Mette Thomsen Lecture: Integrating Computer Science into Architecture

Work by Mette Thomsen

Thomsen's research lies in the emerging intersection between architecture, digital technologies, and the creation of new types of building materials. image / provided

November 18, 2015

Digital technology is changing the practice of architecture, generating new types of fabricated materials created through complex modeling of structural designs.

One of the pioneers in this movement, Mette Ramsgard Thomsen, a professor of architecture and digital technologies at the School of Architecture, Design, and Conservation at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, shared her vision of the future of architecture at a November 11 lecture in Milstein Hall.

In 2005, Thomsen founded the Centre for Information Technology and Architecture (CITA) at the Royal Academy to advance research in the emerging intersection between architecture and digital technologies. Over the past decade, researchers at the center have developed cutting-edge projects using digital technologies to produce new types of materials, such as knitted fabrics that form the skin of multi-story geometric structures.

"I think the most important thing that computation gives us is the degree of complexity," Thomsen told the students and faculty at her lecture. "It isn't really that computation gives us a new realm of design. It just gives us more."

The new method of complex modeling may ultimately allow architects to design buildings that are lighter than those constructed with traditional materials. In addition, using old materials in new ways, such as bending wood or sheet metal, can lead to new structural systems in architectural design.

"I think that weight, stability, insulation — all of these things are parameters of things that are afforded to us by heavy buildings," Thomsen said. "Once we start thinking about the cost of fabrication, the cost of transportation, and the cost of the use of materials, then maybe we will come into a new practice in which a lighter building culture will become important."

CITA has been instrumental in creating an international research field to examine the changes in material practices in architecture. In 2009, Thomsen helped establish the Digital Crafting Network to foster international sharing and dissemination of expertise in the field and to support new collaborations in the disciplines of architecture, engineering, and design.

Another focus at CITA is working with Ph.D. students on research projects ranging from "Self-Actuated Textiles in the Design of Domestic Space" to "Complex Surfaces — Sound and Space Defining Surfaces for Architecture."

Thomsen has won numerous architectural awards and honors, including the Anna Nordlander Prize for a female architect who has contributed considerably to her field in 2011, and the international Gecko Think Forward competition in 2009.

Jenny Sabin, the Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Assistant Professor of Architecture at AAP, said she has attended numerous workshops and conferences in which Thomsen has presented her research. "Mette is a maker," Sabin said in her introduction at the lecture. "She is curious and fearless in her experimental thinking. She is generous and shares her expertise widely."

The lecture was part of the Edgar A. Tafel Lecture Series.

By Sherrie Negrea