How we can learn to see

How we can learn to see

Postby garethace » Fri Aug 29, 2003 8:38 pm

Thankyou to all the posters in previous threads for giving me so much of your generous time, and helping me to see things differently from an Architects point of view. Apologises for having raised a few tempers perhaps, but hopefully it will make for an attractive debating focus here. So I leave this thread entirely open to whatever young students, practicing architects, urbanists, specialists and generalist would care to comment.

To maintain a critical balance imagine Architecture as the pivot point, and artificial world of information technology tools/software on one side with the real world around on the other side. Like the Ying and Yang symbol for instance.

People studying 3DS MAX/VIZ, even though dealing with something very artificial such as a computer programme, actually become quite observant of the real world around them. Since the first rule in developing a skill at visualisation is to work from reality to begin with.

3DS MAX/VIZ on the one hand empowers the designer to VIZualise the problem/solution in a very comprehensive way indeed. But it demands of the user of the software, to look at the real world around them more deeply than ever before.

For instance, if i model a whole town in 3DS VIZ, it requires me to think about that environment from a point of view of people walking, cycling, busing, using light-rail, cars and so on. It requires me to understand urban density, street level activity and a whole lot of other things, perhaps even outside the traditional skill-set of the architect.

If I wanted to design a building or a house even, using a computer generated 3-dimensional model - I should perhaps also define the experience of moving through space and time, from the point of view of a participant in the architecture. Francis D.K. Ching has an excellent chapter about Circulation in his famous book.

While studying computer generated 3D modelling, I managed to stumble across a new facit of architecture and space - that of natural light. I began to look particularly at Architects who used the element of natural light in their spaces. This includes a vast array of architects from Louis Kahn, to Richard Meier to Tadao Ando.

Indeed, by using a completely artificial software, i suddenly became more aware of an element that was entirely natural. But was something I had never before considered such an important element of architectural design. I also began to notice the views through the openings made by architects, and how each architect has their own very characteristic approach to openings.

When I began to try to design using something as artificial as a computer programme like 3DS VIZ. Almost one of the first lessons it taught me, was to pay exact attention to the width of a doorway, the height of a table, the size of a window - and how much small variations can often transform a design.

How far is 60 metres, how long does it take to walk that distance. Because in 3DS VIZ, 60 metres often can look exactly the same distance as 10 metres, if you are not careful. In other words, there despite the inherent artificiality of computer software, as some people are suspicious of - it always requires you to start from someplace in the real world.

I noticed how small people are really - they really become dwarfed by spaces, even internal spaces. Yet how dynamic in nature people are, how much distance they can cover in shere miles during an average weeks work/living/play. I began to notice how certain dimensions of people are measured in miles, while other in millimeters, others in metres.

Depending upon how 'dynamic' the activity was - sitting down at home, driving to work, going for a walk in the evening. I could continue on about how much more 'reality' I am aware of, as a result of using an artificial piece of technology, but I think you all have gotten the idea by now!

I suppose, when one decides to use technology, one has to counter-balance this endeavour with something equally as strong on the 'real' end of the equation. If artificial software based technology is not 'counter-balanced' properly - then there are problems.

The funny thing is, drawing is supposed to 'make' architects look at reality too, and to study it in exactly the same way. Any particular skill, means or tool out there that empowers the designer to VIZualise, demands you to carefully observe the world around you. The behaviour of people is indeed interesting to watch - but as architects, we need something initially 'to make us see' as it were.

The A1 sheet of drawings is the mainstay, there is no doubt about that. Over the centuries Architects have become experts at dealing with A1 drawings. And I predict, will also become experts at using computer 3D models. I only hope that the same routine of using drawing to make one see the world around us, is applied to the use of the 3D computer model.

In my first job is was fired before I even started, because I couldn't use a computer. When I was in my second job I had to build a 3D computer model of a town, or else be fired. I managed to stay alot longer in my third job, because I was better at making 3D computer models. However, in all of that time 1998-2003. I did struggle to make computer 3D modelling as much a 'looking and seeing' behaviour as mouse-clicking/windows interface using.

