drawing futures

The Arrested Image (redrawn)

At the conclusion of his book, The Projective Cast, Robin Evans formulates a diagram titled “The Arrested Image”.  The aim of this diagram is “to define the different fields of projective transmission that concern architecture.”  For Evans, projection is the transfer of information from one repository of knowledge to another.  The diagram describes four repositories of knowledge: orthographic projection drawings, perspective drawings and images, the designed object, and the human designer or observer (which is further subdivided into perception and imagination).  Each of these four repositories projects information to, and receives it from, the other three.  Design is thus described as a process of continuous informational exchange between the four repositories.  Information does not travel smoothly through the network; each type of projection contains some level of contamination or distortion, and the direction in which information travels matters.

“The Arrested Image” shows how architectural design works as an expanded set of dynamics in which drawing has historically played a pivotal role.  In order to make assertions regarding how drawing functions in a contemporary design environment, and claim for it potential futures, the diagram has been updated.  There are four structural differences in this new version.  First, the ‘perspective’ is replaced with the ‘model,’ this is assumed to be a three-dimensional digital model.  Second, a new repository of knowledge, ‘external resources’ has been added.  This includes information in the categories of software operations, parametric inputs, algorithms, and other data used to systematically inform design.  The ‘external resources’ node has been placed across the thresholds of imagination and perception because it becomes integral to how design potentials are imagined and perceived.  It has been placed behind the threshold of observation because it becomes a filter through which the designer observes other parts of the design network.  Effective incorporation of external resources creates a hybrid human/non-human designing and observing apparatus.  Projections between the human designer, design instruments, and the design remain; though they are considered to be of secondary importance.  Third, the model (previously the perspective) and the design (previously the designed object) are more closely related than before.  As digital models become increasingly comprehensive representations of buildings, and digital fabrication tools reduce the significance of type 5 projection lines, the model is becoming more like the design.  Fourth, models and drawings are more closely related than before, but deliberately held apart.  Digital tools tend to conflate drawings and models; two-dimensional drawings can easily be extracted from three-dimensional models, and information from two-dimensional drawings can feed directly into three-dimensional models.  While acknowledging this relationship, a clear distinction between drawings and models preserves a speculative, abstracted arena where more unpredictable explorations can unfold.

Full text published on suckerPUNCH and in Fresh Punches

pavilion 2113

Brandon Terry

Speculating on what the future will hold 100 years out is always a risky proposition. Though it seems the acceleration of technological evolution is also making it increasingly risky not to do so, particularly for a slow-moving discipline (architecture) concerned with the production of long-lasting artifacts (buildings). With this in mind, the proposition of the studio was to design a pavilion in downtown Troy, NY for the year 2113. The focus of future-oriented thinking was not as much on the future of building materials and technology, as on the future of culture and the augmented human body envisioned in the writings of Ray Kurzwiel.

 Haley Hahn

Spatial investigations were derived from one of the three space filling three-dimensional tessellations: cubes, dodecahedrons, or a combination of octahedrons and tetrahedrons. Multi-scalar tessellations were put through iterative transformations calibrated to introduce a level of roughness, or unpredictability to the overall assembly. Overlapping geometry allowed solid difference operations to cut out interior spaces and to perforate thickened surfaces. A series of transformational experiments finally lead to pavilion designs with varied interior spaces and particular attitudes to the urban site.

 Melissa Donnely

solid bodies

plan with shells open

Solid Bodies is a design for a temporary pavilion located on a flat, open urban site.  The project proposes that innovative form-making can help catalyze and intensify a series of summer events, and in so doing solidify potentials for more permanent cultural programs to be introduced to the site. The pavilion is generated from a set of iteratively transformed solid geometric bodies. Differences and intersections of these bodies are hollowed out to create arch and shell components.

assembly of rhombic dodecahedra
 solid differences

 solid intersections

The geometry of the pavilion is produced from three adjacent rhombic dodecahedra, which each undergo 10 iterative transformations. Tessellated rhombic dodecahedra fill three-dimensional space without gaps, but as they are transformed they produce overlaps. These overlaps, referenced by Boolean intersections and differences are used to create the base units of the pavilion. Boolean intersections become the shell components. Boolean differences become the enclosing arch components. The differences and intersections are mirrored about their main organizational axis, creating bilateral symmetry in the pavilion.  
 view from bandstand toward pavilion

 interior view towards bandstand

The arch components create shaded interior zones and provide integrated seating within the main body of the pavilion. They remain stationary in the transition between opening and closing the pavilion. The shell components are mobile. When the pavilion is open, they roll out on locking casters, exposing brightly colored interior surfaces. Two shell components on the front side of the pavilion contain integrated seating and are used to define a zone for food service. Shells on the north and south sides also contain integrated seating and help define a performance zone around a bandstand. The single large shell at the rear of the pavilion is the bandstand itself.

