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Mario Carpo

Mario Carpo is Associate Professor of Architectural History in the French Schools of Architecture and Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History at the School of Architecture of Yale University. He is the author of Architecture in the Age of Printing: Orality, Writing, Typography, and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory (MIT Press, 2001) and other books.

Titles by This Author

Digital technologies have changed architecture—the way it is taught, practiced, managed, and regulated. But if the digital has created a “paradigm shift” for architecture, which paradigm is shifting? In The Alphabet and the Algorithm, Mario Carpo points to one key practice of modernity: the making of identical copies. Carpo highlights two examples of identicality crucial to the shaping of architectural modernity: in the fifteenth century, Leon Battista Alberti’s invention of architectural design, according to which a building is an identical copy of the architect’s design; and, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the mass production of identical copies from mechanical master models, matrixes, imprints, or molds. The modern power of the identical, Carpo argues, came to an end with the rise of digital technologies. Everything digital is variable. In architecture, this means the end of notational limitations, of mechanical standardization, and of the Albertian, authorial way of building by design. Charting the rise and fall of the paradigm of identicality, Carpo compares new forms of postindustrial digital craftsmanship to hand-making and the cultures and technologies of variations that existed before the coming of machine-made, identical copies. Carpo reviews the unfolding of digitally based design and construction from the early 1990s to the present, and suggests a new agenda for architecture in an age of variable objects and of generic and participatory authorship.

Orality, Writing, Typography, and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory

The discipline of architecture depends on the transmission in space and time of accumulated experiences, concepts, rules, and models. From the invention of the alphabet to the development of ASCII code for electronic communication, the process of recording and transmitting this body of knowledge has reflected the dominant information technologies of each period. In this book Mario Carpo discusses the communications media used by Western architects, from classical antiquity to modern classicism, showing how each medium related to specific forms of architectural thinking.

Carpo highlights the significance of the invention of movable type and mechanically reproduced images. He argues that Renaissance architectural theory, particularly the system of the five architectural orders, was consciously developed in response to the formats and potential of the new printed media. Carpo contrasts architecture in the age of printing with what preceded it: Vitruvian theory and the manuscript format, oral transmission in the Middle Ages, and the fifteenth-century transition from script to print. He also suggests that the basic principles of "typographic" architecture thrived in the Western world as long as print remained our main information technology. The shift from printed to digital representations, he points out, will again alter the course of architecture.