Walking into Rudolph Hall, I was lost in a maze of architectural and mathematical structures. The minimalist walls, painted black and white, only added to my puzzlement. Even after reading from the gallery’s description, I still didn’t know what the exhibition is about. As I walked further into the gallery I came across wooden models, supposedly a design skeleton on display. Surrounding it were 3D animations of the structure.

“Archaeology of the Digital: Complexity and Convention” is Greg Lynn’s third and final program for the Canadian Center for Architecture’s Archaeology of the Digital program. The exhibition’s five curatorial themes — “High Fidelity 3-D”, “Structure & Cladding”, “Data”, “Photorealism” and “Topography and Topology” — force every visitor to trace the innovation and development of these now commonplace techniques.

In the “Topography and Topology” section, architectural models confronted me in two ways. In the 3-D animation, I watched everyday buildings being decomposed into concrete lines and shapes, as they would appear when represented on pieces of an architect’s scratch papers. Then, I saw how simple lines and shapes extended themselves in topological space, eventually reconstructing an authentic concrete building. The smoothness of the lines and the elegant, curved surfaces caught my attention in particular: Structures I had previously conceived of as simple in fact found their roots in the field of mathematics.

Walking further down into the hallway, I encountered further surprises. I saw some thin and scattered curves, like rubber bands, intertwining into each other to form a circle. I encountered the theoretical “Carbon Tower” by Testa & Weiser. Computer graphics on the screen simulated the structure of the prospective tower, which could be composed of any different mix of materials — contributing to the structure of the “Carbon Tower.” I fell into deeper amazement when I saw how technology enables designers to investigate structural possibilities for a basic tower.

Another surprise in the room was a combination of three rooms into one, named “Cleopatra’s Submarine.” The model made me dizzy as I attempted to trace the route into and out of the room, ultimately giving up in frustration. The bathroom, the common room and the living room fused into a single space with indistinguishable components. The model for the room had been developed using a digital composition of household items, such as pieces of furniture. With the computer’s aid, designers are able to transform mundane objects we see around us into innovative structures that stretch beyond our imagination.

A further surprise is the “Hypo Alpe-Adria Center,” composed of a spherical ball with a few floating blocks in the air that resembled puzzle pieces. This image baffled me, for it looked incomplete. Under detailed scrutiny the design represents a free-floating prototype for a landscape that could be applied to either an urban or rural context instantly. This structure bridges the gap between the imaginary and the real: Artists can indeed realize the structure in reality by applying technology.

The exhibition culminated in an unbuilt structure entitled “Water Flux” by French architect Francois Roche. A porous, massive structure with spikes protruding, the digital piece resembles a giant, deformed sea urchin combining elements from the animal and machine realms. Roche conceives of his creation as a huge structure produced with wood from local forests. The design uses a 3-D model and parametric analysis to convey the form and mode of self-support to be applied in reality.

As I made my way through the maze, circling back to the entrance, I realized I was stepping back into a familiar place, but with new insight. I had undergone a transformative journey and experienced how quickly innovation can become convention in my mind. All that now seems commonplace now seemed extraordinarily innovative in Rudolph Hall.

Contact Tony Wong at waipan.wong@yale.edu@yale.edu .