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Cognitive Design and Fabrication
Fall 2020
University of Virginia
ARCH 5500-001: Special Topics in Architecture
Ehsan Baharlou, Dr.-Ing.

Introduction to Cognitive Design and Fabrication

“The manifest form—that which appears—is the result of a computational interaction between internal rules and external (morphogenetic) pressures that, themselves, originate in other adjacent forms (ecology). The (pre-concrete) internal rules comprise, in their activity, an embedded form, what is today clearly understood and described by the term algorithm.”

— Who is afraid of formalism?, Sanford Kwinter.


Advances in design computation methods and fabrication techniques provide new possibilities for designers to consider different paradigms for design and making. These paradigms emphasize the relationship between formation and materialization. Form manifestation can be investigated through behavioral, emotional, and cognitive approaches. Cognitive and emotional design approaches center humanity in production processes to address their needs. The implication of human-centered design methods will change the production of goods from mass-production and mass-customization to more personalized manufacturing. This new form of industrial thinking challenges disciplines such as architectural design to profoundly investigate innovative design approaches and fabrication techniques.

The elective course “Introduction to Cognitive Design and Fabrication” introduced students to cognitive design principles, computational design processes, and additive manufacturing techniques. After learning the principles of cognitive design, students developed their own design that applied these principles to the design of “Everyday Things”. This included, for example, items essential to responding to COVID-19, such as face masks, safety glasses, and face shields. In addition, students were introduced to additive manufacturing techniques such as 3D-printing and robotic additive manufacturing to materialize their design.

This course included two workshops. The first, on computational design, discussed integrative computational tools, such as Autodesk Fusion 360, to sketch, design, simulate, and manufacture a design concept. The second workshop focused on robotic 3D-printing and introduced advanced robotic controls to explore experimental robotic fabrication in design.

Selected Project

SMASK: A Smart Mask for Amid/Post-COVID | Developed by: Meng Huang and Xun Liu

Image Credit

L. Aldinger, C. Arias, S. Katz, ICD, University of Stuttgart, 2015/16.