Frascari’s most explicit critique of digital drawing tools so far as I’ve read is that they have a “seductive ‘coolness’”, a fascination often picked up before architecture school. This seduction is, for some, a response to the “striking otherwordliness” of renderings; for others a belief that digital tools expedite and economise on the design process; and
“above all… the belief that digital imagery grants instant legitimacy to architectural proposals through a superficial appearance of completeness without considering that this pseudo-completeness hides a loss of rigour”.
This legitimising effect is tied to the apparent realism of digital images. It’s quite true that, as Frascari writes, we have become acculturated to the veracity of the rendered image:
“photo-realistic representations of future buildings are considered the media of choice that allow architects and clients to make informed decisions. The computer screens that show visualisations of architecture in three dimensions have become powerful ‘crystal balls’ or ‘magic mirrors’ capable of showing ‘truthful views’ of the future”.
While I completely agree that this is the case, and that it’s problematic for good architectural production, I see it as necessitating more intelligent and critical use of digital tools, not as making digital tools innately less useful for the imaginative, “cosmopoetic” tasks Frascari envisages.
FRASCARI’S ELEVEN EXERCISES IN ARCHITECTURAL DRAWING
I’ve just received Marco Frascari’s recent Eleven Exercises in the Art of Architectural Drawing (2011). Frascari’s an interesting writer: opinionated, idiosyncratic and unconventional. His essay “The Tell-the-Tale Detail” (1984) is an essential read, and his Monsters of Architecture (1991) is a cogently weird expansion on it. Eleven Exercises isn’t a drawing manual; it’s “not about right or wrong simulations and dissimulations in architectural drawings, but rather about a discerning process that takes part in the interplay generated by our sensorial assimilation.” In other words, drawing in his book isn’t a matter of correct or effective representation, but a cognitive process. This approach is appealing to me because it recognises cognition as a materialised process. It isn’t your mind that thinks, it’s your brain—mind is an abstraction. Nor is thinking exclusively done with brains. I store my upcoming appointments in a calendar, and commit my research ideas to paper because my brain alone isn’t very good at detailed long-term memory. And when I draw, I’m not just documenting ideas that I’ve already had in my brain, I’m inventing new ideas. Drawing is cognition not just documentation.
Questions are raised for me, though, when Frascari appears (at least in this early part of the book) to be setting up a distinction between trivial and non-trivial, imaginative and unimaginative, poetic and prosaic drawings. I encountered Frascari’s skepticism of CAD when he spoke in person at an Interstices symposium in 2011. He’s of the school that sees digital drawing as inherently less soulful and imaginative than hand drawing, leaning heavily towards the prosaic, and unimaginative. In Eleven Exercises he claims “it is uncomplicated to develop computer-processing systems that can straightforwardly substitute the work of engineers, lawyers, and physicians, but it is an impossible Sisyphean task to develop systems that can replace draftspersons, cooks, rôtisseurs, gardeners, and architects.” Where the former set “base their profession on a sequence of logical protocols” the latter “practice imagination”. I think this claim is just snooty and wrong, and I’d like to see him make the claim to a mob of engineers, lawyers and physicians. I’m concerned that while he’s taking a radical line on the materialisation of cognition, he’s still got some deeply traditional subterranean prejudices at work.
ON THE ULTRA-CHEAP
The material environment of the suburbs around the Mangere Inlet is saturated with ultra-cheap imported goods: Stainless steel kitchen equipment from Delhi, fabric from Malaysia, toys, mp3 players, plastic mats from China—all arrive by the container-load. This class of artefact is beyond the merely cheap—it is easily manufactured, using the cheapest possible materials, in factories that spend no extra money on controlling pollution or accessing cleaner energy sources, by workers pais as little as the global labour market will allow, shipped at minimum cost on huge ships, piggybacking on solid existing shipping routes. A child’s vinyl schoolbag, branded with copyright-infringing logos and images from a Nickelodeon cartoon, hangs outside a shop for ten dollars; a similar bag, slightly more durable perhaps, with official branding, might sell for three times as much, even at the Warehouse (a well-known cut-price retailer in the mass-market. There’s no way local manufacture can equal these prices—the additional costs of labour, regulation of environmental effects, taxes, and the need to import materials far outweighing the cheaper costs of transport.
What is the role and effect of this material on human environments? The economy having been deliberately balanced to serve consumers by keeping the exchange-rate high, import has been privileged over export. This has the effect of driving consumption, not simply serving it (demand can be induced; it isn’t simply an abstract force that needs to be served). It would be accurate to talk about an addiction to cheap imports. But they’re not an unmitigated evil: they’re also valuable and worthwhile business, particularly for immigrants who may already have connections to overseas manufacturers and insight into the needs of local immigrant communities. In addition, they serve the needs of the poorest end of the market.
This material deserves attention as one of the substances of contemporary urban life. How does it circulate, condense and disperse? What linkages does it cement? What is it’s agency in the urban, human, and environment assemblages that constitute the city?
Found during an archaeological examination of my architecture school archives from 1999. It was an AVI made in 3DS Max, stored on the CD-ROM where I backed up my Zip disks.
Detail from a study for Pieter Breugel the Elder’s The Beekeepers, c1567.
Work in progress. Mud piers for Onehunga foreshore, Oct, 2012. I’m trying to work out if a mangrove-fringed tidal inlet can operate as a viable social space.
Levi Bryant, asking what the world must be like in order for our practices to be intelligible:
“it is difficult to see how language could ever have the power to divide or parcel in the way suggested by the linguistic idealists were it not for the fact that the world itself is structured and differentiated. Absent a world that is structured and differentiated, the surface of the world, as a sort of formless flux, would be too slippery, too smooth, for the signifier to structure at all.”