Active Lines: Liminal Marks + Material Constructions

Hybrid drawing. Image: Student work from Architectural Design 7, ARC 4322, Fall 2009. Instructor: Bradley Walters.

The planning and development of large-scale projects requires investors to commit significant capital resources to their realization. These commitments are made based on the promise of a return, whether it is in the form of financial gain, an icon in one’s name, or both. The promises are materialized in words, numbers, and in visual documents: maps, charts, and drawings.

Architectural presentations and representations play a significant role in the design and construction process. They serve instrumental roles in the development of ideas, the coordination of systems, and in the modeling of performance. More broadly, graphic constructions plot parking requirements, building efficiencies, critical path schedules, and investor return-on-investment. They are the lightning rods and peace pipes in negotiations with planning and zoning officials, community organizations, and neighbors. They are legal exhibits in interactions with investment funds, buyers, and prospective tenants. And for contractors and tradespeople, they are the “design intent,” an intent that is calibrated in units of area and volume and qualified through measurable performance criteria.

Non-verbal line- and tone-based visual constructions deployed throughout the design and documentation processes are critical in facilitating the communication and understanding of design. They exist on paper, digital screens, and increasingly on hand-held devices. They are still images, animations, surfaces, objects, parts, and components. They are tagged, interactively linked, and database-driven.

The process of materializing ideas through visual constructions is central to the work of architects and designers. With large-scale projects, these visual constructions bridge between isolated full-scale material samples or mock-ups and the complete construction. They allow for the mind to inhabit and understand spaces that do not yet exist.

This paper probes the visual construction as a locus of place-making and story-telling that is critical in the development of large-scale projects. Particular emphasis is placed on the residual traces and imprints that representations leave on the design process and the architectural object. Using examples from studio work, recent competition submissions, and practice, it studies the liminal condition where materiality emerges from and is embedded with motivating data, ideas, and narrative.

“Active Lines: Liminal Marks + Material Constructions” was presented at the 10th European Architectural Envisioning Association (EAEA) Conference held at TU Delft in Delft, the Netherlands, 15 November 2011.  An abridged version of the presentation was published as Walters, Bradley.  “Active Lines: Liminal Marks + Material Constructions.” Proceedings of the 2011 European Architectural Envisioning Association (EAEA) Conference.  Delft, the Netherlands: TU Delft, 2011, 213-220. (c) 2011 EAEA.