Graphic Expediency

Graphic Expediency


Article by Paul Mosley

 

“No person who is not a great sculptor and painter can be an architect, for if he is not a sculptor and painter he can only be a builder.”

-John Ruskin (appendix to Edinburgh Lectures, 1854)

One of the persisting debates in architecture today is between architecture as a conceptual, cultural, and intellectual enterprise, and architecture as a phenomenological enterprise—that is, the experience of the subject in architecture. This debate pits objects against subjects, mental conceptions against material perceptions, and ideals of intellect against pure sensation. Central to this debate is the agency of drawing as either the representation of a possible construct, or as absolute construct itself. Beyond this debate lies another tendency that borrows aspects from both, a tendency that may be described as graphic expediency which recovers the pictorial dimension of architecture as image.1

Since the Renaissance, drawing has been the primary means of pursuing architecture as a conceptual project. In his 1450 treatise De pictura, Alberti set out to construct three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional plane by the use of the construzione legittima of monocular perspective.2 (Figure 1) This construction of lines described a homology between plan and perspective, introducing for the first known time the conception of space as homogenous.3 Drawing therefore ushered in an entirely new conception of space to the humanist mind—a conception of space that we maintain today.

Drawing has therefore been both the means for describing conceptual work, and the catalyst for evolving new concepts of space. Within both the recent history of Structuralism, and the renaissance history of Alberti lies architecture’s ability to exist first and foremost in the mind; drawing facilitates this ontology.

The legacy of Structuralism in architecture deposited a rich body of drawings into the annals of our discipline—a body of representational work that may be described as abstract heroism. The conceptual motive of this work is less narrow than is often thought, stretching between somatic qualities of affect, aura, and exteriority on the one hand, and concepts of form, superposition, and interiority on the other. Graham Harmon’s version of Speculative Realism—Object-Oriented Ontology—is arguably an evolved, digital form of this Structuralism in architecture.

figure 1

Figure 1

The tradition of this thought has taught us that architectural drawings are not just simulacra of reality, but have a material reality; they are things among things.4 Graphic expediency borrows this tradition’s reverence for the drawing, while existing adjacent to it. Graphic expediency recovers the ontological dimension of images in architecture as “pictures.” The abstraction of abstract heroism reduces architecture to the construction of elements into a heroic whole, indifferent to any form of subjectivity, and often utilizing the impersonal axonometric drawing.

Graphic expediency recovers architecture as the production of images embodying values, ideologies, and affects. It engages the problem of making images in architecture as both the means and form of producing architectural objects. The pictorial value of perception and vision is present in such images, where subjectivity is acknowledged both within and outside of the picture plane. It uses optical effects like depth, composition, and distortion to envision subjective forms of life and living. It engages the subject from a painterly perspective: the subject as viewer.

This is a unique position within digital publishing in architecture, whose audience is diversifying to include hi-tech lowlifes, intellectual net-bitches, and grad-student cyber-punks. This audience is aware that their drawings will get the most attention on digital platforms, therefore the drawings are made to be viewed on a screen, with highly intentional dpi’s and color values. We conceive of architectural drawings as like paintings, using the geography of pixels and images, rather than pigments and impastos.

In this context, what is needed by architects is to recover the Albertian ambition of understanding architecture as a cultural pursuit, engaging principles from fine art and design, rather than confining itself to the rote production of documentation. The immediacy of modernist, collagist techniques is a deep well to draw from: confinement in Koolhaas’s early collages, the fragmentations of Cubism, the tabulation of Rauschenberg and Johns, the compositions of Hamilton and Lichtenstein, the pictorial immediacy of Herbert Bayer, the montages of Moholy Nagy and Hans Richter, among others.

The Exploding Edenic Inevitable

The Exploding Edenic Inevitable

References:

Alberti, Leon Battista. On the Art of Building in Ten Books, trans. Joseph Rykwert, Neil Leach, and Robert Tavernor (Cambridge, Mass., and London: MIT Press, 1988).

Mitrovic, Branko. “Leon Battista Alberti and the Homogeneity of Space” in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Dec., 2004).

Jacob, Sam. “Drawing as Project: Post-Digital Representation in Architecture” in FM Journal: Collage, Issue 7 (Sep. 2015).

Aureli, Pier Vittorio, “Manet: Images for a World Without People” in Scapegoat: Realism, Issue 3 (Summer, 2012)

This does not exclude the possibility of construction (an omnipresent ambition), rather, it reasserts that images of buildings are no less real, as architecture, than buildings. The distance between the image of a thing and the actual thing—between architecture and its reflection—is thin. Graphic expediency views the two as equally (but not equal) objects, raising the drawing to the status of architecture in its real form.

Endnotes

“Graphic expediency” is a phrase I lifted from R.E. Somol’s essay “Green Dots 101.” He uses this idea as counter to the project of digital intricacy (as the constative combination of notation and tectonics). For Somol, the project of graphic expediency is “extended from the performative pairing of decoration and figuration.” I use the phrase as an alternative position to the divisive debate of architecture as either an intellectual or phenomenological enterprise. See Somol, R.E., “Green Dots 101” in Hunch 11 (2007).

Alberti, Leon Battista. On the Art of Building in Ten Books, trans. Joseph Rykwert, Neil Leach, and Robert Tavernor (Cambridge, Mass., and London: MIT Press, 1988).

Mitrovic, Branko. “Leon Battista Alberti and the Homogeneity of Space” in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Dec., 2004).

Aureli, Pier Vittorio, “Manet: Images for a World Without People” in Scapegoat: Realism, Issue 3 (Summer, 2012).

Paul Mosley is a is an editor for FM Journal and is currently pursuing an MA in Design Criticism at the UIC School of Architecture.