AAI Scribblings

Postby garethace » Sat Sep 27, 2003 1:45 pm

CAD perspectives (I feel) do a bad selling job - often they're so 'realistic' in the virtual sense, that their impact and cleverness falls flat and can even seem facile to the lay person.


I definetly do not intend making bad perspectives, if I know I can use a tool which cuts through the donkey work faster and better than anything I can do. I also believe that using computers to visualise Architecture has helped me to see the world around me, more clearly, to see Architecture, and therefore to improve my ability to draw it freehand if I wish. As with any good draughts person, it is more important what you do not draw, the parts of the paper you leave blank, as the lines you do make. Seeing Architecture through computer visualisation, has helped me to develop economy in my sketching, and be happy with a sketch sooner, rather than working it for hours, in a vain effort to make it deeply personal and deeply artistic in its own right. As someone who comes from an Artistic sketching background myself, a sketch is always a creation of love and care, like a poem, it becomes an end in itself. That is why I chose to stop sketching Architecture, and turn to something as artificial as a computer instead.

I envy those people doing architecture today, who never developed an emotional bond with the act of drawing - because it allows them to use sketching to design, rather than to express emotions through the strength of a line, the quiver of a wrist movement or the whites of the page, you did not touch. I tend to enjoy making very 'expressionistic, emotional, El Greco' types of representations of Architecture, which isn't about dealing with clients, but about producing Art. I hate it when people reject, my sketches of Architecture, because to me, personally it feels like they have no respect for my Art!

Neil Downes once told a story about the famous Neo-Impressionist Painter Cezanne, reputed by many art critics to be the 'father of Cubism'. How Cezanne was so sensitive about what he painted. If someone said it wasn't good he would get mad, and want to know why. If someone, said it was a good painter he would say, "So you didn't think I could paint like that eh!" :-)

I love computers, because at least someone else wrote the computer software that produced the image, therefore I am not attached emotionally to it. Therefore I can adjust the design, recover from bad criticism of an image or visual, and in the end, produce a better design for my client, and for myself as an Architect. I was sketching like an adult when I was barely a teenager - I grew up with that ability, like other teenagers grow up with U2 or Nirvana. When I hear this:

In one of your earlier posts you mentioned possiblity of thinking computers but perhaps we should be reminded that this is not the case yet- computers and they're programs are created by us, written and informed by humanity. Every project developed in this way is coloured by someone elses preconceived notions. So my objection to complete computer design is that intrinsicaly it must breed homogeneity.

I know that person was like most of the young people I did Architecture with in Bolton Street. Who never actually handled a pencil, or discovered the power of it, until they were in first year of an Architectural degree course! When ever I draw to this day, I become nervous, and my palms become wet - everything I am goes into the expression of the drawing, and hours fade away like they were seconds. So clearly sketching is not an option for me designing Architecture - to remain objective. That is why I hate Bolton Street's insistence that I need to sketch rather than using a computer to design.

Because for me, sketching is like plugging directly into a high voltage power line, when all I require is a few amps out of a socket in the wall! Electric guitar filling a stadium with mega-watts of sound, as oposed to an acoustic guitar filling a room full of melody. Why do people assume a pencil, is always like the acoustic guitar? For me it is the electric guitar, and the computer is more like an acoustic guitar!

This Article of mine, attempts to show what computers could offer the profession. But taking a tool like a computer and sitting in front of it constantly is no help. Architect's such as Tschumi, Holl, Mayne have brought it forward somewhat I believe. Since their theoretical foundations are based on how we see/experience the world around us, using such an artificial means to design it, isn't such a big draw back. However, digging deep into the phenomenonological way of designing architecture, is theoretical and harder work than most people are prepared to do, in order 'to design'.

I have spent a long, long time dealing with Architecture from the phenomenonological perspective, and I find the approach taken by Francis D.K. Ching, is far deeper and more complex, than his hand drawn sketching style would first tend to suggest. In fact, Francis D.K. Ching is often the 'Basic Architectural design guide' using by 17-year-old students years ago like myself. But the theoretical bedrock of Ching's approach is to be found deep within the phenomenonological theory of design. Ching just added some pictures and made something very complex 'appear simple'. Which is not in fact the case here.

All were more or less identical in terms of critical elements, broad appearance and layout yet the end result from these predetermined forms were quite different from one another.


Be very careful here, as I discussed in this thread people related to the world around them very differently in the old days. It was pedestrian transport generally, or horses which could navigate the narrow medieval ramps and streets. Look at some of the knight's templar complex's, which are wonderful piece of architecture to experience, but were the equivalent of a US airbase, and munitions store for a Desert Storm today.

