Prototyping as a process and the resulting artifacts – prototypes – emerged as a consequence of industrial mass production. Factory-made goods are within such an industrial paradigm produced in repeatable runs, with quality and efficiency measured according to standards such that dictate sameness and consistency. Prototypes serve as precursors to the manufactured series, the first instance through which properties of the serialized edition are tested, refined and finalized. This 19th and 20th century paradigm has in the current century been challenged by ever-increasing possibilities and demands for customization and one-off tailoring. Numerous cultural and technological factors provide the context for this new reality, from the omnipresence of digital technologies everywhere to the socially driven emphasis on customized goods – coffee drinks, data plans, cars, buildings.
Within such a context where repetition must also encompass variation, the role of the prototype is inevitably challenged. For contemporary design – industrial, product, architectural, etc. – and for designers, the question is: how do we conceptualize prototyping difference? Models such as mass customization, serial difference, variable series, on-demand production, and editions-of-one will serve as useful references to the investigations undertaken in this course. Prototyping inevitably involves design processes, fabrication techniques, and materials. At the advanced level, each of these factors allows for numerous possibilities of customization and repetition.
We will explore multiple relationships between those factors, utilizing parametric tools for design, digital fabrication machinery, and materials research. Throughout the semester, students will be prompted to engage with these factors through focused, yet open-ended explorations. The richness and sophistication of the projects will be dependent on what experience each student brings to the course, how far they are able to master various methods of design production, and how much risk they are willing to take in their work.
Although informed by the conventions of industrial design, the course nonetheless seeks to primarily address the process of prototyping within the context of contemporary architecture and its allied spatial disciplines. For architects, ultimately the aim is to examine the role of prototyping as a link between studio-based design practice and industrial manufacturing. Architects have always designed products, but also at least as significant is the fact that buildings are always profoundly shaped by the industrial products used in construction.