side elevation with shells open

front elevation with shells closed
 pavilion with shells open
pavilion with shells closed

During non-opening hours the pavilion rests as a series of dark, interlocked, crystalline forms with a mysterious pattern etched into its surfaces. In this state, all components of the pavilion fit into a compact space. The alien nature of the form is intended to arouse curiosity regarding its purpose, and this curiosity can be leveraged in promoting the event series it is intended to house.

 arch component

The shell and arch components are constructed by unfolding geometry flat and cutting the resulting panels from 5’x10’x1” MDF sheets.   These sheets are a standard size and can be cut on a standard 3-axis CNC mill.  Structural rigidity within each component is created along its fold lines.  There are two types of toothed joints in the panels, one at folds in the geometry, and another where panels must be spliced together.

 unfolded panels

 detail of toothed fold joint

All angled joints can be accomplished with vertical cuts into flat panel material. Edges of adjacent components are held back from one another ensuring that there are no oblique points of contact.  Rotation of any single joint is resisted by the folded nature of the structure.

new atlantis (a city for voluntary exlies)


A number of small low-lying island nation-states in the South Pacific are undergoing a slow but inevitable process of being inundated by rising oceans. Their lands are disappearing and their cultures will die. One state in particular, Kiribati (pop. 103,000), has made a vocal plea for survival on the world stage. At the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, made this appeal to the assembly:

Climate change is indeed the greatest moral challenge of our time. I fear that our children and grandchildren will look back and ask, ‘How is it that they knew what they knew, and yet did so little?’ We simply cannot afford the consequences of inaction. The people of my country are already feeling the impacts of climate change, which will only worsen with time. We, together with those of other low lying states, are the human face of climate change.

Kiribati location map and international shipping lanes

Tarawa Atoll - blue dot indicates project site

Kiribati’s per capita carbon-dioxide emissions are approximately one-twentieth of China’s, one twentieth of the European Union’s, and one-fiftieth of the United States. Despite the fact the Tong and others have framed the problem of climate change in moral terms, worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions increased by 5% in 2011. The Kiribati government has acknowledged the reality of this situation by beginning to prepare its citizens for life as climate change refugees. A number of vocational training programs have been instituted to provide I-Kiribati with specialized skills for work in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. 
east - west section

New Atlantis

The year is 2100 and what was once called the nation of Kiribati is gone, its chains of low-lying islands have been completely submerged by the Pacific Ocean. Many I-Kiribati and their descendants have dispersed to Australia where they work in the health care industry or to New Zealand where they work as maritime shipping specialists. In these host nations, the I-Kiribati have become diffused. As a result, their culture and language has nearly died.

But rather than letting their culture become a myth of the lost like Atlantis, other I-Kiribati have refused to become refugees of climate change and elected to remain in place, at least geographically. They now live in a vertical city situated in the open ocean. The city is in shallow water directly above what used to be South Tarawa, the ex-capital of Kiribati on Tarawa Atoll. The city’s foundations are anchored into the earth, which is now approximately 20 feet underwater. It is an elaborate structure paid for through donations from the Chinese government, which in 2050, (rather than enforcing carbon reduction measures) chose to alleviate national guilt by donating billions of Yuan to island nations that were disappearing under rising oceans. 

plan - level +480' 

The ex-I-Kiribati living in the city of New Atlantis consider themselves exiles. They have been given an elaborate vertical structure that is largely self-sustaining and in some ways quite comfortable. But they have all lost their homes and culture, many have also lost their families. Politically, the city resides in a grey zone. The Kiribati state is no longer recognized by the United Nations, and New Atlantis is a city-state that operates outside normal international political and economic boundaries. As a result, the ex-I-Kiribati share their city with other voluntary exiles such as Eastern European digital pirates, American eco-terrorists, and escaped Chinese political prisoners.

