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Combinatorial and algorithmic approaches to design have a history that predates contemporary digital and parametric tools. These approaches are intimately conditioned by architecture’s relationship with mathematics and machines, which has pervasively influenced progressive approaches to form-making. Advanced digital models now allow the embedding of engineering and mathematical intelligence into reactive frameworks, encapsulating sophisticated knowledge transparently in the designer’s tools. At the same time, architecture is increasingly informed by mathematical methods and machine technologies of making with designers appropriating and inventing architectural algorithms themselves. Through historical examples and contemporary projects, architect, designer and mathematician Andrew Witt’s lecture SuperNumeracy: The New (and Old) Mathematics of Design looked at the sometimes unexpected, often complex, and always vital interrelationships between design, mathematics, and machines.

“I think ‘digital design’ is really just an extension of techniques, methodologies and approaches to form that has emerged from the current computational condition over the past 30 years or so. However, the paradigm builds on a conceptual approach that is hundreds of years old and embedded in the very nature of design itself: the analytical way in which it approaches formal problems.” –ANDREW WITT

Fondation Louis Vuitton, Gehry Partners. Image courtesy of Andrew Witt.

Desmond Paul Henry, drawing executed by analog computer, 1962. Image courtesy of Andrew Witt.

Mathematical ruled surface model, late 19th century. Image courtesy of Andrew Witt.

Andrew Witt is Director of Research at Gehry Technologies (GT) of Guggenheim fame, among others. He is also a lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design, teaching geometry and computation in design. Currently based in Los Angeles, California, Witt was previously a director at GT’s Paris, France office, where he consulted on parametric design, geometric approaches, new technologies, and integrated practice for clients including Gehry Partners, Ateliers Jean Nouvel, UN Studio, and Coop Himmelb(l)au. Trained as both an architect and mathematician,Witt has a particular interest in a technically synthetic and logically rigorous approach to form.