James Hayes

Artengine's UNHANDED

James Hayes delves into the intricate relationship between architecture, technology, and the concept of making. Identifying himself primarily as an architect, Hayes emphasizes the unique perspective from which he critiques and analyzes technological advancements in architecture. Throughout his talk, he explores the notion of “translation” as a fundamental aspect of architectural processes, drawing inspiration from Robin Evans’s essay on how architectural ideas transition from drawings to physical structures.

Hayes elaborates on the multiple translations that occur within architectural practice—from sketches to digital models and from detailed plans to built environments. He critically analyzes the enthusiasm around digital fabrication technologies like 3D printing, cautioning against viewing them as straightforward, one-to-one solutions for building construction. Instead, he highlights the often overlooked complexities and the potential for “lost in translation” moments where initial designs undergo significant alterations before realization.

Addressing the educational implications, Hayes expresses concerns about architecture students who might graduate with an oversimplified understanding of building processes due to the deceptive ease of digital tools. He underscores the importance of understanding the nuances and the layered realities of architectural production, advocating for a more profound engagement with the materials, processes, and collaborative practices that define the field. Through his critique, Hayes invites a reevaluation of how emerging technologies are integrated into architectural education and practice, suggesting a more critical and nuanced approach to preparing the next generation of architects.

This presentation was part of the symposium Unhanded. In this panel we ask about the variety of new relationships with materials that emerging with the increasing ubiquitousness of digital technologies. With the increased complexity of tools we wonder how do we learn about materials? How do we get to know them? How do we share this knowledge? We can now know the molecular structure of wood or metal without touching it. Is this a more intimate relationship than working directly with our hands? Does it matter? If the objects coming out of digital and mechanical processes are more removed from our handywork, how might they carry the mark of the machine? Should we be able to read the machine in the material?

James Hayes James is a PhD candidate at the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism and a researcher at the Carleton immersive Media Studio. His research focuses on coupling digitization technologies such as laser scanning and photogrammetry with digital fabrication technologies like 3D printing, CNC routing and robotic milling. Most recently he became a founding partner of If Then Architecture Inc., a firm that aims to leverage the power of digital technologies in the realization of architecture. James is also a sessional lecturer at Carleton University and has worked in architectural practice in Ottawa and Dublin, Ireland. He holds a B.Sc. in Architecture from Lawrence Technological University, and an M.Arch. from Carleton University.

Here’s my idea. Here’s a physical reality, which is usually generally garbage classic and on the other hand, there’s this idea that anything, no matter what, you have the idea. And any time that it gets brought into the real world, there’s some kind of degradation or the word that I’ve been hearing lately is that it gets sullied.

I think the main difference between architectural making and just kind of making in general and there's many different forms of making is that the idea that there is translations from drawing to building.

