IT Is It
What makes progressive Chicago architect Doug Garofalo run? The latest technological developments, for starters
Cindy Coleman -- Interior Design, 5/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Doug Garofalo of Chicago's thriving Garofalo Architects has gained widespread recognition for his intensive interventions and fluid, digitally manipulated designs. (When Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers relocated to the Chicago Information Technology Exchange, for example, Garofalo treated the new office as an urban plan in miniature, using a digitally created folding-core ceiling canopy to define "neighborhoods" of space.) And because he serves on the faculty at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Architecture and is a facilitator at Stanley Tigerman and Eva L. Maddox's design laboratory, Archeworks, Garofalo is continually building connections between the practical and the theoretical. The experimental emphasis of his work notwithstanding, he never forgets to factor in the human element.
Has design come to a crossroads?
I believe that we are at one of those historic moments when technology literally changes perceptions about how work is done, on both a conscious and a subconscious level. We're now in this fantastic renaissance of design being redefined through the use of digital tools.
How does this play out in your own practice?
We recently converted a commercial laundry in Long Island City into the New York Presbyterian Church, and digital tools—some of them quite crude—allowed us to put together a project that could not have been realized before. The effort was a collaboration between three relatively small firms, all located in different cities, so we set up an electronic exchange for ongoing communication. The church was completely designed on the computer as a live-animation model that we adjusted and manipulated over time, based on budget and aesthetic issues that played themselves out between designers, contractor, and client.
What is technology's primary role in the development of design today?
It brings interactivity to the forefront and provides accessibility to information that affects the way we think. Today we have the ability to jump from one idea to another quickly and effortlessly, to conduct research efficiently, and to open up new worlds at all times. Therefore, design must reposition itself away from the purely sculptural and compartmentalized ideas of the past. We have to look at the new connectivity, movement, and fluidity.
Is design becoming more human as a result?
Design wasn't ever not human. But it's now moving away from singular autonomous objects and spaces with a single function or purpose, toward spaces that are more open to a variety of human interactions. Instead of an office as a place to house employees, you have a well connected, networked neighborhood. The idea that design and architecture can be sculptural and yet serve multiple purposes is very exciting and liberating. Not to mention, of course, that there are so many different types of people in the world. Design should accommodate as well as express that complexity.
Will technology encourage a different breed of designer to enter the industry, or is it a case of the same pool evolving?
I think a bit of both. Speaking as an educator, I can tell you that today's university departments and majors dedicated to technology didn't exist five years ago. And from them spins off an entire set of "vagrant" disciplines and practitioners like digital architect and visual artist. But it's also evolutionary. Technology isn't something that started with the computer. It's a set of activities and tools rather than a separate discipline. Designers are simply in a position to take advantage of them.
Do you think that new technology will make us better designers?
Absolutely. Collectively, we are starting to understand how we can use these tools to develop new repertoires of techniques. And it isn't just about style or being cool. More and more people have begun to think and act collectively on behalf of the planet, regarding sustainability. In part, this is driven by access to information. Technology helps us learn about all the issues and build a basis for ethical questioning.
So, can technology and design change the world?
It's important to understand what's happening in global culture and politics in order to develop an ethical context for what we do. When we design or make things, they should influence the world in a positive way. Design isn't going to solve social problems, but it should be informed and influenced by them. Designers can effect a lot of change by producing things that are elegant, beautiful, and efficient, whether they're interiors or buildings or products.