Initially, I was very much the IT technician, simply punching in the numbers correctly, taking greater care than an Architect would bother to - and therefore getting this kind of work. However, in time, it became less passive, and more a way to actively learn/see. Something similar to what Ching describes in his book about Drawing for Architects. However, it did take 5 years roughly spending time with computers, and getting used to the notion of digital 'files' etc - for me to feel comfortable with these highly artificial systems/tools.

To be able to jump from reality/artificiality in a short space of time. I learned to draw in fact, when I was very, very young indeed - by the age of 13 I was drawing much like an adult would -seeing the world in perspective, rather than flat etc. I had trained my brain to see geometric form and volumes in space. Supposedly useful skills to become an Architect - dambed if I know! :-)

Obviously, the sketchbook will never be entirely replaced by 3D computer modelling, because one is designed to be portable, while the other isn't! 2D drawings and A1 sheets are going to remain the staple diet of Architects for the future - but I believe the 3D computer model to be a nice addition too - and just like sketching is best used for 'learning to see'.

So as I have tried to explain, that a 'specialist activity' such as using a computer programme - one often completely shoved down the throats of young people nowadays, simply because they are 'good at computers' - that very same 'specialist activity' of 3D computer modelling viewed in such a negative way by the profession, can in fact become a very positive way to grow as an Architect.

I like to remind myself now, though, since i am using computers since 1998/99 roughly - that some files i have now are 1999 date on them!!!! Even though that file date is like 10 systems back, not even counting all the different systems i have used in colleges, workplaces, web cafes i frequented on hols/living away from home etc, etc.

That the data contained in a 1999 file, is still just a useful to me today - and sometimes moreso than it was in 1999. Somehow 1999 data is much more memorable than 1999 hardware! And i assume that is the way it will always be. So computer file formats, as a means of storage, and archiving is much more attractive/fascinating to me, rather than the systems which generated that file - somehow the systems have returned to being invisible to me - just like it was in the beginning.

Somehow, that feels strangely right....

Not my area of expertise but this article here, describes how young students can use Revit computer software to learn to see the economic aspects of a building project more... Students Learn with Integrated Building Modeling

by Ronald Filson, FAIA with Ron Nyren

http://www.architectureweek.com/2003/0827/tools_1-1.html

I hope this long speech provides at least some hope for AI and artificiality of computers.

The trick with anything is to be active rather than passive. And my own experience in many jobs etc, is that people are becoming treated like 'sleeping droids' in the whole greater scheme of things - architects, who are supposedly the greater thinkers, included.


Brian O'Hanlon, 29th Aug 2003.
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Re: How we can learn to see

Postby Héctor Corcín » Sun Aug 31, 2003 2:49 am

People studying 3DS MAX/VIZ, even though dealing with something very artificial such as a computer programme, actually become quite observant of the real world around them. Since the first rule in developing a skill at visualisation is to work from reality to begin with.


haha. Totally true. this really happens... and. then.. you think.. how could I model that? mmmm how beautiful colours of the sky.. it would be a spherical map? oh !!! what a good texture ! click ! photo. heh... oh no.... there are textures everywhere.... I need another compactflash.. hehe.....

sorry. will reply something later. I'm quite busy and a little fool right now hehe. I need to sleep a bit :)
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Look at the timescales. . .

Postby tec » Mon Sep 01, 2003 6:00 pm

I assume you are like me, a young body starting out in the profession, yeah? My Dad always said, not to rush life, it does sort itself out too you know.

This is what has happened where I work. Three new Architects in the office, just arrived and after about a month were given three new P4 Dell workstations. The rest of us were there for years begging to have a PC, and having to make the most of the grey/green/silver grey macs. I hate fact that my MAC is slow and awful, and with the right pc kit/software productivity could be improved by x amount. But I also have respect there are higher purposes at work here entirely, than me just trying to prove that I can be really high tech and clever about CAD/3D design or something.

