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Carlos Bañon Blazquez | Architect

Singapore-based Spanish Architect and Professor of Computational Design Carlos Bañón is creating the architecture of the future. Blending artificial intelligence with deep human intuition, he is reshaping landscapes where art and resource efficiency intersect. We had a conversation with Carlos about his work and production practice.

Who is Carlos Bañon Blazquez? Can you briefly tell us about yourself?

I am Carlos Bañón, an architect and enthusiast about technology and its application to the field of architecture and arts. I am based in Singapore, where I serve as an associate professor of Architecture and Sustainable Design at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). My career spans over two decades, during which I have been at the forefront of integrating AI, computational thinking, and digital fabrication into architectural design.


In my role at SUTD, I combine both practice and research to explore and implement advanced methodologies in architecture. I co-founded Subarquitectura, a practice known for its innovative and resource-efficient designs. Additionally, I established the Architectural Intelligence Research Lab (AirLab) at SUTD, where we push the boundaries of architectural innovation through cutting-edge research and practical applications.


My work focuses on the intersection of technology and sustainable design, aiming to create architectural solutions that are both innovative and environmentally responsible. This dual approach ensures that my contributions to the field are grounded in both theoretical research and practical, real-world applications.

As an architect specializing in digital design and advanced production methods in the built environment, how did you transition into the world of digital fabrication?

My transition into digital fabrication stemmed from my work at Subarquitectura, where I developed methodologies in parametric design applied to real buildings. This experience in computational design in both practice and academia naturally led me to explore digital manufacturing.


At AirLab, which I established at SUTD in 2016, we integrate new technologies such as large-scale 3D printing and additive manufacturing of strong metals. Our primary focus is on sustainable materials from plastic waste and other sources. AirLab serves as a space to experiment and test innovative and sometimes unconventional ideas that are almost market-ready.


For instance, we developed a 3D printed system across materials capable of reducing waste close to zero and optimizing the flow of forces. This project, 'Airmesh,' implemented at Gardens by the Bay, received the President's Design Award. 'Airmesh' is a lightweight 3D-printed steel structure, showcasing the potential of digital fabrication to create efficient and sustainable architectural solutions.

How does your creative process work, playing with colors and shapes? Which steps do you follow when creating a work?

I iterate through multiple layers of design rather than following a simple, straight line. This iterative approach helps in understanding what is relevant and what is not, allowing unnecessary elements to be naturally discarded over time.


With the advent of AI, I work at a much faster pace, producing hundreds of iterations almost in real-time. This acceleration means that images I produce now could be considered final compared to what might have taken two years previously. This requires a sharper focus and discernment, balancing the roles of a curator and a designer simultaneously. It necessitates a keen instinct for what works and what does not, making one even more attuned to architectural intuition and refinement.


"My creative process focuses heavily on geometric exploration and experimentation, prioritizing forms that are conceptually charged. I approach architecture as if I am playing with a system, where systemic thinking is crucial to bring consistency and establish inner rules within the design."


Color plays a crucial role in my work as well. I consider it from multiple perspectives: for representation, ideation, and ultimately translating it into a space to enhance and emphasize ideas and concepts. Color helps to bring out the essence of the design and adds another layer of depth to the architectural experience.

Which work has excited you the most in terms of the design process and the final product?

It's difficult to pick just one project, as I find excitement in various aspects of my work. At Subarquitectura, my very first project, the tram stop in Alicante, was an incredible experience. This project integrated parametric design and digital fabrication in real construction, presenting a significant structural challenge. I enjoyed doing the calculations myself and experiencing the uncertainty of developing something entirely new. The transformation of the place after it was built, creating life and public space around it, was magical. This project not only changed the physical landscape but also revitalized the area, demonstrating the powerful impact of thoughtful architecture on community spaces.


Tram Stop

In recent years, with the advent of AI, I've enjoyed the widespread impact of the projects I publish on social media. Many of these projects have been seen by over 10 million people, with numerous individuals reaching out to express how touched or identified they are with my architecture. The immediate feedback and engagement from a global audience are incredibly rewarding. Some of these projects are now in the process of being built, which adds another layer of excitement as I see these digital concepts materialize into real structures.


