How to Design More Intuitively with Digital Tools / Alvin Huang

On August 22nd, 2019 we had a cool and interesting conversation with Alvin Huang.

Alvin Huang, AIA is the Founder and Design Principal of Synthesis Design + Architecture and an Associate Professor at the USC School of Architecture. He is an award-winning architect, designer, and educator specializing in the integrated application of material performance, emergent design technologies and digital fabrication in contemporary architectural practice. His work spans all scales ranging from hi-rise towers and mixed-use developments to temporary pavilions and bespoke furnishings. 

His work has been published and exhibited widely and has gained international recognition with over 30 distinctions at local, national, and international levels including being honored as the Presidential Emerging Practice of the Year by the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles Chapter in 2016, being selected as one of 50 global innovators under the age of 50 by Images Publishing in 2015, being featured as a "Next Progressive" by Architect Magazine in 2014, and being named one of Time Magazine's 20 Best Inventors of 2013. He has been an invited critic, guest lecturer, and keynote speaker at various institutions in the US, Canada, Mexico, Chile, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Israel, Japan and China. 

Alvin received a Master of Architecture and Urbanism from the Architectural Association Design Research Laboratory (2004) in London and a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Southern California (1998) in Los Angeles.

In this episode, we talk about technologggyyyy! Yeah, that’s right, we talk about a text Alvin wrote not too long ago, where he characterized the intersection between technology and intuition as “techne.” He believes that we should start seeing technology as a provocation (as a means) instead of as a solution (as an ends). He raises the question of what it means for architects and designers to be able to intuitively and knowledgeably using digital tools for fabrication and for designing. We also talk about the term “parametricism” and about how pattern, a focus of his studies for a long time, is actually an architectural device that can communicate a lot for people and its environment. We also talk about pattern for the sake of aesthetics is a waste of time. Don’t forget to listen to this episode!


Let’s start off by talking about one of your main opening statements in your text. “Technology is the answer… But what was the question?” What does that mean?

  1. To what extent do you believe that architecture has always been informed by technology? What about in Le Corbusier’s time?

  2. You mention the word techne in your writing, but what are the components of techne? And what does it mean to the architecture world?

  3. What do you mean by “we must stop seeing technology as a solution (ends) and instead, we should consider to see technology as a provocation (a means).”

  4. What does techne mean to you?

  5. Do you believe that because of the boom in machine usage for digital fabrication, such as CNC, 3D Printing, and laser cutting…They have gotten so overused lately, that designers don’t have much control of their designs anymore?

  6. You raised a very interesting question of digital fabrication, but what do you think is more common? Designing a 3D Print or 3D Printing a design?

  7. How do you focus on 3D Printing a design? What are the steps

  8. Why do you believe that pattern is a communicative architectural device? And how does your office work with pattern?

  9. Do you think that pattern-making for the sake of aesthetics is a waste of time?

  10. Do you believe that computational design and parametricism nowadays are being exploited only because of its novelty? And people really are not working intuitively with the computer?

  11. What does a successful, knowledgeable, and intuitive designer anticipate from working with a computer? What does the experienced computational designer know that the novice does not?

  12. In your studio Synthesis DNA, how has the computer aided your designs? Do you believe your designs would not be the same if it wasn’t for your intuition with design technologies?

  13. Where is the architectural field moving toward? What do you see for its future?

  14. How efficient does the designer become when he/she becomes one with the computer?

  15. Finally, what is one piece of advice you would give an architecture student right now?

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