Victor Hugo wrote in his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, “This [the printed word] will kill that [the built church].” By that he meant that while prior to the advent of the printing press people relied on the architecture and teachings of the church to educate them and guide them, they now had access to the knowledge on their own and no longer had need of the story told by the carvings and stained glass.
People, especially in the United States, have come to believe that public access to knowledge is one of the fundamental rights of human kind and that technology is beneficial for the power it has to connect us to people and resources we wouldn’t otherwise know about. No doubt there are many important and wonderful things that have come from technology, advancements in architecture and design among them, but when does accessibility replace expertise?
I read an article in ArchDaily that introduced a new technology called SketchChair being developed by Diatom Studio. This open-source software program will allow anyone interested to design furniture which can then be fabricated and shipped to the owner for in-home assembly. Author Karissa Rosenfield writes, “Digital fabrication is changing the world of design and becoming available to the masses.” While this may seem like a wonderful idea at first glance, the consequences of continued mass distribution of design and fabrication technologies could put the profession of architecture at risk. Whether or not people have the skills to do their own design work, programs like this will help them think that they do. Just because they are given the information does not mean they will use it to the best of its ability.
I do not say this to be snobbish or suggest that design professionals should keep technologies like this to themselves, only to point out that there is a reason that people specialize in certain skills. If people start designing their own furniture with this easy-to-use software, they may being to assume that design itself is easy and consequently undervalue the work of designers. The widespread availability of design and fabrication technologies means that we have to work harder to stay relevant and help people understand the nuances of the design thinking process.
Rosenfield , Karissa . “Digital Fabrication / SketchChair” 27 Oct 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 16 Nov 2012. <http://www.archdaily.com/177752>