Architecture has a smooth hangover. In the early stages of digital design smooth shininess proliferated unchecked, and those featureless, seamless, surfaces still saturate architectural production. Why? The easy scapegoats are technical and immune to argument: “Rendering made me do it” “Surface modeling made me do it!” More likely, perhaps, is the idea that Architecture learned the wrong lesson from the iPod, which became ubiquitous at about the same time as accessible digital modeling software. Instead of developing a fascination with a kind of “pod” culture — the proliferation of a device that could carry libraries of music and information from location to location — architects developed a fascination with a “smooth fillet” culture of objects. We fetishized the surface qualities and characteristics of the product instead of on the relationship between the object and its capacity to reconfigure the proliferation of culture. The hallmark of a Dubai office tower became its monolithic smooth shininess, the degree to which it looked like an iPod.
iPod design is doubly problematic. First, the interest in smoothness as a desirable outcome of design has suppressed some of the most interesting and important problems that sustain architecture: the resolution of difficult fits, seams, and transitions between materials. Second, and perhaps more troubling, is that the obsession with seamless smooth shininess has infected architecture’s ability to understand the importance of design beyond the immediate surface characteristics of an object. The answer to the questions “so what?” or “why does design matter?” become reduced to an object’s ability to seduce visually. The value of architecture and design are limited by the optical characteristics of a thing. Design loses an ability to relate, to engage habitation, politics, social networks, culture.