The architectural firms, alot of them have been around for years, and are respected for their tradition in being involved in work that can sometimes take a whole generation to pass through the pipeline and become a reality. I guess when I have worked here for ten years or so, I may just know something about projects/timescales and the architectural profession. We should never just decide to judge computers in workplaces on mhz/mb. Computer systems do allow firmly established architectural practices to design masterplans, which will affect peoples lives on a completely different timescale to the computer systems lifespan. Where is a few mhz here or there, in relation to the longitude of the built environement? Architecture is primarily about peoples perception of the organisation/the space, the image, the economics.... higher goals than just mb/sec.

I would love to prove to guys here at work how intelligent I am at using new softwares, with high speed INtel chips etc, etc. But where is that in relation to the greater picture, that is the architect - the designer of the built environment? The computer system, whatever brand you put on it, is just a tool, and a means to a much greater end result. In business, waisting more than half a minute, arguing, brooding or otherwise feeling pissed off over who is using what system - is a major big sponge for soaking up the productivity energy/time of employees. For some unearthly reason, where MACs and PCs come together, and different versions, upgrades, softwares, Oses are present this situation is a nightmare to try and resolve. So you can just go grey yourself trying to sort out something which will never be sorted.

Computerisation is a big enough adjustment in itself, without adding even more obstacles to jump over, or trip on in my view. I am only finally coming of age myself, in my understanding of how professionals/relate to IT. It has never been easy though.

Best wishes.
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I guess that is true. . . .

Postby garethace » Mon Sep 01, 2003 6:24 pm

Considering how, a commission an architect i know was looking at back in the early 1990s, is only being fully realised today.

Considering that an Intel x86 60Mhz system running DOS, and AutoCAD version 1.0, was probably as much computing muscle one could hope to buy at that time - and a very pretty penny one would have to pay also - it does probably make us all wonder where things will get in another ten years or so.

I think, some of the designs on the drawings boards right now, are probably designed around a 10 year completition plan. You need not even talk about LUAS - Even dream houses which young people are getting 'visualised' in VIZ etc today, may not be built until a generation away. Still though it is nice to have the dreams etc. Programs about designing/building houses on Channel 4, BBC and RTE have ensured that design is a much bigger component of the process today.

So yeah, i think you have struck an important point there, how computer systems - given their exceptionally small product cycles relative to buildings, are often literally out-lived by the length of a design process.

While working in practice, i went from Playing Quake 1 to Quake 3 between 1999 to 2001. Back when i was still looking for the latest games etc. But the project at work, was still the same big project. I visited a large 50 person office in Dublin a few months ago and saw they were still on the same thing, they were doing in 1999, and alot of the 'visuals' on the web site, don't look terribly new either.

Cheers for the interesting observation - have to say, i could never see that quite so clearly before.
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Postby tec » Mon Sep 01, 2003 6:35 pm

A better direction for this thread about technology and architecture, would be as others suggested. What do you think will happen in ten years from now in computing?

Rather than merely being focussed upon what the technology is able to provide you now, as in 2003. Which might be very impressive, something tells me still at the back of my brain - this will all look old and stupid given a couple of more years.

Designs/buildings from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s are all studied carefully by architects nowadays - they do not age quite so much as computer systems. Perhaps this speaks of why Architects are so reluctant to invest more of their valuble time into understanding/partaking in the specialisation that is computing nowadays, and tomorrow.

Hell, i even know plenty of IT managers who have assumed totally managerial status now - instead of worrying what IT is doing at the moment. That is the natural progression for many people, whatever job they are in.
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Postby tec » Mon Sep 01, 2003 6:43 pm

delete.
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Background

Postby garethace » Mon Sep 01, 2003 6:49 pm

I cannot even imagine what computers must have looked like in the 1940s! :-)

Isn't that when the British first invented a computer of some sorts to decode messages during the war? Something made of bulbs and tubes, and bits of strings? :-) LOL

I heard the young ladies used to find it great for drying their underwear!

