Two LTU professors explain fabrication techniques in their book 'Digital Vernacular'

Release Date: October 16, 2015
Digital Vernacular


Seeking to reconcile local traditions in architecture with the modern digital tools used by architects and other designers, Lawrence Technological University Associate Professors James Stevens and Ralph Nelson have published a book, “Digital Vernacular: Architectural Principles, Tools, and Processes.”

Many of the lessons presented in the book come from the makeLab in LTU’s College of Architecture and Design. Stevens is the founder and director, and over the past five years he and his students and other LTU faculty members have created relatively inexpensive equipment for fabricating original pieces – including full-scale buildings, architectural-scale models, and furniture – in wood, masonry, plastic and other materials.

“Digital Vernacular” addresses the why and how of digital fabrication in hundreds of step-by-step color images, illuminating a set of working principles and techniques that join theory with practice, which is the overarching educational approach at Lawrence Tech.

The 300-page book is lavishly illustrated with 359 color photos, including many taken by LTU Professor Steve Rost.

The goal of the book is to bring together local traditions and innovations in architecture and design – the vernacular in architecture – with new digital toolsets. In the process, the authors seek to reconnect computerized design with the act of making physical objects.

The book opens with the origins and principles of the digital vernacular, then discusses the digital-vernacular applications for tools such as computer numerically controlled (CNC) mills, laser cutters, and 3D printers. Instructions are provided for building digital fabrication tools out of inexpensive materials. The book concludes with the processes of the digital vernacular, including techniques for removing, joining, forming, and adding.

A companion website,, provides additional step-by-step processes and project outcomes.

Jim Stevens and Ralph Nelson

Jim Stevens and Ralph Nelson of LTU's College of Architecture and Design.

Because of the high cost of commercial digital fabrication equipment, the latest developments in digital fabrication have usually not been available to architects and designers who build on a small scale in the vernacular of their particular culture and region. “In order to practice the digital vernacular it is imperative that the tools align with an economic model accessible to the larger community,” the authors write.

LTU’s makeLab has designed and built its own digital fabrication tools at a fraction of the cost of commercially available equipment. “This allows us to customize the equipment to our needs and reduces cost in maintenance and repair. Furthermore, this process gives designers a higher understanding of the tools’ abilities and limitations,” Stevens said.

“Digital Vernacular: Architectural Principles, Tools, and Processes” by James Stevens and Ralph Nelson is published by Routledge and is available through for $180 in hard cover and $59.95 in paperback.




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