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PRINT March 2020

RISE OF THE MACHINES

General Motors assembly line, Youngstown, Ohio, ca. 1972. Photo: Library of Congress/Getty Images.

ELECTRONIC COMPUTERS have been around since the end of World War II, yet for a number of reasons architects and designers did not start seriously tinkering with computer-aided design until the early 1990s. In doing so, the pioneers of architecture’s digital turn quickly stumbled on a groundbreaking realization: The computers they used to draw objects on the screen could also aid in fabricating those same objects right away. The integration of computer-aided drawing and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD-CAM) became a tenet of digital design, and the machinery for numerically controlled fabrication has been as influential and even inspirational for designers as the software at the heart of the computer systems themselves.

General Motors assembly line, Biel, Switzerland. 1946. Photo: Grisel/Lindroos/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

In the 1990s, computer numerical control (CNC) milling was designers’ tool of choice—a subtractive fabrication technology in which a drill moving along a

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