The Image and Its Representation
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︎The Image and Its Representation

December 2015

Instructor: Dora-Epstein Jones
TA: Patrick Geske

The convention of architectural drawing has been established well before the middle ages, and the purpose of the drawing has continuously been developed in various ways. The concept of the technical drawing began even before paper was invented, where “architects and master masons were able to design in their heads”. (Ackerman 31) The drawing has taken the form as orthographic projection, then evolved to become perspectival projection during the Renaissance. Hand-drafted drawings since dominated the field of architecture and were crucial to the architect for both the conception of a building, and the approach to a project. The progression of the architectural drawing eventually outgrows itself, and post-modernist architects like Peter Eisenman questioned the possibilities of the drawing and utilized it as a generative tool, which was eventually taken over by the invention of computer-aided modelling in the twenty-first century.

Perez-Gomez writes “since the Renaissance, descriptive geometry has become a generative architectural idea and a systematic representation of production. CAD’s precision is the apotheosis of this trajectory.” (Gomez 217) The convention of drawing to architecture has been developed into representation of computer-aided design in the 21st century. The method of computational representation, however, still uses the descriptive geometry system Alberti invented in the 1400s. One could therefore argue that the widely adapted approach of three-dimensional modelling may not be as “three-dimensional” as it claims.

“Since the inception of Western architecture in classical Greece”, writes Alberto Pérez-Gómez, “the architect has not ‘made’ buildings, rather he has made the mediating artifacts that make significant buildings possible. These artifacts - from words, to many kinds of inscriptions and drawings, to full-scale mock-ups have changed throughout history.” (Gomez 218) Before they were regulated and standardized, architectural drawings existed anywhere from being an idea, to a rough sketch of dirt, to scribbles on a tiny piece of parchment. “Prior to the Renaissance, architectural drawings were rare [...] In the Middle Ages, architects did not conceive of a whole building and the very notion of scale was unknown. Gothic architecture, the most ‘theoretical’ of all medieval building practices, was fundamentally a constructive practice, operating through well established traditions and geometric rules that could be applied directly on site.” (Gomez 219)

As the western society progressed into the Renaissance, “the habit of drawing was becoming more widespread in the end of the thirteenth century.” (Starkey 74) The purpose of the drawing has been slowly moving into a more developed, definitive state were “the relationship between architectural drawings and the buildings they describe should be considered with greater care than has been customary.” (Gomez 219) The orthographic drawing emerged in the thirteenth century where the master masons like Villard de Honnecourt began sketching drawings that conveyed elements in a view that only existed in parallel two-dimensions, and impossible to be seen by the human eye.

Although deemed abstract at the time, the rise of orthographic drawings advanced the construction of buildings. The drawing provided exact dimensions in parallel view, and began to document crucial information to builders such as scale, dimensions and measurements. In contrast to the dimensional drawing, “Pre-Renaissance drawing had no intentions of fulfilling expectations and respond to the reading ability of the viewer. That’s why they weren’t conservative and resistant to significant change.” (Ackerman 61)

“Unquestionably, however, it is during the fifteenth century that architecture came to be understood as a liberal art, and architectural ideas were thereby increasingly conceived as geometrical lineamenti, as bi-dimensional, orthogonal projections.” (Gomez 219) Deep into the Renaissance period the architectural drawing has been very much adapted, and began to transform into a tool to address architectural ideas. The method of orthogonal and perspectival projection were utilized by architects as a way to explore the potential of an architectural concept. The purpose of the drawing, at this point, has been turned into a machine that produces variations of itself.

The method of utilizing the architectural drawing as a generative tool has developed all the way into Modernism, combined with descriptive geometry where it adapted to become the architectural diagram. The drawing became so detached from its origin, “artists since Piranesi and Ingres have explored that distance, the ‘delay’, or ‘fourth dimension’ in Marcel Duchamp’s terms, between reality and the appearance of the world [...] twentieth century architects, inducing Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Antoni Gaudi or John Hejduk, have used projections not as technical manipulations, but to discover something at once original and recognizable. These well-known architects have engaged the dark space ‘between’ dimensions in a work that privileges the process and is confident of the ability of the architect to ‘discover’, through embodied work, significant tactics for the production of a compassionate architecture.” (Gomez 224)

The diagrammatic use of the drawing peaked when post-modernist architects like Peter Eisenman questioned the possibilities of the drawing and utilized it as a generative tool. Methods of representation has been fully explored and developed into the diagram. In the middle of the 90s, post-modernism took a turn when Gilles Deleuze introduced the diagrammatic concept of field and iterations. Deleuze proposed diagram as a method to outline possibilities of fact through iterations, and celebrated the mechanical process of doing so which in turn made computers the center of discussion in architecture. Computer-aided designs has since been nondetachable from architecture, and the field have turned to three-dimensional modelling which is capable of accurately displaying the entire design of the building without physical constraints. It was widely believed that CAD will eventually replace, if not kill the convention of drawing.