Physically, the city is isolated, far from any significant landmass, cut-off from jet travel, and even distanced from trans-pacific shipping lanes. But digitally it is as networked as any metropolitan high-rise building. As such, it has become significant base of operations for politically and economically grey activities.

plan - level +270'   

 plan - level +710'  

Building Description

Structure: Two sets of twisting vertical elements intertwine with each other. One set holds the floorplates, contains the residential spaces, and is skinned with translucent lexan. The other set, which works as the primary vertical building structure, contains the circulation cores and is constructed from lightweight fiber reinforced concrete. The horizontal arms of the city, which spread over the water, are floating aluminum and lexan structures. Floatation allows the arms to absorb energy of waves in the water and for the city to adapt to continually rising sea levels.

The structure is organized by two sets of 8 twisting tubular elements which form both the vertical and horizontal components of the building.  These 16 (8+8) tubular elements are dupilacted and mirrored about a central axis creating 32 (16+16) tubular elements in total.  One set of twisted tubes houses the inhabitable spaces, the other houses circulation and service cores.  The two sets are intertwined with each other, and as they transform along the length of the building, a number of different spatial organizations emerge.

 paired / mirrored floorplates and organizing curves

Climate: The building does not incorporate a traditional climate control system, as this would over-tax the building’s energy generation capacity, and it is not necessary the warm South Pacific climate. Most of the structure’s interior spaces are only partially enclosed; wind and rain infiltration is accepted and even welcome.

There are two vertical lifts that run curving routes up though the building. These are generally used only for service because their operation strains the building’s energy supply. Vertical circulation is primarily accomplished by walking up and down stairs. Commuting from the residential zone to the lower levels, especially when carrying food, is arduous, but a normal part of life in the city. Because of the effort it takes to circulate vertically, it is usually not done more than once a day. As a result, large-group gathering and meeting spaces are scattered vertically throughout the building.

 windbelt energy generation diagram

Energy: The building generates its own energy with windbelt technology. The windbelt is a taut band held in place by a carbon-fiber frame. The windbelts are gathered into bundles that sprout from the upper reaches of the tower like hair. The building’s battery system stores electricity when winds are high, and this surplus is usually enough to power essential systems during periods of low winds. But the city survives by being frugal with its power. Energy priorities go first to water desalination and second to computing equipment.

saltwater greenhouse diagram

Food: Many residents of the city are excellent fisherman. The city’s floating horizontal arms are used as boat docks and seafood processing areas. The horizontal arms also house saltwater greenhouses and desalination units.

The city supplements food, drink, and other essential and non-essential material supplies (black market, grey market, or otherwise) with periodic boat shipments form the mainland. Many of the city’s residents are quite wealthy, but collectively they elect to minimize physical contact with the outside world.
 north / south elevation

Project developed with assistance from Kangsan Danny Kim.

variable patterning

regular triangulated dual 1

This series of drawings uses regular grid tiling patterns as a starting point and each introduces a different set of iterative variable transformations.  The drawings register traces of the transformations rather than the tiles themselves.  Orders that emerge from the drawings are imagined to be potential test of a range of architectural scales from urban planning to facade detailing and patterning.

quasi-periodic rhombic dual 4

This work is associated with four roles roles for speculative architectural drawing vs. modeling in evolving digital design environments:

1.  Drawings as abstractions

As two-dimensional constructs that point to three-dimensional constructs, architectural drawings always contain a level of abstraction. Whether done speculatively as projections into the future, or analytically as descriptions of something that has come before, some slippage between a drawing and its associated third dimension in inevitable. A drawing is decidedly not a model, and translative leaps between two- and three-dimensional work require imagination. Drawings are not the only instruments that provide the freedom to think outside conventions normally held by the discipline or practice of architecture. And they are not the only documents that can be used to graphically represent ideas for discussion with patrons or other participants in the buildings trades. Models may perform these roles just as well or even better. However, where a model often answers a question, a drawing is more apt to leave productive informational gaps for the designer/observer. In the digital world, drawings are actually more free from becoming trapped into representations of pre-existing images, and thus more able to act as instruments for abstract speculation.

bisected hex 5

bisected hex 6

2.  Drawings as autonomous documents

As Robin Evans has suggested in numerous ways, drawings are not deficient versions of buildings, but worlds unto themselves that create a theoretical universe alongside the built environment. Part of the value of drawings lies in their potentials to produce a variety of viewpoints in a variety of subjects. Design is not a solitary activity; critical discussions of work require engagement in a larger cultural context. Buildings and models of buildings play a role in these discussions, but the abstraction in drawings is uniquely subjective, and a level of subjectivity is productive in the discourse of any cultural activity concerned with the production of novelty.   