Nowadays, peoples' only relationship with space is either by (1)Cars or (2)Movies or (3)Internet. It is nice to think of the Washington monument 'out there' or Mogadisu (Black Hawk Down) 'out there' as places were great movie battles happen. Or the fantasy world's created by Steven Spielberg in the movie AI. But as Tschumi rightly pointed out, Cinema did have a huge impact upon our perception of space and time. Le Corbusier, introduced things equivalent to medieval narrow ramped streets into his slab buildings. So does Meier and Holl nowadays. Louis Kahn worked hard to introduce back elements of the Knight's templar kind of ancient Architecture back into modernism. Materials like stone, natural daylighting, a feeling of history and time.

In many ways predetermination is a virtue.I t takes the hard and sometimes pointless (re-inventing the wheel) work out of conceptualisation and focusses effort upon the real business of detailing, spatial juxtaposition and the always ephemeral 'quality' .

For example - I'm convinced it would be possible and perhaps interesting to make great architecture out of such a predetermined form as the semi detached, tile pitched house - of course it would take an enormous amount of effort - that was really the great strength of Grainne Hassetts Coill Dubh Credit Union - taking teh 70's bungalow, turning it on its head and making it into a recognisably desirable architectural model.


Now you are really sucking diesel James. But you see Ching's own approach was to look at simple spaces, simple architecture and analyse the conditions that made it exceptional. Natural Light, colour, texture, shadows, proportions, openings, views, circulation... most young architects are not encouraged to define themselve adequately in relationship to all of that. Because it is exceptionally hard work. What are the qualities that might turn simple boxes, or even bungalows into really nice Architectural experiences. One has to know the rules very well first, in order to break them. A lot of Kahn's houses can be described very simply from a formal point of view. But he managed to get so much return from light, views and openings, that the Architecture rises above itself completely. Not many Architects I know can just pull that off as convincingly.

This Article of mine, attempts to encourage myself and other Architects to study these ingredients better.

I would be a big critic of Tom Power but that has been one of his strengths - looking for the magical in the ordinary.


And Tom would say himself, he does know when the Architecture is baked, which would suggest he spent a large portion of his time, learning to use the correct ingredients. Arnie Williams is a guy who writes for Cadence magazine, and has some interesting things to say.

Brian O' Hanlon.
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Postby garethace » Sat Sep 27, 2003 2:24 pm

Thought you guys may enjoy this article:

Tom Mayne, Prince of Progressive Architecture

The Prince of paper architecture says:

The power of the school is that it exists and interacts every day with students and teachers, and an entire educational system. "Architecture can't just be on paper," Mayne says. "You have to build. That's what makes us architects."


But his old buddies in UCLA don't like him 'turning like this'.

"Spoken like a true betrayer of his kind," replies Sylvia Lavin, chair of architecture at UCLA. "That just makes me want to kill Thom. You can print that--and I am a huge supporter of Thom and always have been." She says that Mayne spent most of his career in a more academic context. "For him to then turn and call the group of which he was a member five minutes ago irrelevant because they haven't attained his level of success is offensive," she says. "What is it that is so alluring about the world of businessmen and money and international fame that requires somebody like Thom to abandon the roots and the structure--the academy and its conversations--that made it possible for him to do what he's doing? Is architecture only determined by how many square feet the project is or by how big the budget is?"


But it looks as if the 58-year old Mayne, is now beginning to enjoy the relationship with his clients a lot more too:

Mayne's biggest fan among his clients is, surprisingly, U.S. district judge Michael Hogan, the point man on the design for a federal courthouse in Eugene, Oregon, which will be finished in 2005. Hogan says he's never met anyone like Mayne in his life. "I was not pleased about Thom's selection," he admits. "Any federal judge, their idea of a courthouse is the Supreme Court. I read descriptions of Thom like 'the bad boy of L.A. architecture.'" Hogan, an evangelical Christian, says one of his first meetings with Mayne did not go well. "He said he was a loyal proponent of the extreme opposition to everything I believe in," he says, adding that Mayne told him anyone with faith "is not sane. He did it with such enthusiasm and relish; he was needling and provoking."
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State of the Nation. . .

Postby garethace » Mon Sep 29, 2003 5:04 pm

With flashbacks to the Glenn Murcutt lecture in Bolton Street DIT last year, I read this very informative account of an evening lecture at Columbia University! :-)

Taking pity, it would grant three wishes, one for each: a limitless supply of disposable logic for the idle generation of form (Lynn), a probe to uncloak the mysteries of taste (Zaha), and a path through geometry to the unspeakable name of God (Libeskind).


