A paper by Adam Sharr in the current issue of Architectural Theory Review is accompanied by this fascinating series of drawings by Luke Bray and Rob Stevens. The drawings are sober CAD plans of a shared domicile, a student flat; but instead of recording only the architectural matter traditionally recorded in such drawings, Bray and Stevens meticulously document all the mobile paraphenalia and detritus of everyday life. The drawings reveal cups, hair-straighteners, computer mice, tennis rackets, desk lamps, stereos, unmade beds, backpacks, papers, rubbish bins, wires, and photos on the wall. Each drawing exists in two states: walls-on and walls-off. In the walls-off state, the presence of the building is only intimated by the internal arrangement of of its contents.
Operation at 1:1 scale, accurate control over non-orthogonal lines, and the layering of information that can be turned on and off, are such basic features of drawing by computer that they may go unnoticed: “While many claims are made for digital representation and its novel possibilities, these less flashy properties seem among the most powerful innovations of CAD drafting, certainly where it comes to teasing-out lessons of inhabitation.” Sharr indicates, contra Pérez-Gomez and Frascari, who argue that CAD “removes the bodily experience of drawing and impoverishes the range of expression available”, that these capabilites provide new opportunities for expressing, revealing, and critiquing architecture.
Sharr writes of the role of drawing in marking out the distinction between the professional action of architects, and the unprofessional spatial ordering that all humans participate in. Methods of drawing are complicit in the division between expert and layperson. Who with architectural training hasn’t spent time trying to help a non-expert read a set of plans that seem plainly obvious?
There is a tension at the heart of this discussion: are the drawings in question just assimilating yet more territory for the professional architect – as if to say that even your hair-straighteners and socks are now a matter of expert attention? “Are the measured drawings of Bray and Stevens, then, doomed to perpetuate the alienations of orthographic drafting? Following Lefebvre and Till, are the drawings inevitable implicated – simply by their conventions – in a conspiracy of subjugation?”
[ I just remembered reading about a piece of archaeological research in which archaeologists performed a survey of a London flat which was still occupied. The point, I believe, was to make visible how the techniques of archaeological analysis skewed or might lead to misinterpretations of sites of inhabitation. I’ll see if I can find it…]