Hold Up: Machine Delay in Architectural Design

This thesis introduces an architectural design approach that is founded on working with digital fabrication machines, materials, and time: Machine Delay Fabrication (MDFab). MDFab is characterized by the materialization and manipulation of the time taken by digital fabrication machines to do work.

MDFab contrasts with other approaches to digital fabrication that architecture has appropriated from adjacent fields (for example, human-computer interaction and automated manufacturing). In particular, MDFab is a response to “real-time” digital fabrication techniques, which use embedded sensing to immediately interact with the designer, material, and/or environment. These techniques have negatively distanced architectural designers from material, temporal, and instrumental understanding. Further, the current dependence on real-time points to a future of anti-anticipation: a time in which architectural designers—and human beings, in general—will not have to anticipate what will happen next. MDFab is an alternative to this future: it offers a designer-machine symbiosis that advances the material thinking, improvisation, and speculation that are—and should always be—fundamental to the architectural design process.

This research has several layers: the historical, theoretical, and practical contextualization of MDFab; the critique of contemporary architectural design approaches to digital fabrication; the conceptualization of machine delay; the design of a new concrete 3D printing method that exemplifies MDFab, including its digital-to-physical workflows, machine parts, and material mixes; the use of this method to demonstrate the constructive, aesthetic, and ethical possibilities of MDFab in architectural design.

Digital fabrication machines are moving from studios and labs to homes and construction sites. As a result, architectural designers need to cultivate ways of interacting with digital fabrication machines that maintain the vitality of their discipline, yet can also evolve to produce novel forms of architectural practice. Machine Delay Fabrication is a platform for this kind of new design thinking. It aims for a future in which architectural design remains in place, in touch, and, above all, in time.