Come and sample the atmosphere, of the changing of the guard at Columbia University. Like some platonic shifting of subterranean earth masses, the tremors will be felt in Ireland I am sure.

Brian O' Hanlon.
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Postby what? » Tue Sep 30, 2003 12:14 pm

Thanks for the article links garethace, interesting stuff,
i'd just like to clarify myself in relation to replys (mostly james's) to my last post. when i said that architecture never has a pre-determined answer i didnt mean always in the grander scale of things. i am not some naieve little deconstructivist junkie who thinks the only good things are the radically new and explorative. as james rightly pointed out, subtleties and sophistication in design can be just as powerful and more moving than in-your-face formal gymnastics. however, the strength that these small changes can bring just show to what level architecture is truly undetermined. what i was referring to is a mechanical (or digital) level of pre-determinance that would be enacted by computers should we give the designing power to them. vive la difference, to whatever extent. we dont always have to re-invent the wheel often it is not necessary, or desirable. but Paladio, Bruneleschi etc were innovators not immitators. i firmly believe our skill as architects lies in our intelligence, built on a balance of knowledge,experience, questioning and confidence.

on the issue of computers being nothing more than a drafting/weak presentation tool, i would have to disagree with this one. (possibly depending on the formal complexity of the work) 3d modelling capabilities are invaluable during early design stages. spatialities, sequences, lighting, etc can be tested with quite a high level of accuracy which previously would only have been possible by building a costly large scale physical model. aswell as this, computer programmes are capable of instatly showing large structural/ economic/ energy use implications of design changes. there are a multitude of other uses for the computer in the early design process which we wont get into here.

as a presentation tool i would agree that many CG images are flat and unimaganitive looking. but i feel this is the fault of the creators of these images rather than the method used. i will assume however that your mind's image of a CG presentation and mine are quite different, james. The difference in the level of sophistication in corporate, estate agent renders and some of the more thoughtful presentation methods using computers is vast. Garethace speaks of the weight of a line and quiver of a wrist, i would be so bold as to say that there are just as many (yet different) subtleties possible in a computer visualisation as in a hand drawing (im really going to get it for that one!)

anyway have to go now
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Postby garethace » Tue Sep 30, 2003 1:03 pm

The singer/musician Paul Brady said in a documentary last night on RTE what?, that people like a song, particularly when they sense you have taken a risk to do it. The audience can likewise sense when you have decided not to take that risk, and it is obvious in the resception from the audience. So I guess Architecture has its audience too, everyday, and people sense when the composer has played things safe.

as a presentation tool i would agree that many CG images are flat and unimaganitive looking. but i feel this is the fault of the creators of these images rather than the method used.


Zaha Hadid and Tom Mayne, have chosen to use computers as a tool yes. But you will notice, their computers images aren't really 100% finished, commercially saleable images. To waste ones time producing good images is a waste of time. I don't actually agree with showing Computer generated high quality stuff to clients. Even though I theoretised on this a lot. I would much prefer to see Architects using bland, flat looking computer models to investigate the geometry, construction and detailing of buildings amongst other architects, technicians and structural engineers.

There is a good article here, on how watercolours are still used in preference over computers, to visualise things like glass skyscrapers in the States, where the light and atmoshphere is constantly changing. Meaning that a freeze-frame computer generated still, will always fail. Hertzog and De Meuron always use a certain photographer, who digitally alters his images, to capture a little bit of that changing quality of their building's skins at night, rainy weather etc.

Steven Holls web site, has quite a few computer generated images, which aren't inch-perfect, but say something about the Architecture. Likewise the OMAs etc, are working in digital, and hand-drawn/digital hybrids. There are some nice hybrids here too, using sketch up software.

Often the computer model is cheaper, and quicker as you have said. But also, having made a really nice physical model of a building you cannot just rip it up again, without going to a serious amount of trouble, expense and time, which you simply don't have. With computers, it is sometimes just possible to produce things, by the shere fact alone, it is so easy to edit a wall or opening or position of a door or column. We as a profession are still thinking in terms of physical cardboard models, and haven't gotten used to the flexibility of digital modelling as yet.