Translating Ideas

James Hayes

There’s this idea that you can just have this thing in the computer and print it out and it’s just this 1 to 1 thing, push the button. It’s very easy. And I think that that is a bit of an illusion, you know, propagated a lot by 3D printing. And again, if you are not taking into consideration that that thing that you just 3D print, it isn’t the building itself, the thing that you just 3D printed then leads to a building. And so there’s a kind of problematic thinking about this kind of one to one. It’s so easy to push a button, and I’m afraid that a lot of students are going to leave the schools, you know, with this idea that building is actually quite easy. The other one and it’s kind of I’m going to kind of facetiously blame Plato for this one, but it’s this idea that and so I see these kind of two these two conditions where so on the one hand, it’s easy. Here’s my idea. Here’s a physical reality, which is usually generally garbage classic and on the other hand, there’s this idea that anything, no matter what, you have the idea. And any time that it gets brought into the real world, there’s some kind of degradation or the word that I’ve been hearing lately is that it gets sullied. I heard a musician talking on the CBC, which I find really strange considering the difference in architecture and music, but he was saying, You always start with an idea, and then when you turn it into a song, that idea gets sullied. And I just find that a strange kind of way to think about things. And I think a lot of people actually think that way. And I guess I’m challenging and I think it’s the wrong way to think about architecture, because if that translation process isn’t working, then maybe you need to have a different approach. I think this is a translation that a lot of people can appreciate, and this is a common, I guess, Internet meme of the of kind of failed Pinterest. Someone sees some great thing on Pinterest and they try to do it and it doesn’t work. So this is one kind of failed translation. And I think something that’s kind of, I think bubbling under the surface today is this idea of where does skill fit in all this? If you’re a digital fabricator or a digital digital maker and I just want to back up a couple sizing. This is just on the on your left is something I sculpted by hand inside the computer and then that’s a 3D print on the right. So but obviously, if we actually look at this image seriously, you can see that this person actually had no clue what they were doing trying to ice these cupcakes while they’re still in the hot tin. So I think one kind of translation and one time one kind of degradation of that of an idea to reality is just a lot of people just don’t have the skill or the knowledge to do it. And that’s not to say that they can never have it, but that it actually takes practice and it takes time to develop skills and knowledge and to make things. There’s other ways that things can be translated and not be a success. This as well. So this is a project on the West BLOCK. The point of this was to engage with stonemasons. So on the left is a real stone. Capital on the right is a 3D print out of 1 to 1 scale. So you might be able to detect some seams because we had to print it in a couple of different pieces. All of essentially from a metric standpoint, it is a perfect replica. But on the other hand, it was completely rejected by the stonemasons because of that, the materiality of it, it was so alien to them. It was so different from stone and other materials that they use plaster and clay that they just rejected it out. And so again, this is kind of a failure to translation, even though it looks pretty much identical. This is a one that’s maybe more successful. This is the temp on them. That’s the interior part of the arch on the West BLOCK. And this was a C and C cut out of MDF. And this is something, although they were still kind of reluctant, they could actually the material was more analogous and they kind of they could see that the opportunities that this is maybe something that we could work with.

ollaboration with Professor Stephen Fry and Ken Percy

James Hayes

I had the pleasure of going to the School of Architecture in Denmark with Professor Stephen Fry and another Ph.D. candidate, Ken Percy. And we put on a workshop there using some of the technologies that I just showed you, and the idea was that there was this alley that we became familiar with in a former chocolate factory complex, and we just asked the students there a second year architecture students. So they had never some of them had done kind of 3D printing, but they’d never done any photogrammetry or laser scanning. And we asked them to do kind of a hyper contextualized installation for some place in this alley that they wanted to they found interesting. And we wanted to push. We didn’t want just kind of 3D printing or cutting or whatever. We wanted it to be part of a bigger process or a more interesting workflow. So we’re using 3D printing to make casts. This is just a plaster cast and sometimes they work, sometimes they didn’t. But I’m going to show three fairly successful projects here. This one, they identified this kind of weird collection of wires I don’t have a photograph of, but a weird collection of wires in this alley and conduits. They they digitize that much like the our project. But again, we’re encouraging them not to be afraid to kind of get down and dirty with their hands. So they’re sending this out to the sea and see cut using sandpaper. This is the final result. The idea was they’re going to cast something. Then they decided that they would rather make a latex mold. So putting latex and then this is the final kind of weird alien project. And again, this is not for, say, an architectural project, but if they hadn’t have done if they hadn’t have done MDF and I don’t know if you can see it, but there’s a lot this kind of residual sawdust that’s in the that’s in that latex that kind of added like a strange patina and it actually looked like it should belong in this alley. In a weird way, another project was very different. There was on one side of the alley, there’s a brick missing, and that’s this kind of wood brick that you see. So they digitized that missing piece of wood since Cut that. And then on the other side of the alley, there’s brick missing. On one side, this side, the mortar had been worn away. So they actually digitized that area very precisely, manufactured these pieces that could fit into there. And then the the point was to kind of build a, I guess, a bridge that connected the two. And so this is the little connecting piece that they sculpted in the computer and then they put together and and there was other kind of we had a little kind of, I guess, furnaces in that alley and there was lots of other projects.