Dr. Nathalie Bredella

Nathalie Bredella is an architectural historian whose work focuses on the history and theory of architecture from the 18th to the 21st century, and on media history and technology studies. Her research centers around the interplay of the technical structures, theoretical models and social constellations in which architecture is created. She was a visiting professor of architectural history with a focus on media and gender studies at the Berlin University of the Arts, where she led the DFG-funded project "Architecture and New Media." She currently teaches on the subject of Architecture and Digitalization at the ETH Zürich.

Her work has been published in journals including Grazer Architekturmagazin, Architectural Research Quarterly, NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin, and in several edited collections, among them When is the Digital in Architecture?, and Werkzeuge des Entwerfens.



The Visualization and Simulation of Architecture in the Digital Age

The project deals with the question of imagery in architecture in relation to digital culture. In particular, it examines computer-based renderings of hyper-stylized perspectival visualizations, their atmospheres and narratives, and their visions for architectural and urban development. Thus I will focus on those changes that have occurred in the relationships among image, architecture and urban development. Indeed, the development and economic supremacy of mega-cities is often based on the staging of iconic buildings and the circulation within mass media of images that embody their utopic qualities. Rendering offices have specialized in producing images that create a narrative through juxtaposition. By applying a kind of assemblage of physical models, rendering techniques and post-production methods, such images form a conduit between modes of representation common to both the film industry and architecture. The projects portrayed in such renderings are often located in a variety of contexts and cultures, including examples in Seoul, Doha, Dubai, and Shenzhen. In spite of the diversity of such socio-economic contexts, they can be drawn together with evocative titles that often allude to the fantastic or dystopian.

I propose an examination of the image production techniques of selected rendering offices, including their use of infrastructures and technologies, as a means to gain valuable insight into the impact of such images on contemporary urban development. In this regard, I will ask what characterizes the fundamental driving principles of their practice, and in what ways does design live in the images. Special attention will be drawn towards the effects produced by the staging of architecture and the exaggeration of site conditions that then produce a sense of 'otherness' when the images become juxtaposed to extant site conditions. Using a close reading of the setting in which these images were produced, I specifically consider categories of film theory. These include, for example, the experience of time and space, the relationship between the artificial and the natural, and the connections between animate and the inanimate. By further analyzing the construction of images from different urban situations, I propose to question the similarities and differences between urban contexts, and whether such imagery can offer critical reflection on contemporary urbanism.

Research project summer term 2021

Ekistics: computers, simulations and planning processes

This project investigates ekistics, an urban planning approach from the 1960s that dealt with global networks, data collection and visualizations. Greek architect and urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis launched ‘ekistics’, or the science of human settlements, as a field of study in the mid–1950s. He promoted this new scientific venture through The Athens Center of Ekistics, the interdisciplinary Delos conferences and the Ekistics Journal, which brought together a global network of researchers working on expanding urban systems.

Ekistics research extended beyond architecture, urban planning and geography to include, among others, economics, anthropology, media theory, sociology, and politics. Methods of computerized analysis, data collection and representation were vital to the study of ekistics, and provided a way to understand the interdependencies between designs, resources, people and settlements. Access to data, it was believed, enabled researchers to develop planning scenarios. Accordingly, maps and diagrams were key research tools, while computers were used to mathematically model settlements, and computer games simulated urban development.

My project aims to better understand the epistemological consequences of the use of computers in the research of ekistics scholars. I am interested in the interdependencies between physical space and computational data modelling, as well as in how digital systems were conceptualized in relation to natural systems. I will therefore use ekistics as an example to discuss the role data collection and visualization processes played in the early days of networking and ‘smart’ planning.