Eamon O' Doherty used always say in Bolton Street, use butter paper, it costs you nothing. If it isn't right, crumple it up and throw it in the bin. That is the kind of attitude that needs to be cultivated with computer models - not the current 'precious' attitude that has filtered down from commercial visualisation, who regularly charge thousand per one good A3 image. Sure the Architects images might not be presentation material, but the would be cheap, easy and edit-able, or rubbish-able. Allowing the Architect to probe, and solve problems, not to set them in stone.

I don't like that attitude, that everytime I sit down in front of a highend desktop system, with a sophisticated solid modeller like Z or VIZ, that my sole object is to produce a saleable 'WOW' image. Unfortunately that is how computer modelling is used now, and it is very similar to the old Butter Paper/Tracing Paper and Ink argument.

Most older architects, who aren't familiar with computerisation do not understand that computer models are easy to change. And therefore are extremely reluctant to use computer modeling as a tool to generate, edit and change models on the fly. They think it would be just far too time and technically demanding for the limited word processing skills of their CAD using Architects. Another thing is having the raw computing power on your desk, and a stable system/software too. My learning to see essay does outline some of the demands placed upon an Architect using a computer to design today. Just like supercomputers are used to crack the great mathematical problems today, require a good formula to be written in the form of a program. The solving of Architectural problems via a computer requires the Architect to input information, based upon real world phenomena. While the computer is a way to visualize the world more realistically, it also requires us to observe the world more clearly too.

Architects who aren't qualified enough with computers to pass any judgements, or suggest their proper usage, include most Architects from the age of 30 upwards, and all the ones who read Foreign Office Arch websites and Greg Lynn. There is nothing worse than good architects who can design brilliantly, and feel that gives them the right to talk as if they knew something about computers - leave computers to computer geeks like me, and the younger generations growing up. Watching 40 something well-educated, open minded, skilled Architects trying to sound computer-savy, is like seeing your Dad turn up to the rave party. And perhaps, if I ever learn enough about design, I can share with you all, how Architects could use computers. You need to spend a long time, not doing Architecture at all, and just doing computer modelling, to properly learn what a computer is and does. But Architects don't have that opportunity - they need to look back in 10 years time on what they built/designed.

By far the most computer-advanced architectural practice in the world, Frank Gehry makes thousands of little study physical models on every project. And just photographs them every day, so that if the design team loses their way, they just track back through the archives of model photography, to find where they lost the design a bit. With computer models, dating and archiving of models should be done too. With Architectural technicians doing most of the computer modelling in practice nowadays, the architectural technicians don't even hold onto a week old version of a digital model - they constantly edit and change the same model - and end up with 'one file'.

The discussion here is all around these topics. I find it telling that in the 1960s, an engineer at Intel predicted something called Moore’s Law: That transistor counts and therefore computing muscle also would double every one and a half years. While this law has held true ever since the 1960s, Architectural projects move at a far slower pace altogether.

Personally I found it much easier to remain objective about design problems by using a computer. Because I understood computer models to be designed to be edited and changed. And therefore not really precious and ‘once-off’ like a physical model can be. It is hardly the fault of computer Architectural design advocates like myself, that computers are used precisely for the kind of highly-ray-traced images we are seeing now. I can take my computer model and delete half of it, like editing a word document, or cut it in half in seconds. Surely that must count for something?

I can also save several different versions of a design in computer model format, which would be difficult to do using physical models in most architectural practices in Ireland. But definetly, the disadvantage of the computer model, in giving you the ability to see the reality of a building, is having to observe reality more closely as a result. Learning to see.

Brian O' Hanlon.
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Postby garethace » Tue Sep 30, 2003 3:29 pm

Low profile buildings are something I always found hard to tackle, but using computers this particular French Architect, brought his original very naive and paper architecture looking sketches up to something more buildable. I mean, that Travelling Scholarship to design an Olympic Swimming Pool down in the Docklands a few years ago, for instance was a nightmare to conceptualise using physical models and drawings alone. And the design problem, represents a really useful way to make use of a computer, in my very humble opinion. Most younger firms and individuals would be totally excluded from competitions, based on the costs of doing good physical models of things like this. The Calatravas and Pianos with their expert workshop model builders would command a huge advantage. At least the computer allows smaller guys a chance in large competitions like this. I mean, you can always do a couple of digital models first, and then commission a final physical model at the end, if you are confident that your design has reached that stage. Calatrava of course, can afford to commission a fabulous physical model and then start to redesign the whole scheme again! :-)

Brian O' Hanlon.

Here is that French Architects visualisation in computers.

sketch 1 2 3

Elevation 1 2 3

Plan 1

External perspective 1 2 3

Structure 2

sectional model 1
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