Obsolete Drawings

In almost all cases, architects prepare drawings to represent their buildings prior to construction. These drawings include floor plans, diagrams, charts, and, of course, perspective renderings. Whereas floor plans are meant to be factual, with hard dimensions and considered proportions, perspective renderings are usually meant to provide an evocation of really "being there," or what the architect had in mind qualitatively. Whether these perspective renderings are abstract or highly realistic or correspond accurately to the plans is inconsequential--we are usually supposed to judge the perspective rendering as the truth and intention of the architectural conception.

Top image Zaha Hadid Architects, bottom image Shigeru Ban Architects. (http://www.dezeen.com/)

I see a problem with this notion. Perhaps the only graphic medium that is unique to our discipline, the orthographic section (whether from the top or side), has been subverted by this preference for perspective renderings. They have become the superficial staple for architectural presentations, and if you don't have them, you better get some, and they better be good (Photoshop diffuse glow filter, reflective glass, crowds of people, to name a couple of the most typical techniques). Just as architects have become distinct from engineers, our rendering fixation has now made us distinct from artists, unable to represent our ideas without the use of Maxwell or Mental Ray.

So are there any architects today thinking outside the box? Of course, and I am happy to share them with you.

Philippe Rahm architectes, Lausanne
Mr. Rahm represents his projects with orthographic sections superimposed over thermodynamic flow charts. Without these charts, the plans are spatially comprehensible, but the architectural conceptions would be absent. In an unusual break from his orthographic drawings, Mr. Rahm was developed his recent installation at the Venice Biennale using hand-drawn illustrations to tell the story of the architectural idea.

Image from ARCH'IT (http://architettura.supereva.com/architetture/20080825/index.htm)

Office KGDVS, Brussels
Mr. Geers and Mr. Van Severen represent many of their projects with collages, usually a combination of photographs, black and white copies, and line drawing. Their consideration of color, composition and viewing angle are unmatched. The subtlety of their projects' forms is met with profound and radical ideas of psychology.

Images from website of architects (http://www.officekgdvs.com/)

Junya Ishigami, Tokyo
Mr. Ishigami brings evocation back to the orthographic section. He represents his projects with endearing, finely-scaled pencil drawings. His recent exhibit at the Japanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2008 featured these drawings at gigantic scales directly on the building's walls. One perceives these plans not as strict, dimensioned floor plans, but as illustrations of an architectural idea.

Author's photo of drawings at Japanese Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2009

Perhaps we can judge architectural character and innovation by the means of representation. These three examples prove that innovative architecture demands innovative representation. It's clear that architects like Ms. Hadid and Mr. Nouvel are bonded to computer-rendered perspectives. Maybe, then, we should understand the scope of their architectural ideas as we understand the scope of their representation preferences: wiggle the mouse and click OK.

Upcoming topics: Car-chitecture, Gramazio & Kohler's IMM Cologne installation, and labyrinths


Jared Langevin said...

Indeed the architectural perspective has and continues to be one of the perpetrators of Architeture's "Black Box" (everyone check out the article by Reyner Banham).

The firms and drawings that you show are very refreshing- I especially like the understated rigor and elegance of the final example- and yet I doubt that this kind of thoughtful consideration for the presentation of one's work will ever pervade the practice of architecture on the larger scale. Since Alberti, the architectural perspective drawing has reigned as the dominant system for how we see the built environment, despite being based largely on ideals and very little in reality- This discrepancy between the imagined and the real is all the more troublesome in current times as architects are using the latest computer aided technologies and effects towards turning in a well polished and surreal "money shot" of their building that will quickly sell it to developers or other patrons.

Even in architecture school, the discussion tends to center primarily on the perspective drawing, and its visual clarity/beauty, (or lack thereof). It's a conversation entirely about how one sees the building- or I should say a projection of the building in its ideal state. Other types of less direct but no less useful information like that found in the plan or section can usually be glossed over in favor of the attractive perspectival rendering.

Breaking free from such a longstanding staple is certainly very challenging- I remember trying to limit my perspectives last semester in favor of more daring representational techniques- (a simulated smell sequence of the building at a crit?)- but in the end when you are surrounded by CAD, Maya, Rhino, 3DMax and the like, there are just so many easy ways to come up with some bullshit persp. view and speak the kind of language that we architects are told to speak.

Maybe the best thing to do is simply study some of these other fields that have become so alien to us and examine how they might add representational ideas for our work as architects. Can a building be written? Spoken? Synthesized? Composed? It probably takes a certain depth of knowledge beyond that fed to you in architecture school to answer these questions, but I think that even the act of asking goes a long way further than much of what is being done in our profession currently.

Jared Langevin said...
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