Instrumental Lines and Productive Paths

Mapping of bee movements on the site + emergent site plan, responding to specific environmental conditions. Student work from Architectural Design 5, ARC 3320, Fall 2009. Instructor: Bradley Walters.

The territories of contemporary cultural production are marked by those at the extremes. On the one hand, we find a sustained fascination with celebrity and stardom; on the other is an enduring pursuit of the commonplace and/or normative. While seeking the extraordinary, it is often the anonymity of the everyday—the automobile, big-box retailer, or matching homes—that brings comfort or solace. The competing processes of individuation and anonymity often merge and intertwine, becoming distinct only at their most extreme. We often occupy a marginal condition, oscillating between the roles of sender and receiver, leader and follower, actor and spectator.

In artistic production, we find similar territories. Current strategies typically displace the authorial in favor of the performative and/or instrumental. We see this in particular through the marked pursuit of parametric design tools in schools of architecture. These tools allow for the hand of the maker to disappear behind sophisticated mathematical equations; input and output are disassociated and distanced. The process creates novel fields and forms, embedded with logic (and occasionally meaning). The work is valued precisely for its capacity to become both unique and ubiquitous. It is at once the rule and the result.

For some amongst us, the drawing is a self-indulgent and willful artifact of another age. It is seen as something constructed of and by the singular individual, and it reifies the omniscient position of its maker and his/her privileged points of view. For others, drawing is less noun and more verb; it suggests a process of looking, seeing, and/or thinking through its making. Drawing in this way is focused on the process of its own conception, with somewhat less emphasis on visual stills or resultants. The parametric equations of digital models, at a certain level, can be understood as one particular case of this more broadly defined process. And like its newer digital progeny, drawings can inscribe within themselves logic, methodology, and meaning while camouflaging the various modes of their own fabrication. Serving as both a tool for analysis and one of synthesis, drawings can be shaped by the instructions, intent, and meaning embedded within them.

The drawing is challenged to do more than describe an isolated frame of the thinking process, however. It is not enough to provide one still image, excerpted and culled from many. But rather, I would suggest that the drawing has the unique possibility of becoming many frames, many multiple and competing narratives, of which and within which architecture can be constructed.

This paper is fundamentally interested in drawing as an indeterminate and intermediary field, both foreground and background, figure and ground. I am interested in considering its instrumental role without overly romancing its craft. As a particular case study, this paper considers strategies for occupation of variable landscapes, biological processes, and local ecologies. It engages drawing as a principal process of analysis and invention, where both field and figure are pursued within changing temporal conditions.

This paper was presented at the Biannual Conference of the Design Communication Association in Bozeman, Montana on 10 September 2010.  It was subsequently included in the referred proceedings of the conference.

For the detailed conference schedule, see