regular triangulated dual 2

regular triangulated dual 3

3. Drawings as methodologically flexible tools

A methodology is a comprehensive system of techniques governed by a theory for why things should be done a certain way.  Different approaches to design can operate under different methodologies, which is to say that there is not one right methodology, and a methodology need not become an ideology. The methodologies for producing the work here employ techniques that incorporate information from outside the drawing in an attempt to produce formal and conceptual novelty. While this approach could have operated in other media – manual drawings, three-dimensional models, animations, texts, and so on – which would have led to different results, the work would have still been in the same spirit of experimentation. This is not an argument for or against the usefulness of drawing, but a reminder that the medium of drawing is flexible and capable of operating within a range of different design methodologies. 

bisected hex 7

4. Drawings as ethical constructs

The flip side of flexibility is particularity. Drawing is not a neutral medium. No medium is neutral. The nature of any medium influences how ideas arise and are subsequently communicated. Two-dimensional drawings and three-dimensional models pass different information back and forth with the designer/observer. They also communicate ideas differently, both between individuals and into larger communities (architects, builders, critics, and the broader public). All two- and three-dimensional, digital and physical instruments available for use in the contemporary design environment produce value in particular ways. This has ascribed particular values into architecture and thus the buildings, cities, and cultures we inhabit. The responsibility of designers, then, is to evaluate how one’s tools, drawing included, produce value and whether it is appropriate to take ethical responsibility for this value.

moon monster - an architectural folly

The term folly is considered to have been derived from two different French words: folie, meaning pleasure or delight; and feuilée, which quite literally refers to a leafy arbor. A folie is associated with miscalculation, foolishness and extravagance; it often serves no apparent purpose beyond some mythic or folkloric association. A feuilée, on the other hand, has nothing to do with spectacle and ostentation, but is about embracing nature in a more modest way.

Moon Monster combines elements of both the folie and feuilée. It is geometrically extravagant, yet constructed of modest materials and means. It may seem to serve no apparent function other than aesthetic pleasure – a friendly monster that invites visitors to approach, touch, enter and relax in its shade. Yet upon further inspection, Moon Monster reveals itself to be a precisely calculated devise for tracking the moon’s movement through the sky. Its spiked projections are vectors that point to the position of the moon on a bi-hourly basis through the nights of August 2012. By day, it activates space in and around itself as a dynamic sculptural object providing shady places to relax and picnic. By night, it communes with the movement of the moon.

The geometry of the folly is entirely derived from relationships between movements of the moon and a hypothetical observer of the moon.  These relationships are tracked through the drawings below:

path of the moon, first three nights of Aug. 2012
 moon path + hypothetical viewer path

vectors between viewer path and moon positions

derivation of panels from viewer / moon vectors

The moon progresses through the sky following a 28-day cycle. The moon resides in roughly the same orbital plane as the sun, and thus its path though the sky is similar. Observed from the northern hemisphere, it inhabits a band of the southern sky, rising in the east and setting in the west. Unlike the sun, however, the moon’s azimuth angle (horizontal angle of observation) does not remain consistent day-to-day when viewed at a particular hour. For example, its azimuth angle at 12:00 am on August 1st, 2012 will be 14.6 degrees west of south. At 12:00 am on August 2nd, its azimuth angle will have shifted to direct south. And on the next day, it will have shifted to 15.8 degrees east of south. When the moon is viewed over the course of a month, its night-to-night shifts create spirals that wrap the sky.

section showing lunar view vectors

Moon Monster is a type of observatory. An observatory is a device for monitoring celestial or terrestrial phenomena and is designed to gather data regarding a specific type of process or event like star formation, planetary movement, weather, earthquakes, etc. Observatories may gather data for empirical purposes (such as a radio telescope), or for more experiential purposes (such as James Turrell’s Roden Crater). Moon Monster is an observatory in the latter sense. But unlike a traditional observatory, where the viewing point is fixed, Moon Monster migrates the viewer’s position along a curving path. Movement of the viewer makes interaction with Moon Monster a dynamic experience.

view of the moon from the interior

Moon Monster is proposed to be built from sheets of corrugated cardboard laser-cut to slot and splice into each other. Cardboard will be waterproofed with a wax-coating process similar to one used in the construction of cardboard boats. The waterproofing process will ensure the structure will be durable enough for a temporary installation. The dense, intersecting planes of Moon Monster form a highly redundant, lightweight, self-supporting structure.