When one considers how far the technology has come since 1940s, I used to have lecturers in college which were that old! :-) And i am only 28.

If the computer evolves as much in the next 50 years as it has done in the last, i guess it is very, very, very hard to imagine how an architects office will look. And perhaps even a bit futile to try and imagine.

BTW, i think the Brits just broke up that old computer in 1945, so that the world wouldn't understand the scientific principles behind it. It wasn't until the 1960s i think, when Michael Ventris had finished working out Linear B, that the AA asked him to study how computers and architecture should combine.

There is a good book available about Ventris too.
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Puff Daddy thing

Postby tec » Mon Sep 01, 2003 6:55 pm

Personally i just think that computers are like an extension of the image at the moment - it is nice to be 'seen' to be catering for new technology and so on. These tech terms all roll off the tongue like the other architecture buzz words do.

Hopefully the dust will settle at some stage. It is rathering interesting how much publicity surrounded the IFSC and Docklands Development Authority back in the late nineties, yet, now is a much, much better time to go down around and to experience a little tiny fragment or two of that entire 'vision'.

IT is far from capable of capturing this entire vision for a complex project and timescale as yet.
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Postby garethace » Mon Sep 01, 2003 6:58 pm

Yeah i can remember seeing a computer generated flyover done of the Docklands back in 1999.

I remember my architect employer telling me to specialise in doing that sort of thing.
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Postby tec » Mon Sep 01, 2003 7:05 pm

Look at the seawolf submarines, or the Boeing airplanes - huge profit earners - it even took them ages to go from drawing boards to computerisation.

The major gain in computerisation of these things, is the shere number of individual components which have got to be engineered to specification. And how the smallest, tiniest piece can be the fatal flaw that makes an airplane fall out of the sky.

When you design things like airplanes, it makes perfect sense in my view to distribute/delegate the duties out to a machine, that just does what it is told, and makes less errors on the whole - unlike the human factors.

The web scares and insecurity on the web has been a big set back too though i think.
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Postby garethace » Mon Sep 01, 2003 7:18 pm

Find a task where the exceptional abilities of the computer excel in, and invest the time, money and effort into developing a computerised system for dealing with that.

I guess Frank O. Gehry, is a classic example of where computers really did make sense in practice. He is one of the few though, and as someone pointed out, Frank, ususally designs with physical models etc - computers are just something all of that design is 'fed' into.

Some stuff here too you might need to think about:

http://www.archiseek.com/content/showthread.php?threadid=2244

http://www.archiseek.com/content/showthread.php?threadid=2209

Some of the posters did come up with interesting viewpoints.
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Postby tec » Tue Sep 02, 2003 3:44 pm

I would say, i have to agree with the points raised by alot of other posters in those threads garethace. This function of an architect, 'finding the right people at the right time', is something is would like to deal with.

Yes, where i work, whenever the boss goes off on hols, gets sick, is busy out on site, the whole project can very quickly slide back into a state of total confusion in no time at all. That is because everyone else here, apart from the Architect (and we do have many, many in-house and outsourced specialists) is trained to do one task very well.

They are not trained as generalists - and are not used to leading from the front. While being very good from a supporting point of view. The partners here don't know squat about computers, but still, when they are around things just seem to get done easier, than if they were not here for whatever reason.

A problem now, is people moving, coming and going.

tec.

P.S. Like i have said, it is not only about getting the right people at the right time. It is not only an architect being so pressed for time on a short design schedule such as a competition entry, while doing normal jobs aswell.

Very often the architect has 10 long years to think about a project, and many specialists, experts, personalities, points of view etc, etc can dominate a project for short periods of time. Projects switch their direction quite often - and sometimes end up where they began, having exhausted many, many possiblities.

So the principal Architect tends to be the only person left at the end. You mentioned that book by Bryan Lawson, which i am indeed familiar with. Check out the chapter about Michael Wilford, where he talks about big corporate clients on large projects like Singapore University scheme.

