Nader Tehrani is a tenured Professor of Architecture at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology and a principal at the Boston-based architecture firm, Office dA. He has also taught at the Harvard Graduate School
of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, and Georgia Institute of
Technology, where he served as the Thomas W. Ventulett III Distinguished
Chair in Architectural Design. In the academic context, Nader Tehrani has focused on research
surrounding materials, methods of aggregations, geometry and the
advancement of digital fabrication. His participation in the
Immaterial/Ultra-material Exhibition at Harvard's GSD is also paralleled
by his installations at the Museum of Modern Art, Boston ICA, and
Georgia Tech, investigating new means and methods of fabrication in
wood, steel, rope and polycarbonate. As a principal at Office dA he has received numerous international awards. Office dA’s work in green, sustainable design includes Helios House, a
sustainable power station in Los Angeles, and the Macallen building, a
144 unit condominium in Boston. Office dA has also worked on the
Tongxian Arts Center in Beijing, the Elemental community project in
Chile, and the Villa Moda Competition in Kuwait.
Question: How has information technology influenced design?
Nader Tehrani: You know at the most mundane level classes are being blogged if you like on the internet. You exchange homework, readings, PDFs, so the way we engage with each other is done through this third medium, but collaborative platforms are also going towards information technology. In the old days I would have to fly many miles in order to meet with people. I get onto my computer. I dial into WebEx and a variety of people, consultants, clients and everybody can see on the very page that I post on the internet and we begin to draw together on it. What is interesting about this is that it instigates a relationship between images and words that often was overlooked because everybody gets to participate in that drawing platform and in that way in a much more compressed amount of time you get to have the knowledge that you borrow let’s say from the engineers, from the various other consultants, from programming groups and so forth to compress all of that into the medium of architecture, which ultimately specifies things on a document. You know the document is essentially you know a series of drawn documents and a series of specifications, so the interactive abilities of information technology actually do change the way you work.
Question: How has architecture changed with the onslaught of new technologies?
Nader Tehrani: Well the most immediate thing that has impacted our generation in the last 20 years is the way that we build. If mass production brought to the world a possibility of rapid expansion, of modularity, of repetition, digitization has brought about the possibility of customization. The idea that diversity, difference, individuality can be engaged with the same ease as mass production. The question of its relevance, the question of its engagement in different venues is still you know up in the air, but certainly the way we produce now is different as a result of that also because of the control it has given designers. This has legal ramifications because the traditional relationship between clients, contractors and designers has shifted. Designers no longer need to merely submit their drawings to contractors to get bids or to get to know what the means and methods of its production are. They get to be a higher stakeholder in the determination of that form and how it is produced. That makes a huge difference.
Question: Would this change how you build?
Nader Tehrani: There are certainly… I’m not certain about how everybody else works to be honest with you, but you can see it all around you. You can’t imagine a practice like Frank Gehry without seeing the hurdles he must have gone through in order to convince the sheet metal industry to build the way they have done for him. They have a… They probably had a set of techniques which were germane to their industry, but Gehry had to cultivate a different level of dialogue with them, not only for reasons of liability, but for reasons of instrumentalization and that generation gave us a next generation of work that we are now seeing through the work of you know Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera-Polo in Yokohama, Sejima, in Luzon. All of these buildings, the EPFL and the Yokohama Port are the result of I think a very close tinkering between enterprises that are spacial, material, engineering and environmental and I can’t think that you can arrive at those places without a close synchronicity if you like between the different disciplines.