The Depth of Space: Perception and Syntax in Representation

The Manhattan Transcripts

The notion of design representation is complex, serious, and more important than has been acknowledged in contemporary research and scholarly writings. With the event of modern architecture, the perception of an image becomes part of a different system of thought: no longer, is an object related to the problem of representation or imitation; it becomes a mental construct.

Different representational modes allow distinctive opportunities for reading or transforming design ideas. Objects may be created that are not integral to the production of the building, yet are essential to the expression of ideas having to do with it. It is specifically the nature of the discourse with these objects that will determine the strength of the relation between them and the designer’s experience, skills, and perception.

“There can be no design action without representation”. 1

Thoughts and ideas must be represented if they are meant to be shared with others.

Zaha Hadid‘s Vision for Madrid, 1992

Architecture is produced in four registers: drawings, writing, model, and building. The production of each implies different problems concerning the question of representation. Let us focus on drawing and its critical reading. Pin pointing the various modes in which it operates, and how particular types of drawing participate in the mission of representation, to enable and limit vision. As Robin Evans has argued, when dealing with the issue of drawing as architectural representation, “Drawing in architecture is not done after nature but prior to construction; it is not so much produced by reflection on the reality outside drawing, as productive of a reality that will end up outside drawing”. [2]

Archigram‘s Walking City, 1964

Meaning that architects and students of architecture, who want to present ideas and not just transmit factual depictions of the buildings that they design, should offer pictorial narratives that tell the story of their designs. As Leone Battista Alberti, writes in his masterpiece, The Ten Books on Architecture:  “Representation can thus be thought of as the place of articulation between architectural practice and theory.” Hence, it is fundamental that in practice as well as in academia to exist an appreciation and understanding of the history and existing possibilities of modes or tools for representation and visualization.

Morphosis‘ Sixth Street Residence, 1988

Certainly, the first question to be asked is: what are representations? Are representations solid realities, objects which, once generated, have a life of their own regardless of their function as descriptions or replications of the ‘real’ thing? Primary, representations are necessary for the practice of architectural design. They take the form of drawings of many kinds, three-dimensional models, and nowadays, of course, a variety of digitally based images. However, many questions arise regarding the nature of architectural representations. What do they mean to the designer or to the eventual user or observer? How do designers interact with them as they design? Are they simply descriptive of the building to be built, or are they final products in their own right? Is the choice of representational form a matter of personal preference? What inspires the choice of representation modes and media? When and why are new types of representation introduced? Finally, there is the often-overlooked question of viewing representations. How are representations viewed and by whom? In fact, do we always have a way of knowing who the observer is or will be in the future? As makers of representations, do we know how the ‘other’ is likely to interpret our representations? Do we depend on worlds of shared notions, conventions, symbols, and values?

Rem Koolhaas‘ The Strip, 1972

Today, the revolution brought by information technology, calls for designers to propose new methods of representation. The question is how to critically engage the architectural modes of representation, past, present and possible future, and the spatial and social environment that they wish to describe and communicate to.

This article, patched-up in small bite-size texts, will try to ‘piece together’ the last fifty years of architectural representation. A narrative, between 1965 and 2015, that will bring together trends, practice, and education. Taking a descriptive approach in order to provide further insight into the different modes of representation in architecture. The primary variables are the different modes of representation and its tools, such as Plan, Section, Perspective, Axonometric amongst others, and the two different scenarios, drawn by hand or drawn by computer. The article will bring back some of the literature and ‘dig’ through some of the most cherished precedents in architecture, architects, and designers that have influenced the language of architectural representation.

More soon . . .

Footnotes: [1] Gabriela Goldschmidt and William L. Porter, Design Representation, London 2004.  [2] Evans (1986):7