Generated in Italy
BY BRUCE STERLING
Giorgio Olivero is fresh back from that digital
fabrication workshop in Berlin — four months
of work done in just ten 14-hour days!
Olivero is the tall, bony, curly-haired, gleaming-eyed creative director of TODO ( todo.to.it), an
up-and-coming Italian media design studio. Phones
ring. Glossy magazines pile up. Olivero’s studio is
clad in bright, wriggly, digitally designed wallpaper.
There’s a huge plastic kiosk unplugged in the back
room, the relic of a wealthy client.
Olivero punctuates his conversation by tapping
cigarette ashes perilously near his keyboard.
“Beyond the screen,” he says, that’s the way
Marius Watz framed it, over there in Berlin, at the
Transmediale. In tomorrow’s world beyond the
screen, software engineers will become product
engineers. With digital 3D printers, of course. With
CNC mills. Laser cutters. Yes!
Or maybe — Olivero is staring at the lozenges
on the wall through his steely designer glasses —
maybe it’s really all about the interaction between
the artist and the fabricator. Forget giving the
device some super-intricate plan to cut — that’s
“boring” (a favorite Olivero term). Instead there’s a
man-machine dialogue there. An elegant language. The mass-produced assembly
A generative dialogue that makes stuff. line stripped away decor and
The digital control of numerical tools makes com- plexity so easy. You can cut a Mandelbrot set out of ornament. But here comes the
plywood if you’re willing to sit around for a couple of computer to restore them.
years while the laser traces its endless fractal curls.
But at the end, what have you made? Just a replica,
not a truly original thing in itself. It’s time to get past An old Arts and Crafts decorator, like Morris,
that old idea of fabs as “rapid prototype machines” went out into Nature like a good Pre-Raphaelite, to
and find something unique to that design language. copy, say, a grapevine, and then extracted graphic
An interactive, semiautonomous pattern genera- elements of that grapevine into something human
tion machine that makes real artifacts. Yes! They’re hands could make.
here, they’re now, they’re almost cheap, and Olivero But that’s so over! So what if — Olivero digs around
knows how to program them. He could generate for an overstuffed graphics file on his screen and
random screen-saver patterns, throw a million pops it open — what if you start abstracting the math
designs at the wall like spaghetti, but no! Being behind the growth of vines instead? You map growth
Italian, being European, a craftsman, a human being, patterns, constraints, the basic forces ... then you
Olivero has to ask himself: what does it all mean can generate digitally varying modules of ornament,
Olivero’s office is in downtown Torino, a city rife you “escape the module” with a process that gener-with the fruitily Baroque extravagances of royal ates decorative objects! And with industrial value!
Savoy architects. Guarino Guarini and Filippo We’re studying an interwoven black-and-white
Juvarra were mystical masons who piled ornaments
together like conic sections of whipped cream.
Weird mathematical structures, therefore, bore
Olivero — been there, done that, in the late 1600s!
What’s interesting is a computer reforming
industrial production. The mass-produced assembly line stripped away decor and ornament. It
stripped away the handcrafted parts of the Italian
city landscape, too. But here comes the computer
to restore decoration and ornament — not the
old-fashioned William Morris kind, of wallpaper
so full of little birds and vines that it makes your
eyes bleed, but unprecedented decoration and
ornament. The 21st-century kind!
Take — Olivero points over a colleague’s head as
the guy pounds away manfully at his screen — take
that module, there! Decoration and ornament are
made from modules. Modules are elements of a
repeating pattern changed in harmonious ways —
flipped, rotated, inverted, tiled — you can do that by
hand, and that’s easy to program, but what’s really
interesting is a new language for doing that. How?
26 Make: Volume 15