Whirlwind I: computer architectures as testing grounds for the spaces of modernity

Eva Gil Lopesino

DOI: https://doi.org/10.20868/cpa.2020.10.4575

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This interdisciplinary research explores the enormous impact that digital computing technologies have had on how architecture has been formed, as represented and received since the mid-20th century. It focuses on the link between architecture and computing, particularly as materialised through architectural spaces generated literally by both disciplines: the technological device building and the technological device computer. Our research begins by describing technological devices (computers) belonging to the pre-generations of computers (electromechanical and electronic devices) and to the First Generation of Computing (digital devices), according to the genealogy proposed by the American electrical engineer Gordon Bell in 1980 and the curator Paul E. Ceruzzi in 2003. Specifically, it studies one of the three most important digital computers developed in the United States. It belonged to the First Generation: The Whirlwind I or WWI was a mainframe developed on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) between 1945 and 1956 by Jay W. Forrester and his team. This case study is one of the first examples of computational architecture: It is a technological device (building and computer) that constitutes a space which is both inhabited and travelled through. This example acts as a starting point in the analysis of the birth of the digital era of computing and the development of modern architecture, both of which coincided in time and evolved in parallel. These spaces of the first digital computers provided the first glimpse of a number of characteristics that would influence and be influenced by the architectures that were being developed in the purely architectural discipline at the time. Although these spaces are not usually included among the ones told about in the narrative of modern architecture, they should be included in it, as they were used in trying out issues that were otherwise being developed in the spaces of modernity.

Palabras clave

Architecture; Computing; Device; 1st Generation; Whirlwind I


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