Think of this as a draft manifesto for architectural representation in the post digital age. Or if not a manifesto, at least an idea about how we can (and why we should) rethink the act and purpose of drawing now that our relationship with digital production has matured.
Its an idea about contemporary architectural drawing, about how we might make drawings about architecture – drawings that might even *be* architecture.
The digital drawing tools we now have at our disposal have changed the relationship we now have to images – both as we consume them and as we make them. But at the same time these tools can allow us to engage with the long disciplinary history of architectural representation.
It’s an idea that combines a series of issues just as it combines a series of techniques and, often a series of sources. In other words, it is an idea that while it produces a single synthetic thing, emerges out of multiple relationships.
It’s a project sited at the intersection between what have become anachronistic modes of representation with experiments with the possibilities of contemporary drawing tools.
Here, then, are partial notes towards a theory of post digital architectural representation:
First, digital tools have to date been taken up within architectural culture in a blinkered way. They have have explored the formal possibilities of manipulating shape. Parametricism is about technological possibilities of digital tools. Yet in wider culture its the manipulation of information that is the most striking cultural effect of digital tools. From sampling to Instagram, digital tools allow us to process, alter, and create. They allow us to intervene in information and reshape it for other purposes. In other words, this is collage culture. But collage is now seamless, and not being able to see the join makes collage work in a very different way. In short, its Photoshop rather than Grasshopper that is the real site of productive digital speculation.
Second, these tools allow us to have a different relationship to the drawing. A drawing we make can be derived from multiple sources and forms of representation in a way that challenges the idea of individual originality. That’s to say, drawing can be an act of curation, editing and assemblage as much as it is of hand eye coordination and original mark making. If we think of drawing in this way, we can think of it as an act of polemic assemblage as much as an image. Or rather image as polemical assemblage.
Third, lets try and understand the deep potential of the mashup. The throwaway easiness of the word belies a much more engaged and precise process conceptually and technically. But at the same time it is part of – comes out of – the slippery nature of images in the digital age. Meanings and associations between images are constantly in flux. Their proximity, resolution, place and media constantly shifting. Images flow through networks like liquid, and what was once a fixed point begins to leak or erupt, become fugitive and restless, recombinant and promiscuous.
Fourth: The the CGI is the dominant mode of contemporary architectural communication. It presents an apparently ‘real’ image of the world – photorealistic and perspectival – and is a dangerously plausible fiction. They assume the status of a photograph of a built world. We know however that photography is far from a transparent window onto the world, it frames and constructs its own image. If we think of the CGI as also the logical conclusion of the perspectival project, we should also remember that perspective itself is not really not really the way the world looks but an artificial construction. In opposition to these forms of image making we might deploy the vast processing power that sits on our desktops to other ends. And one of those ends might well be exploring drawings intrinsic artificiality. Drawings, in other words reveal, that declare themselves as partial and biased.
Fifth. In opposition to the CGI which is tied to its fiction of presenting reality, we could reassert the drawing as an architectural act – a means of making arguments and propositions, of staking all kinds of claim that go far beyond presenting a plausible view. Drawings that are conceived not as windows onto the world but ways of making the world.
(Side Note: Can architecture exist without drawing? In other words, can we even think of architecture without section, plan or other architectural mode of conception? And if so does the ubiquity of the render threaten architectures disciplinary core?)
And lastly (at least for now). These forms of drawing allow us to approach the act of drawing not as an illustration of an architecture which exists somewhere else. Not as a diagram of an idea either. But as the site where an architectural idea can be staged.
And if, like me, you think that architecture even at the level of a building is *always* representation. That its representational qualities are not different from its ‘real’ qualities as a building but are always simultaneous. That a building is an image of a building, a description of a building even as it is a building – then drawing is fundamentally important. Architectural representation and its reality happen at the same time and this starts with the drawing.
In passing too, the drawing acts as a pedagogical device. Which is partly why its been central to the studios I’ve been teaching. The act of pulling apart and reassembling a drawing is a way to learn and understand how drawings work. Its a kind of experiential rather than intellectual analysis, engaged rather than observed.
Some words on the nature of the images too. They are both intense and detached. Hot and cold at the same time. They tend to resist immediate reading. They are seductive and resistant, drawing us in but pushing us away simultaneously. They are at once familiar and strange, as through they come from a world similar to our own but not the same. They are nostalgic and progressive in the same gesture. They are picturesque and conceptual. And as they do all these opposite things they are both fast and slow – immediately engaging and total while refusing to give themselves up easily.
These projects began with studios at the AA and later developed through studios at UIC and Yale – so thanks to the support of Brett Steel, Bob Stern and Bob Somol for providing the space to explore these ideas. And thanks too to all the teaching partners who’ve been involved: Tomas Klassnik, Jennifer Leung, Sean Griffiths and Jimenez Lai. And of course, most of all to the students for their incredible hard work.