Drawing Space

Urban analysis of New York: A hyper-mediated space of network and flows. Image: Student work from Architectural Design 7, ARC 4322, Fall 2010. Instructor: Bradley Walters.

To say that the drawing has been displaced by building may be all too self-evident, both in practice and in academia. It is interesting that the displacement has been caused in part by the success of architectural drawings, drawings that evolved from two-dimensional ideas to three-dimensional models to photorealistic renders to full-motion video. The drawing has become such a successful and necessary simulacra that today it is often read simply as building, eliminating the space that previously existed between the drawing and built work. New alternative or parallel realities can be rapidly constructed with such a degree of precision that fact and fiction are blurred, the (construct of the) drawing dissolves, and proposed constructions are read as built work, fait accompli.

This shift has occurred precisely at the moment that two- and three-dimensional drawing techniques have been subsumed by component-based information modeling. While relationships between components can always be identified, the data-driven model allows and encourages a certain emphasis on independent architectural objects: walls, floors, columns, beams, door hardware, etc. The tools favor an approach that begins and ends with physical things, things that are deployed, repeated, arrayed, and/or collaged at the will of the designer, architect, or parametric operator.

The emphasis resides within the physical constructs and/or on the resultant operational pastiche rather than on the spaces shaped within and around them.

To be fair, it is always difficult to talk exclusively about either architectural objects or the spaces they define, since the experience of built work binds both aspects together. But this realization about built work can too quickly be transferred to digitally modeled and/or rendered constructs (which read as built work), with a similar de-emphasis on space as an issue, topic of concern, and/or a point of origin. It can be argued that it is the architectural object that matters, and that the architect and/or student of architecture should work to shape the thing itself such that it, in turn, can shape space.

In architectural curricula, it is becoming increasingly common to favor the physical and/or digital model in this way, assuming that through skillful manipulation of it, the space will become clear, meaningful, and/or functional. Unfortunately, the space is often seen as a resultant, occasionally well-developed but often merely residual, able to be bent, broken, stretched, and torqued at will.

As an alternative, however, it is possible to use drawing to probe and articulate space itself, absent any physical and/or digital constructs. This requires a type of operative drawing that allows for the drawing construct to offer some resistance to the will of the designer. Rather than drawing inert objects, the process involves equal parts animate and inanimate subjects. Drawings are built of lines that map movements, vectors, forces, and weight into space. They are occupied and motivated by a body or bodies in motion, each engaging their environment with fingers, toes, eyes, tongues, and ears. These drawings can allow for the graphic communication of haptic and experiential aspects of space by making visible that which is typically unseen and/or relegated to words. These apparitions can then haunt, inform, shape, and challenge the design process.

Drawing Space suggests the need for both drawings that describe a dense, fertile, and full space as well as the need for a space in the design process during which this thoughtful drawing may occur.

This work was presented at the 2012 Design Communication Association Bi-Annual Conference in Stillwater, Oklahoma, 21-24 October 2012 and included in the Conference Proceedings.

The full text of the paper is available here.