“CNC a Mountain”:A Proposal for Contemporary Rock-Cut Architecture
In relation to time, the momentum of contemporary architecture is toward compressing it: Faster production, of increasingly temporary constructions, responding to ever more fleeting conditions within an urban kaleidoscope. The assumed goal of architectural production is to keep up with a perceived acceleration of cultural transformation -- respond to, accommodate, and facilitate the quickening cycles of dissipation and emergence of the culture around it. Implicitly or explicitly, this is the contemporary modus operandi – with responses ranging from design that favors timely decoration, or kinetic facades, programmable LED’s, digital projection and large screens, to simply grounding the design process in planned obsolescence. The consequence of this direction is not simply a practical matter of shorter building life cycles – it inverts what historically has been a constant core virtue of what architectural production offers: longevity – of all that humans make, architecture set in place the farthest extension into the future.
The current proposal is oriented in the opposite direction: toward extreme longevity, and the questions about our relationship to the future that it entails. The medium for doing so is through a current day re-visiting of a long dormant form of architecture: rock-cut architecture.
Few offerings from the history of architecture could be more self-evidently irrelevant to contemporary architectural practice than rock-cut architecture. This irrelevance is not simply the result of production logistics that make it impractical – it is that the modern lifeworld as currently configured simply has nothing to be expressed through this form of architecture: a raw material left in situ tediously sculpted into something that will last almost forever. Rock-cut architecture is fundamentally antithetical to the pathological shortsightedness of the day. This is precisely what makes it so essentially relevant. Its fundamental otherness within our myopic period of history is its virtue.
Speaking purely in logistical terms, rock-cut architecture presents unique test cases for a variety of state-of-the-art technologies. The process, as outlined in the HOW: Production Concept, is one-to-one scale subtractive digital fabrication, in which the raw material used is an in-situ stone mass. The concept in summary: a small army of mobile CNC robots with stonecutting capability, coordinated through a high-accuracy local positioning system, collectively carving an in situ stone mass according to a highly articulated parametric digital model.
Aside from the R&D required with the technologies just described, there is a more fundamental epistemological puzzle: how much can we know about an in situ rock mass through non-destructive means? This is a key piece of the research that extends to the limits of current geological engineering, only explored at a cursory level so far, as described in the IF/WHEN: Structural Analysis section.
There will inevitably be limits to the accuracy possible for the data gathered about the stone mass, consequently the model will need to be parametrically robust to adapt to the changing conditions as information increases about the stone mass through controlled subtraction.
As a friend of mine put it: CNC a mountain.