The orginal person, who was so enthuasiastic about the project, who was on the board - refered to in that case as the 'client'. By the end of the project had vanished, and was replaced by somebody, alot less 'into' the thing, and alot less enthuasiastic about the project. So that made it exceptionally difficult for Wilford.

But in general Michael Wilford prefers to present many alternative schemes initially. Gets a clients to pick one, and from the very beginning feel ownership for the scheme that he/she/they have picked.

Steven Holl is also good at this i hear - the church of the seven latterns anecdote etc. I have seen jobs in my own experience where the site/client/brief changed almost every week for two whole years!!! Crazy.
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Postby garethace » Tue Sep 02, 2003 4:00 pm

Yeah, i know, i must re-visit those great chapters again in that Bryan Lawson book. I read it now two years ago - so there is probably alot of very relevant stuff there, to this topic of discussion.

I must admit though, in spite of the architects ingenious way of being a generalist, of getting people 'in' on things, at certain times, and of absorbing so many different viewpoints - i do still tend to find their strategies all rather based upon defense as oposed to offense.

I tend to think very offensively myself. And find it difficult to accept - that an architect may in fact spend a greater proportion of the day, worrying that some one of these 'specialists' is just going to put a spanner in the whole entire works.

I feel the training of architects, despite being very general-based, is also very defensively based. I mean, when i used to attend crits/studios in the college, most students harped on endlessly about having project hoped dashed etc. It was similar out in the real world in practices, except the younger architects were dealing with a wider variety of oponents - time always being one of the worst - and had found all sorts of ways to avoid problems.

I cannot imagine what architects would do if given a completely freedom to do what they liked on a project. I feel they would sit there in the middle of this beautiful perfect field with lots of nice trees and views, and beautiful sunlight. And just run around wildly looking for someone to scrap with!!!! :-) What is that?
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Postby tec » Tue Sep 02, 2003 4:10 pm

Probably a fair point - they are not used to getting a first round 'knock-out' though. A free reign, or a clear road straight to just having to deal with spaces, lighting, views to take advantage of the perfect site. Something always will happen in the mean time, either a planner, soil engineer, client, budget or some such other extremity will intervene to drag things out until that last 15th round.

The architect has to be like Ally, and the sweetest punch of all, is the one he never gave to George Foreman on the way down! :-) It is often quite like that actually, whoever tires out most, and gets hammered out of contention. Foreman made the fatal error of waisting all his strength early on in the fight, and that is architects nightmare situation too.
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Postby garethace » Tue Sep 02, 2003 7:42 pm

I guess one thing, the Bryan Lawson book may have dealt with better is regional variations of the architectural practice. In the States, Canada, England perhaps the idea of architectural practices with in-house experts/specialists is quite common. In Spain, even the relationship of Architect and client is very different to what it is in Ireland. I have heard that in America, the projects are designed/built on a completely different timescale to over here.

While projects might drag there butts in Europe, and architects tend to be laid back most of the time. Perhaps the visualisation profession, as a specialisation has grown up in America primarily, along with 3DS VIZ etc, for a very different model of how the architect works, designs a building and eventually builds it - since Architects regularly out-source alot more, and have all kinds of experts working for them.

In America, there are alot of places where you can do a five year course in Planning. And some Architects possess a degree in Planning and in Architecture. In Europe, it tends to be just the Architect and perhaps a few technicians if you are lucky. Everyone else is considered and opponent, and the respect for the planning profession here in Ireland is very little from the Architectural profession.

I have heard alot of English practices in particular employ in-house graphic designers to do web sites, and cg artists to do visualisation moreso nowadays. This move toward better relationships between various specialisations - and closer working relationships - is very slow here in Ireland.
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Postby garethace » Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:02 pm

Null
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Postby tec » Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:03 pm

Thankyou for the link:

Writing bids & proposals

http://www.cgarchitect.com/upclose/article7_DW.asp

When i see an article written like this one, i definetly can see how architects take specialist very seriously over in the States.
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