Mario Carpo | UCL, The Bartlett

Monday Feb. 12, 2024 , 5 to 6 p.m.
Carpo will present "Generative AI: Imitation, Style, and the Eternal Return of Precedent and Canon in Architectural Design."
AI generated series of building draings in sepia tones.

Generative AI does not create new images out of thin air; it generates images that have something in common with a selection of images we have fed into it.  This selection, often called a "dataset," can be generic or custom-made; either way, Generative AI automates the imitation and replication of some of its common visual features, often known in the past as styles.  Imitation was for centuries the backbone of the classical tradition in European art, and it was de facto banned by 20th-century modernism for many good reasons.  As the rise of Generative AI is bringing the practice of imitation back to our design schools and the design professions, we urgently need to learn again what imitation is, how it works, what it does, and how we can deal with it today, in critical and creative terms.  Every dataset is a canon, but every canon is based on preference, and we know all too well that preference is often a proxy for prejudice.


Mario Carpo is the Reyner Banham Professor of Architectural History and Theory at the Bartlett, University College London, and a Professor of Architectural Theory at the University of Applied Arts (die Angewandte) in Vienna. An architectural historian and critic, Carpo’s research and publications focus on the history of early modern architecture and the theory and criticism of contemporary design and technology. His award-winning Architecture in the Age of Printing (MIT Press, 2001) has been translated into several languages.  He also authored The Alphabet and the Algorithm (2011), The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence (2017), and other books.  His latest monograph, Beyond Digital: Design and Automation at the End of Modernity, was published last spring by the MIT Press

Black and white Mario Carpo headshot