From Models to Drawings: Imagination and Representation in Architecture (Critiques)

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  2. Autonomy Online: A Review of edX’s “The Architectural Imagination”
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  4. Machakos University Library catalog › Details for: From models to drawings :

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The distinction is sharper in principle, rather than in practice; even in drawings that are strictly devoted to specification, it helps to be able to visualise the depicted entities. However, such visual props are not necessary for the drawings to fulfil their specificatory role. In principle, for instance, it is possible to have a purely mechanical procedure to translate the specifications of the drawings directly into instructions for construction, without the agent of construction actually being required to be visually aware of the object being constructed.

One only needs to think of the recent emergence of computer-driven machines in the wood-working and fabrication workshops — three-dimensional printers, laser cutters, and so on — to see the possibility of this. An additional reminder from practice of this point is the injunction accompanying construction drawings always to read, rather than to measure, a required dimension, however accurately to scale the drawing might have been produced.

There are times, however, when architectural drawings are used in ways which their characterisation as notations does not quite satisfy, and where theories such as Goodman's are brought up seemingly short. To recapitulate briefly the genesis of these drawings: the project was one of five that Mies produced in an inspired innovative phase in the early s in Berlin.

This was a period during which he was transforming his practice from one oriented towards producing conservative, competently executed and client-oriented residences, to one with an avant garde agenda aiming to develop a fundamentally new way of conceiving architecture. None of these five projects was built; in fact, they were essentially produced as competition or exhibition entries. But they were widely publicised in a number of contemporary art journals and received much critical attention.

The projects are all visionary and schematic in their conception.

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Their critical interest lies to a very large extent in Mies's exploration of the possibility of developing architectural styles based on the structural qualities and constructional techniques associated with specific building materials. Figure 1. Mies van der Rohe, Landhaus in Brick, exhibition panels showing perspective view above and schematic floor plan below. Print from a photographic negative, Stadt Kunsthalle, Mannheim. One historical point to note about the Brick Country House project is the scarcity of information about it.

Apart from a short statement by Mies, delivered as a part of a speech, only two drawings are known — the perspective view and the plan seen here — and even those were lost very early, surviving only in the form of two negative prints and as some reproductions in surviving copies of the period's publications. Another copy of photographs of these drawings, with signs of being touched up, is at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In the mids, students at IIT Chicago prepared revised versions of these plans.

These were first published in Werner Blaser, Mies van der Rohe: die Kunst der Struktur Zurich, Artemis Verlag, , but these are variations that add a substantial amount of detail not found in the originals. Bacht, View all notes Almost all of the critical acclaim that this project had acquired and since maintained is based on these two drawings.

Autonomy Online: A Review of edX’s “The Architectural Imagination”

These drawings are clearly not notational. They are not detailed enough provide adequate specifications uniquely to identify a building. There is no indication of scale and dimensions, or of orientation; several design details — such as the thicknesses of walls, or locations of doors, or of the extent of the floor — are fudged or ambiguous, or appear not to be precisely worked out.

The plan of the entire upper floor is missing, the only indication of its shape given in the partial depiction in the perspective view. The specification of the actual built form is both ambiguous and incomplete.

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But obviously, this is not the function of these drawings. As exhibition entries, they are better seen as functioning like a proxy to the building that they represent, allowing observers to make judgements about the building in its absence. Their relationship to the built work is more like the relationship of a preparatory sketch of a painting to that of the actual painting, rather than that of a musical score to its performance. The distinctive feature of the mode in which these drawings are supposed to be read is that no mechanical procedure can be outlined to do the job.

We can call this mode imaginative, as opposed to notational. The activity of reading in the imaginative mode is not simply a procedure of reproducing the elements say all the walls depicted in the plan of the drawings in another medium, but often involves the ability to instantiate elements or features of the represented building that were not pre-specified — such as the passages that are created between walls — and to read qualities that do not belong to any particular elements of the drawings at all, such as the perceived horizontality of the composition in the perspective view.

What underlies the distinction between notational and imaginative use of drawings, then, are two modes of visual reference. Using Goodman's framework, the first mode is a mechanical one, in which pre-specified elements are matched to their pre-specified referents. In replete mapping, every aspect of the way a character is actually constituted matters to its functioning; thus in a drawing like the Brick Country House plan, the thicknesses of lines, variations in their colour and in the degree of their smoothness, all — or at least very many — such features are significant and cannot be substituted without loss of key qualities of the entire drawing.

Repleteness distinguishes such drawings from other diagrams, such as a line graph of a continuously varying quantity, which may also otherwise be based on a syntactically and semantically dense mapping. In Goodman's classification, these drawings would thus be neither scores nor scripts, but sketches. In making this distinction between drawings that specify and those that depict, one need not be committed exclusively to a Goodmanian view of perception.

