The Digital Now: Architecture and Intersectionality

Foreign Office Architects, Farshid Moussavi, and Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Details for Virtual House, ca 1997. Drawing, reprographic copy, 31 × 44 cm. ARCH402087, Foreign Office Architects fonds, CCA Collection, Gift of Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera-Polo © Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera-Polo

The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) is currently undertaking a collaborative, multidisciplinary research project that explores the intersectional dimensions of digital design.

Intersectionality entails a way of seeing and navigating a world with differential forms of justice. Pioneered by intellectuals and activists in the 1970s, from Kimberlé Crenshaw to the Combahee River Collective, it is rooted in gendered and racialized experiences of capitalism. Within the architecture discipline, an intersectional approach may foreground the under-acknowledged impacts the built environment has on, for example, Black or Indigenous peoples across the full spectrum of their lived experiences. In this regard, the CCA conceives of the digital as a shared space of critique that demands intersectional points of articulation for new media technologies and the projection of futures.

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Initiative, The Digital Now focuses on how digital design intersects with the simultaneous relations between race, class, gender, ability, and sexuality. The project brings together a multidisciplinary team of scholars, curators, practitioners, and technologists in order to question the ways in which digital architectural production and social identity formation are intertwined.

This group is currently assembling an intersectional discourse on digital design in our contemporary moment that attends to its racialized, classed, and justice-driven dimensions. This project builds on the CCA’s commitment to a conception of architecture that exceeds a singular paradigm and that rather places emphasis on a broad conception of design that privileges its complex social milieu.

The group’s collective work focuses on and interrogates digital design using methods and concepts from intersectional theory and practice. The full range of participants listed below address digital architectural practices in relation to past and present conceptions of labour, equitable and sustainable infrastructures, and racial justice across an array of geographies.

The CCA has a long-standing investment in questioning the relationships between new media and architectural culture. In 2013, the CCA launched a multi-year research project, Archaeology of the Digital, that investigated the foundations of digital architecture in the 1980s. Through a series of linked exhibitions, publications, and critical research programs, the CCA developed its institutional expertise surrounding how novel digital tools motivated experiment-driven architecture well into the 1990s. At the same time, Archaeology of the Digital initiated a major investment in the acquisition of, preservation of, and access to born-digital material. The CCA now holds a unique collection of digital design projects and has helped originate archival methods for engagement with obsolete software. The Digital Now aims to extend this line of investigation by focusing on new methods, approaches, and perspectives that build on and exceed these projects and their principal actors. Its principal forms of outreach will take place via the CCA website and through the public programming linked to the group’s three workshops that will take place between August, 2021, and January, 2023.

Mellon Researchers

Miriam Hillawi Abraham aims to build a repository of digital cosmologies grounded in the Indigenous ontologies and architectures of the Sahel, with a particular focus on the emancipatory and intersectional potential digital technologies hold in defining an African-led futurism. Abraham is a Game Code Design Instructor at the Bay Area Video Coalition.

Laida Aguirre is tracing the lineages of the ‘temporary’ in contemporary architectural discourse, with a view to complicating this category by using mixed reality and real-time image manipulation to come to a definition of ‘transmaterial’ informed by queer and new materialist theory. Aguirre is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan.

Moa Carlsson is analyzing the emergence of so-called ‘digital twin’ technologies in Western city planning in order to describe and critique their marginalization of racialized and other communities. Carlsson is a Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh.

Shelby Doyle is building a method, ‘sympoesis,’ that can take into account the power imbalances in architecture revealed by intersectionality, as well as create a means of ‘thinking-with’ and ‘making-with’ the construction of intersectional digital knowledge and computational labor in architecture. Doyle is an Associate Professor at Iowa State University.

Orit Halpern is piecing together a history of intelligence, with a particular focus on the relationship between reason, race, bias, and democracy. She traces concepts of rationality and decision making in the human and natural sciences, environmental sciences, digital media, and design. Halpern is an Associate Professor at Concordia University.

Pedro Aparicio Llorente is pursuing a project situated in communities on Colombia’s Pacific coast as well as in the North Amazonian basin in order to participate in ways in which these rural communities produce forms of digital architectural knowledge. Llorente is Principal and Founder of APLO Architecture and Landscape, as well as Adjunct Faculty at Los Andes University.

Thandi Loewenson is investigating the role of space programs in liberation movements in six African countries, in the process expanding ideas of what we consider the ambitions, technologies, spatial and material forms of space exploration to be. Loewenson is a Tutor at the Royal College of Art.

Simone Niquille is pursuing a playful remake of Beauty and the Beast with the goal of revealing the datasets, and their intersectional biases, built into increasingly ubiquitous forms of domestic computer vision. Niquille is a designer and researcher based in Amsterdam.

CCA-Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project

CCA-Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project Convenors
• Giovanna Borasi, Director, CCA
• Rafico Ruiz, Associate Director, Research, CCA

External advisors
• Samia Henni, Cornell University
• David Theodore, McGill University
• Molly Wright Steenson, Carnegie Mellon University

This is the CCA’s fifth Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project; please click here for more information on the program and to consult our past projects.

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