On the subject of computer-aided design, Perez-Gomez writes, “since the Renaissance, descriptive geometry has become a generative architectural idea and a systematic representation of production. CAD’s precision is the apotheosis of this trajectory.” (Gomez 217) Perez-Gomez brings up an interesting point on the method of representation in CAD. He continues to state, “the tyranny of computer graphics is even more systematic than any other tool of representation in its rigorous establishment of a homogeneous space and its inability to combine different structures of reference.” (Gomez 224) CAD software may have revolutionized the methods of design in the 21st century, but at its core the three-dimensional model itself is represented through a system of descriptive geometry that is the same as the one Leon Battista Alberti invented in the 15th century.
Although there has been a shift in the conventional two dimensional drawing to three dimensional architecture into conceptual drawing (that is representation) and computer-aided design, the process is still incomplete. Alberti’s system may have been adapted into a coded software and given a familiar interface for the ease of understanding, but it still utilizes the same logic of descriptive geometry which has transcended over 600 years; and this method of drawing/representation continues to prevail because humans, to this date, are still unable to fully control computational data in a true three-dimensional space.

There is a fundamental difference between seeing a physical, three-dimensional model and its representation through a screen. To put it in context, Anne Friedberg briefly discusses the issue of experiential reality versus images represented through a screen in her book “The virtual window”. In the conclusion after she explores the meaning of frame from Descrate’s window to Virilio’s screen, Friedberg quotes the writer A. M. Homes in the New York Times on 9/11, “I see the plane, and I see the plane crash into the building. I see the buildings burn, and I see the buildings fall down. I see imagery that until now did not exist in reality, only in the fiction of film. Seeing it with your own eyes, in real time-not on a screen, not protected by the frame of a television set, not in the communal darkness of a movie theater-seeing it like this is irreconcilable, like a hallucination, a psychotic break.” (Friedberg 246) Our society has developed a sense of doubt when presented with matter that claims to be “real” or genuine in the digital age. The art of deceiving (visual effects) is valued and sought after in the film industry - even footages shown on reputable news networks can be doctored - there is no longer a way to identify authenticity through content shown on the screen. Gomez shares a similar view with Friedberg and argues that “the issue, perhaps the hope, in our post-historical, post-literate culture, is to avoid delusion through electronic media and simulation, the pitfalls of further reductive, non-participarory representation.” (Gomez 224)

One could argue that the computer screen ultimately flattens the three-dimensional image and that it will never truly be “three-dimensional” if one models through the monitor. The way the computer constructs a three dimension model is delivered to the user through a flat-screen monitor. Even though CAD software allows the user to switch between orthogonal , axonometric and perspective views, the image will always be flattened and the user ceases to perceive a sense of depth on the screen. There is a fundamental difference between looking at a form in the software through a certain “viewport” on screen and looking at a physical model of the same form positioned in the same view in the real world. The physically constructed model possesses a dimensionality the virtual platform is unable to recreate. To effectively simulate the perception of space on screen one requires an element of distinguishment.

Duration is an element that is often used, in the sense that a period of time is added to the form to display depth. This includes understanding the form through rotating it within a period of time, or animating the movement of a third party - an imaginary user - interacting with the form (touching, path of travel etc.) The flattened on-screen model is only understood in relation to the frame before and the frame after, as if the modelling experience on a computer becomes a motion picture (story). Once the connection of frames is broken from the screen and the element of distinguishment exits, depth is lost and the surfaces of the model recedes back into its usual, two-dimensional abstraction of lines.

Perhaps until a Silicon Valley startup develops a fully-functional hologram, a true three-dimensional method of representation could not exist. Yet it does not necessarily indicate that there are no current methods of three-dimensional representation. Apart from physical modelling and the construction of an actual building, 3D printing is closest to the concept of direct representation in three-dimensions. It is, however, still seen as a prototyping method of reproduction, and therefore cannot be categorized as a mature method of three-dimensional representation. When 3D printing grows to become as popular ink-jet printers, “or perhaps, as films like ExistenZ, and The Matrix [...], then the screen may dissolve; images and data will be “uploaded” directly, bypassing the eye and the optics of vision. This new circuitry takes us beyond and through the window, a defenestration that has new risks and pleasures. In this vision, the “age of windows” - and by extension, the age of screens - has reached its end.” (Friedberg 245)

Rhino 5.0 Viewport Capture (Shaded Display Mode)

3D Powder Print (50mm, ISO 320, 1/2000, f/4.5)

1. Ackerman, James S. “The Origins of Architectural Drawing in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.” Origins, Imitations, Conventions: Representation in the Visual Arts. N.p.: MIT P, 2001. 27-65. Print. Branner, Robert. “Villard de Honnecourt, Reims, and the Origin of Gothic Architectural Drawing.”
2. Pérez-Gómez, Alberto. Questions of representation: the poetic origin of architecture. 2005. Architectural Research Quarterly, 9, pp 217-225. Print.
3. Frascari, Marco, Jonathan Hale, and Bradley Starkey. From Models to Drawings: Imagination and Representation in Architecture. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

4. Friedberg, Anne. The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2006. Print.December 2015