Colin K. Digitial Ornament


Ornament/Decoration-Post Digital                                                                                   Colin Klimesh

 As student of Fine Arts approaching the subject of 3 dimensional modeling and digital fabrication from somewhat different background than Architecture, I would like to discuss impact of these emerging technologies into the Fine Arts realm and their potential to mediate the act of making “Art.” Firstly I would like to argue that the fine arts disciplines are fairly cautious and skeptical when it comes to the employment of industry into creative vernacular.  However as cad software becomes affordable and more accessible, there is a slow rise in the visual artists utilizing the software, in tandem with fabrication processes.

Speaking from the perspective of a visual artist, I can attest that to the value of having a working knowledge and understanding of modeling software and fabrication techniques. Finding that the mediation of the software into my studio practice has fundamentally altered the way I think about and create art. One can view these new technologies as being similar to the way other industrial processes (printmaking, slip casting, …) have been adopted by visual artists and utilized in studio art capacity.

For a studio artist, the addition of software such as Rhino, and Maya are invaluable tools. The robustness of modeling programs provides studio artists with the opportunity to not only visualize the work prior to completion, but also to generate imagery, forms, and renderings that otherwise would not be possible. Furthermore this software provides the ability utilize digital fabrication methods, as means for generating art works. Within the freedom and autonomy of the art practice Tord Boontje is at the forefront of digital ornament. (Elys 2006).

Though Ely’s offers Boontje’s work as an example of Fine Artist utilizing digital fabrication methods and reemergence of decoration and ornament, I would argue that this approach is still in it’s infancy. Currently contemporary art is quick to dismiss anything decorative or ornamental as design, which is viewed as superfluous and uninteresting. This is the hurdle for Fine Artists looking to utilize rapid prototyping processes. If we compare Torde Boonjte’s ornamental installations to similar installations by artists; Swoon, Kara Walker, or Diana Al Hadid, whose work is also decorative but is considered to be perhaps more “Fine Art.” I think that as artists continue to approach digital fabrication it will become a powerful tool, but I think that it can also be a double edged sword, where many people will use these tools and label their work art, thus muddying the waters for Fine Artists seeking to make work utilizing this technology.

It is surely time that we ourselves explore the potential of digital ornament without the traditional cries of; Decoration for decoration sake, Craft doesn’t respond to anything, it’s mere decoration’. (Elys, 2006)

As it stands I think that Fine Artists have not had the accessibility or education to CAD software or Fabrication tools that architects and designers have. Artists have a history of appropriating commercial and industrial tools as they become accessible or obsolete. The Pop Art movement breathed life into the silkscreen printing, with artists; Andy Warhol, Rauschenberg and Lichtenstein using it as a medium to not only comment on Pop Culture but also to work creatively within the parameters of the silkscreen matrix.

The approaches to pattern, and ornament through the means of 3d modeling software and rapid prototyping differ from the historical context in terms of integration and practicality. Current approaches to patterning are striving to be integrated or informed by the form to which they are applied. With the advancements in Parametric modeling and Generative design, patterning can be informed by a vast number of parameters and inputs. These inputs are seemingly functional or practical relating to real data, climate, solar radiation, energy efficiency, or mimicry of mathematical fractal subdivision.

Beyond the advantage and disadvantages of each method, a key question….. is whether one understands ornament to be an object in itself, or as something adorning or embellishing another object. (Hansmeyer, 2010)

 In order to distinguish from the criticisms of past era’s of ornament, it is imperitive to not only develop or employ a new vernacular of stylistic motifs, but also to integrate them or furthermore let these patterns drive the form.  Historically pattern has always sought to embellish a surface/form that already existed.

Autodesk Maya’s surface mapping functions allow for robust surface modeling and texturing by using gray scale imagery as the driver.  This allows for a role reversal or shift in the way ornament is traditionally approached.

 The surface of the artefact is intricately responding to the structure of its form. Its structural and orna­mental features are seamless. This results from a fused interaction of ornament and structure in the process of creation. ( Aghaei)

By approaching the pattern in tandem and letting it be the driver of the form, or projected from the form, perhaps more intuitive relationship can be formed.  This approach draws upon modernist ideals of form following function, but perhaps provides more leeway for pattern and ornament to not be dismissed as superfluous.

Additionally by employing mapping tools to generate surface and pattern, we are left with an infinitely variable matrix that can continually be altered and manipulated before and after fabrication. This new technology should be viewed as a step in a larger process. Instead of modeling and hitting the proverbial print button, we should consider the processes after the computer.  Returning to what


Elys, John (2006) Digital Ornament, Synthetic Landscapes [Proceedings of the 25th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture] pp.68-78

Hansmeyer, Michael (2010) From Mesh to Ornament: Subdivision as a generative system, FUTURE CITIES [28TH eCAADe Conference Proceedings / ISBN 978-0-9541183-9-6] ETH Zurich (Switzerland) 15-18 September 2010, pp.285-293

Aghaei Meibodi, Mania ; Aghaiemeybodi, Hamia (2012) The Synergy Between Structure and Ornament: A Reflection on the Practice of Tectonic in the Digital and Physical Worlds, Achten, Henri; Pavlicek, Jiri; Hulin, Jaroslav; Matejovska, Dana (eds.), Digital Physicality – Proceedings of the 30th eCAADe Conference – Volume 2 / ISBN 978-9-4912070-3-7, Czech Technical University in Prague, Faculty of Architecture (Czech Republic) 12-14 September 2012, pp. 245-254


  1. The notion that these tools might subvert the traditional method of ornamentation applied to a surface, and instead be responsible for the consideration of surface and ornamentation as one cohesive entity is an amazing insight for me.

    Also, the pop art and neo dada movements respectively are apt illustrations of the integration of industrial technologies. The profundity of Warhol’s work, at least for me, was in its ability to mirror consumer culture. I wonder how these technologies might do something similar conceptually, or if they need to become commonplace before they can be used to make a cultural criticism.

  2. If the contemporary art world sees design as superfluous and uninteresting, do they also see designers as superfluous and uninteresting? If they do, this to me is disheartening because I and many others consider design an art. Architecture is art, at a large scale, sometimes at the largest of scales. It takes much time, research, thoughtful criticism, analysis, model making, sketching, etc to create a design and is anything but superfluous, topical, and uninteresting (if it is a successful design).

    Aside from this, I also feel that the incorporation of 3D modeling into the fine arts can only help the practice, as eventually the process will require the actual hands-on component these people are striving to emphasize.