An Experimental Archaeology of CAD

Using Software Reconstruction to Explore the Past and Future of Computer-Aided Design
  • Daniel Cardoso LlachEmail author
  • Scott Donaldson
Conference paper
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 1028)


This paper proposes software reconstruction as a method to shed new light into the material, gestural, and sensual dimensions of computer-aided design technologies. Specifically, it shows how by combining historical research and creative prototyping this method can bring us closer to distant ways of seeing, touching, drawing, and designing—while raising new questions about the impact of CAD technologies on present-day architectural practices. It documents the development of two software reconstructions—of Ivan Sutherland’s “Sketchpad” and of Steven A. Coons’s “Coons Patch”—and reflects on the responses they elicited in the context of two exhibitions. The paper shows how software reconstruction can offer access to overlooked aspects of computer-aided design systems, specially their material and sensual dimensions, and how we may explore its broader potential for research, preservation, pedagogy, and speculative design of design technologies.


Software reconstruction Media archaeology CAD Sketchpad Steven A. Coons Ivan Sutherland Computational design history 



The first author wishes to thank CAD pioneers Timothy E. Johnson, Robin Forrest, and Malcolm Sabin for valuable contributions to this project through interviews, documents, and informal conversations—any inaccuracies and undue liberties in this paper are not their fault; Francois Penz, The Martin Centre of Architectural and Urban Studies at the University of Cambridge, UK, and Allan Blackwell, who helped make some of these conversations possible; and The Graham Foundation for Advanced Study in the Fine Arts and the Berkman Fund for Faculty Development at Carnegie Mellon, for granting essential material support. Thanks also to Margaret Cox and Kara Skylling at the Miller Institute of Contemporary Art for valuable assistance as coordinators of the 2017 exhibition Designing the Computational Image, Imagining Computational Design. Thanks to the SIGGRAPH 2018 Art Gallery team, specially to curator Andres Burbano for selecting the two installations for the Original Narratives exhibition in Vancouver, and to Elizia Artis for expert management and coordination.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Computational Design Laboratory, School of ArchitectureCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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