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04.21.14 – Matthew Allen explores the early days of computation and design in Harvard exhibition

Today, computation and design are interconnected, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the marriage of the two disciplines had a long courting period which formed the basis of its relationship today.

Assistant Professor Matthew Allen has curated an exhibit at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD) that explores the period of time, from 1965-1991, when the Ivy League’s Laboratory for Computer Graphics (1965-1968) and Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis (1968-1991), brought software development to the GSD.

From Harvard GSD's website:

Both academic and entrepreneurial, the Lab created dozens of pieces of software – from minimal, experimental apps to general purpose packages destined to redefine entire markets. Throughout this ceaseless, even excessive, production ran a determination to model the activity of planners, designers, and architects in bits and bytes – in short, to teach computers to see the way we do.

As you might expect, both “design” and “computation” were redefined along the way. Today it seems obvious that each implicates the other; the Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis helped usher in our computational second nature. Reflecting on the images collected here – each the output of software tailor-made to carry out a particular type of analysis and produce a particular type of image – exposes the work required to connect design to computation. It could have been (and still can be!) done differently.

The exhibition, titled “When the GSD Designed Software: Experiments in Computer Vision, 1965-1991” runs until May 16 at the GSD in Boston.

On April 4, Allen presented a talk in conjunction with the exhibition that explored the connection between software, representational techniques, and design concepts.

For more information, visit the Harvard GSD website.