Currently, I am particularly excited about a restaurant project in Miami, designed in collaboration with Studio Manuel Clavel and Nagami. We are integrating AI throughout the entire process and utilizing 3D printing for large-scale parts made from sustainable materials, producing zero waste. This project presents many challenges, such as ensuring the structural integrity of 3D-printed components and sourcing sustainable materials that meet our design criteria. However, these challenges also make the project extremely exciting. We are pushing the boundaries of what's possible in architectural design and construction, and I look forward to seeing how this innovative approach will come to life in a vibrant city like Miami.

Which important trends and movements do you think will define the digital design industry in the coming years?

AI represents the biggest paradigm shift in the history of design and architecture. This shift is unparalleled, surpassing previous advancements like CAD, parametric design, and 3D printing. We are working with a form of intelligence that demands a completely new vision and skillset to tackle its potential. Despite being in its infancy, AI is already revolutionizing the field.


In architecture, we will initially see AI integrating as 'modules' for various tasks such as image generation, structural optimization, and urban planning. These modules will become increasingly interconnected, leading to a seamless integration of AI across all aspects of design. This interconnectedness will not only change the design process but also the entire industry. AI will bring about new roles and opportunities, but it will also render some existing roles obsolete.

I believe AI will help us create more natural and human-centered architecture. By leveraging AI's capabilities, we can enhance our ability to design spaces that are more in tune with human needs and environmental considerations. This paradoxical outcome—where advanced technology leads to more human-centric design—holds great promise for the future of architecture. The journey ahead will be challenging, but the potential to transform our built environment in profound and positive ways is truly exciting.

Can you tell us a bit about the sources of inspiration behind your work? Who are the names you follow with curiosity in this field or in other disciplines?

My sources of inspiration are diverse, spanning across various architects, artists, and even video games. During my education years, I was deeply influenced by several Spanish architects who shaped my approach to design. Tuñón Mansilla's disciplined play, the integration of digital design and thinking by Enric Ruiz Geli and amid cero9 (Efren Garcia and Cristina Díaz Moreno), and Javier García Solera's emphasis on rigor and architectural discipline left a lasting impact on me.


I have been profoundly inspired by the work of Anton Garcia-Abril, whose exploration of natural and artificial landscapes, tectonics, and structural precision is remarkable. Similarly, Junya Ishigami's beautifully crafted, radical, and extreme projects continue to inspire me. The elegance and clarity in SANAA's work, the innovative fluidity in OMA's designs, and the distinct style of Danish architects have also influenced my architectural style. Enric Miralles' fluid and dynamic designs resonate with my own approach to architecture, while Christian Kerez's bold structures and Francis Kéré's impactful, passive-principled local architecture are significant sources of inspiration.


Beyond architecture, I find inspiration in the works of artists like Anish Kapoor and Olafur Eliasson. Their ability to create immersive and thought-provoking installations aligns with my interest in creating experiential spaces. Moreover, the aesthetics and style of 1980s video games have left an indelible mark on my creative process. The way these games were coded and their unique visual language continue to influence my current work, bringing a sense of playfulness and innovation to my designs.


These diverse influences come together to form a rich tapestry of inspiration that informs my work. By drawing from the past and integrating cutting-edge technologies, I strive to create architecture that is both forward-thinking and deeply rooted in a rich history of design excellence.

Are you excited for the future and what are your plans?

I am incredibly excited for the future, especially with the ongoing integration and development of AI in architecture. Every day, I learn something new and aim to integrate these advancements into architectural practices in various forms. One of my key goals is to help architects incorporate AI techniques into their offices and practices, revolutionizing their production and thinking processes.


The potential of AI to transform architecture is immense, and I am particularly enthusiastic about the next generation of architects who are learning AI from the very beginning. I aim to lead and guide them to use AI as a natural extension of their creative processes, allowing them to surpass traditional limitations. AI is freeing us from many burdens, and while some architects may feel uncomfortable with the shift as it challenges traditional notions of control and power, I see it as a democratizing force that makes architecture more accessible and open to everyone.


Over the past two years, I have felt more liberated in my work than in the previous two decades of my practice. AI is opening up new possibilities and enabling more innovative, efficient, and inclusive architectural solutions. This is only the beginning, and I am excited to continue exploring and pushing the boundaries of what AI can achieve in the field of architecture.


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