that could lead anywhere, similar to what I had to do. Well used, the AI has interesting speed and capacity for processing previous images and use them to produce iterations and variations on a “theme”, it saves time for those who are pressed to produce something with speed, it certainly raises the quality of design, since, I have seen examples of rather orthodox things produced by some platforms of not only excellent visual quality, but also capable of more inventive things than those the average designer can do, the open question is again a problem of education, a culture that fosters the copying, a culture of fear where everybody wants to be on solid ground and people who have forgotten the very first reason why they have entered into a creative profession, finishing to be not creative at all throughout the career and afterwards during the professional years. The AI will just displace designers and professionals that were meant to be displaced, in my case, all those odd jobs I have done as what I call, the interface, were gigs where I did not learned anything, I did repetitive, uninteresting mechanical tasks, so, if I could, I'd rather erase the whole experience, from where, sadly, the only positive outcome I have is that I needed a job for paying the bills, but now, thinking back, money aside, my time in this reality has to have a different value and meaning. I do not accept that we have to work to live, and what we do, if interesting and rewarding or not, it's of less importance, since if we feel rewarded in our souls, that's an extra and a luxury for a few, those who will regard as more important the experience and the joy of creating in contrast of those that want to go through the design problem as something to get rid off and cash in.


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