this piece of Sufi wisdom is a reminder to be cautious and humble when times are good and, at the same time, a reminder that bad situations also have an ending. It’s not as lame as the English speaker’s “light at the end of the tunnel” or as preposterous as “every cloud has a silver lining”. It’s just a statement of fact. The good stuff doesn’t last forever and neither does the bad.
The Medium of Architecture is the next-to-last chapter in The Autopoiesis of Architecture Vol. I. In a way I’m relieved as there’s little danger of anything substantial being said at this stage but, also wary lest the author think that, having numbed his readers into a state of acquiescent torpor, he can go on to say whatever he wants. If this book is an edifice then it’s dry stone wall construction. Thoughts are piled one on top of each other. Taking the place of mortar is the author’s conviction that everything’s arranged properly.
But “The Medium of Architecture”? I did want to know where this one would go.
I suspected the first meaning but couldn’t figure out what. Yet I couldn’t rule out the third meaning for the author does have a history of telling us he’s channeling the spirit of architecture. But no.
The medium of architecture turns out to be drawings. The chapter then rolls on with a description of how their production has changed over the years. Like a whodunit that doesn’t make you wonder who did it, you know the conclusion is going to be the blessing that is Parametricism’s parametric parameters. The potted history is brief as the author struggles to invent a progressive complexity for parametric digital models to be its culmination. The Renaissance gave us perspective. The Baroque produced complex projective geometries. Me, I think that perspective projections are more complex than the axonometric allegedly beloved by Modernists. The only ones I could think of were this
before remembering this.
However, if we’re going to bring art examples into play, there’s this Chinese axonometric from the pre-Modern, pre-Alberti 11th century when architecture didn’t exist, let alone the medium to draw it.
In this chapter we learn a lot about drawings that we had quite happy lives not knowing. It is true that a system of drawing constrains design thinking and this is not such a bad thing. The author confesses that Parametricism too has its “tropes” such as populating surfaces with parametric elements but could it be possible that this may not be a trope but the dissemination of techniques that may be of use? Busy beavering away at being avant garde, the author would be blind to such a possibility. As paths to happy futures go, I’m still unconvinced that avant garde screwing around is any better than sticking with something good and making it better. All this talk of paper and projections is necessary as it won’t do to cut oneself off from a history you want to be seen to be leading. “Drawings are dead! Long live the drawing!” Except it’s not a drawing anymore. “Drawing” and “digital model” are used interchangeably and I don’t have a problem with that. It still implies that the social function of architecture is to deliver buildings. What I do have a problem with starts on page 325 when the author borrows Luhmann’s distinction between media of communication and media of dissemination. A digital model is a medium of communication because it is what architects use to design and to communicate between themselves about that design. A medium of dissemination however, is any medium (e.g. the mass media) that is used to disseminate the results of the architectural communications. It’s on page 330 where it starts to get ugly.
In Smoke & Mirrors I noted how image is being promoted over substance – and even truth – and how any social function of architecture is being replaced by an architecture we construct in our minds from some fancy renders and supporting copy. There’s another concept from this chapter that I need to explain before putting the two together. It concerns the medium of architecture and where it fits in.
The first and, for the author, the only one of any importance is the first, the architect’s project and the medium (formerly, the drawing) that the architect uses to talk to himself about the design. The third is the drawings and structural analysis models that the engineers need to make it stand up. The fourth is the drawings that can be understood buy the contractors who have to build the thing. It is the second – the client’s project – that I want to concentrate on. Illustrating the design to clients, potential users, or any other non-specialized interested parties is also something that requires specialised drawings that can be outsourced since they are of no concern to the architect who, you will remember, is busy conducting avant garde research. We’ve come across this attitude before in earlier chapters but that’s not the issue now. If illustrating the design to clients is not of any interest to the architects, then WHY ARE THEIR PROJECTS ALWAYS IN OUR FACES?
In Smoke & Mirrors, I was only concerned with images but animated visualisations accelerate this now-chronic dsyfunctionalism. For the moment it’s ironic but there’s probably some sinister reason why the more realistic the animation the more fantasy there is in what they depict. Animations aren’t walk-throughs – they’re fly-throughs and fly-overs and, in that sense, they’re actually better than experiencing the real thing.
- ZHA recently “revealed” an animation on YouTube.
- Dezeen duly announced that revelation as news.
- Philosophical master illusionists MIR are up to their tricks again.
Four seconds later at 0:39 you will see the sun set. This slightly cheesy animation within a animation has the effect of making the visualization look real. Just as tablet computers opened up the market for computing to people who couldn’t type, in 2013 with its Yes Is More comic book, BIG opened up the market for the disssemination of architectural imagery to the functionally illiterate.
ZHA/MIR have moved it on with this architectural cartoon and opened up the market for the dissemination of architectural imagery to the totally illiterate and, perhaps of more value to a global enterprise, the differently-languaged. The cartoon is the perfect global medium of architecture with which to establish a fan base. ZHA/MIR are very good at what they do. Hell\handcarts\going
But why was this new animation necessary? We knew all we needed to know. I sense a PR push. I get the feeling the Bee’ah Waste Centre Headquarters in Sharjah is going to be promoted like the Heydar Aliyev Culture Centre was. We won’t be allowed to forget it like we did, say, this.
Here’s another of MIR’s videos for ZHA. It’s on Vimeo.
You can see how these videos are being used for storytelling, putting thoughts in our heads – and becoming more engaging as they do. SNAP OUT OF IT!!! We have to go to the website of the client, The Sleuk Rith Institute, to learn that “The site is located in the grounds of the Boeung Trabek High School in Phnom Penh, south of the city centre.” Here’s the Boeung Trabek High School.
The author needs to re-read what he wrote on p329 regarding inflationary tendencies.
I think ZHA and their Nordic render guys have crossed that line. Trust is lost. The medium is being abused and too many related parties are tuning a blind eye because of vested interests.
• • •
Here’s one last vid. It’s of the car elevators for the Porsche Tower in Miami. You can skip to the end as it does drag on a bit.
Other videos of this project exist as fly-throughs and such but all of them somewhere have an announcement like this.
In other words, what you have just seen is not a guarantee that it is what you are going to get. Property developers are more principled than architects in that respect. Decades ago, before “renders” and “visualizations” became the norm, proposed buildings were illustrated by something called an “artist’s impressions”. They were noted as that and meant nothing more than that.
Everyone understood the sky would never be as blue or the trees as green, and that real pedestrians and traffic would never populate the scene so picturesquely. We understood these to be ideal, if misleading, depictions. I’m not sure that distance is being maintained with this new batch of factually and ethically murky visualizations. When people start to comment on visualisations as if they were actual buildings then the video is no longer a medium of architecture but has become its actual content! This could all lead to some “keep it real!” backlash but, for now, it doesn’t bode well for the future if virtual experiences of an idea of architecture are more real than the buildings themselves. We need to ask ourselves three things.
- In what sense are they more real?
- Who’s making it that way?
My best guess and answer to all three is that we, the consumers of architectural imagery, are the real end user. Furthermore, if this process exploits any available means to accelerate it, then it’s because someone has found a way to make some serious money from doing so. (This is not rocket science.)
Me, I can’t wait for my own personal holodeck. The experience of buildings can’t get any more virtual than it is now. Once I have my own holodeck and an internet of other content providers competing for my holocredits, architects are going to have to seriously lift their game. If animated pseudo-realities are where the hallowed soul of architecture is headed, architects are going to have to compete with gaming worlds that offer some real pleasure back in return.