Our main interest is not in the overall theory of symbolic forms that Goodman offers, but rather in clarifying the distinction between the two ways in which visual reference can be constructed. Other writers concerned with defining visual representation or depiction have found it necessary to draw this distinction as well. To do so we do not rely on a natural perceptual capacity , such as I hold seeing-in to be. We rely on a skill we learn. And while Walton, unlike Wollheim, does not hold conventionality to be a significant criterion, his distinction between depictive and non-depictive visuals lies in the requirement that the games of make-believe be rich and vivid.

His dismissal of the issue of conventionality is on page View all notes Visuals like maps, graphs, diagrams, charts and architectural drawings, Walton argues, do not engage observers perceptually in games of appropriate richness and vivacity and so are different from pictures. This distinction between notational and imaginative uses of drawings might seem to parallel the distinction between instrumental and symbolic representation, introduced by Dalibor Vesely. View all notes But there is a fundamental difference between the two formulations.

In Vesely's formulation, the motivating aim was to counter what was supposed to be a then- pervasive conception of technical drawings as being theory-neutral and objective means for describing buildings. The counter assumption was that mapping conventions whether projective or not underlying architectural drawings were actually associated with specific types of representational space, and that this space in turn was deeply associated with the imagination of a particular culture or period.

But such a generalisation from a particular technique to the imagination of an entire culture or period is arguable. It may be true, as Vesley cautioned, that both the practice and discourse around architectural drawings today often betray a sense of divided representation, but that conclusion cannot be founded in the argument that technical drawings based on conventions derived from projective geometry are exclusively artefacts of instrumental representation.

Not just perspectival views, but even highly reductive orthographic views such as the existing plan of the Brick Country House, despite being constructed using what appear to be mechanical projective conventions, have often functioned entirely in the imaginative mode.

In this essay our concern is with the imaginative mode. With notational drawings, the purpose is to reconstruct the drawing in some fashion, and the procedure of reading is a mechanical one of matching pre-specified characters to referents. In the imaginative mode, however, where the purpose is to make judgements about an object not actually existing, how are the drawings read? There is a common assumption — we can call it the folk theory of how architectural drawings are read — that a viewer or commentator in generating statements such as those above, visualises the building using the drawings as an aid, and then, on the basis of aesthetic judgement of the imagined form, makes appropriate critical statements.

Judgements are made of the building depicted, not of the drawing, which is treated essentially as if transparent. But if so, then the Brick Country House drawings do not really seem very well suited for the purpose.

Machakos University Library catalog › Details for: From models to drawings :

For one, there is the sketchiness of the plan, already noted, particularly the fact that it is obviously incomplete. There is no drawing of the upper floor. Key descriptions are missing, not just of constructional details, but of the actual spatial configuration. How, for instance, is the main staircase, which is schematically indicated, oriented? It is difficult to define unambiguously the extent of the main floor of the house.

Even worse, it is impossible to reconcile the plan with the perspective view; they do not match completely even in the parts that are commonly visible. As commentators have noticed, a tiny cast shadow on the edge of the concrete overhang near the chimney block in the service area indicates that the configuration of walls depicted in the view is different as compared to that indicated in the plan. View all notes There is also some confusion regarding proportions; either the room at the bottom of the plan and in the foreground of the view is extraordinarily long, or its ceiling height is so low as to render it unusable.

In short, any visualisation of the building as a whole would not only be necessarily incomplete, it would not be coherent. It is not possible to have a complete, unified, mental image of the building, using just the drawings provided, such that it could then act as the object of a critical judgement.

In fact, the folk theory of the visualisation of architectural drawings carries a seeming paradox. An implication of this theory is that the more attenuated, and therefore, the more unambiguous and clear the drawings, the better suited they would be to the purpose of visualising the building, but at the same time, the lesser the amount of detail specified in the drawings, the more ambiguous the imaginative conception of the building they represent, and hence, the more difficult to form a critical judgement of it.

However, most people with design experience will see that this is not how drawings work in practice; working drawings with their plethora of specifications are far less useful for formulating critical judgements about designs, than are the presentation renderings. The paradox, in other words, is that the less geometrically clear drawings are, the more expressive they somehow become. This paradox is well illustrated by the Brick Country House case, for despite their incompleteness and inconsistencies, the Brick Country House drawings have come to occupy a significant place in the canon of modern architecture.

Here is Colin Rowe commenting on what he perceives to be Mannerist tendencies in Mies: In Capella Sforza, Michaelangelo, working in the tradition of the centralized building, establishes an apparently centralized space; but within its limits, every effort is made to destroy the focus which this space demands. This house is without either conclusion or focus; and, if here Mies is operating not within the tradition of the centralized building but, ultimately, in that of the irregular and freely disposed Romantic plan, the distintegration of prototype is as complete as with Michelangelo.

The interior has become the nucleus of a force-field which, by means of brick walls reaching out in all directions, fixes the co-ordinates of the environment and defines it with exclusive reference to the viewer inside. The puzzle is whether to think of these drawings as architectural works in their own right, as sketches of a painting often are, or as representational aids in visualising a building, the actually intended work.

The conventional working assumption, both amongst philosophers who have commented on the issue for instance, Goodman in Languages of Art , and implicitly amongst critics, is the latter. The drawings are representations of the actual artwork.

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