Saturday, October 3, 2015

Graphical Parallel Projection & Architectural Drawing

You may have noticed that the vast majority of graphical projections in the last three posts were at least nominally realistic. They describe an object simply and clearly. They occasionally border on abstraction, but that is usually a side effect of graphical projection itself.
There is, however, a vein of almost pure abstraction in modern architecture. It is almost as though elite architects were frustrated modernist painters. Or, that abstract expressionist painters had decided to have a contractor actually build their two-dimensional painted abstractions.

In the early modern era there was not only a tendency to muddy perspective images, but also a move away from perspectives entirely. Projection drawings (isometric drawing, etc.), previously the domain of engineers, began to be used by architects for presentation. The tendency of these types of drawings to emulate abstract art was an added feature (if not the whole point of doing them). Most projection drawings of the 1920s were clear representations of the architect’s design, but there were architects/artists who saw them as pure art. This aspect is what became fashionable in the 1970s. It is no accident that Architecture of the 20th century in drawings, by Vittorio Lampugnani used “Counter Construction” by Theo van Doesburg (above, 1923) on its English edition cover.

So, here are a series of images that illustrate the curious obfustication of the 1970s/1980s architectural avant garde. Many of the drawings are compelling, some are quite beautiful, but all walk the line between the enigmatic and the straightforward. 

One Half House by John Hejduk (1966) manipulates simple geometry to create an idealized sculptural house. The projection drawing is taken along the major orthogonal axis, hiding much information about the design, but creating a disciplined assemblage of lines. Hejduk was very much a theoretician/architect, building very little, but becoming famous for his teaching and encouraging of cutting edge architecture; so, this early foray into ambiguity is not unexpected.

 This plan projection of a project in Graz, Austria, by G√ľnther Domenig & Eilfried Huth (1969), is crisp and clean; it also has overlapping layers to the point that it appears mushy. Although it is a pre-CAD drawing, it has the same effect as a wireframe view of a complex structure. I would not call it beautiful, but it was remarkable for the time, and certainly influenced my own thinking and drawing in school.

Above is a plan projection of “House III” by Peter Eisenman, from 1970. Eisenman also produced a series of similar views showing the development of the final form from two rotated and interlocking cubes. Because it was the end of a diagrammatic series, this drawing was printed with the page edge aligned with the plan, not the vertical elements (as is typical). In a way it is a study of complexity emerging from simple forms. The whole exercise is quite elegant, and moreover, led to a finished house! 

 All right, this is fun! “A kosher kitchen for a Jewish American Princess”, by Stanley Tigerman, was a hoot when I first saw it. We’re talking 1977 kitschy humor masquerading as architecture. Actually, Tigerman was (is, although he is now 84) a serious architect, whose designs and teaching influenced my generation. The plan projection drawing here could be purely abstract except for the obvious house and garage floating in the psychedelic poster-like field.

Back to Eisenman with his “Study for House” (1978). He was well known for his multiple drawing drawings, that illustrate in as convoluted a way as possible (sometimes involving optical illustion) the design process or the various aspects of a design. (no, I’m not going to explain the sequence above… sorry).

Above is a plan projection of the Capuchin Convent Library in Lugano, Italy by Mario Botta (1979). This Swiss architect’s style is similar to the previous post modern architects, but he prefers natural stone and wood. The drawing is a worm-eye’s view which limits the information, but creates an intriguing abstract pattern.

It might seem unusual to see Cesar Pelli in this post on architectural obfustication. His long career is based on serious, functional designs which got built (partly due to his persuasive abilities, but mostly on their beauty and practicality). Long Gallery House (1980), being a private house, has the leeway to be playful and diagrammatic. This plan projection drawing is similarly playful and diagrammatic. The use of the shadows as the strongest graphic element gives the drawing a very abstract sense, in spite of the graduated shading.

Yes, I imbibed the zeitgeist of the time and produced cryptic drawings myself. This axial view plan projection from 1980 is of a proposed corporate headquarters. Looking at it now, I think it would make a nice corporate logo.

…And here’s a curious house design from the 80s, drawn like a complex puzzle.

Murphy Jahn’s State of Illinois Center (1981) is here presented as a plan section looking down in the lower half of the drawing, and a plan section looking up in the upper half. You can get a lot of information from such a drawing if you have the key. If you don’t it is still a fascinating pattern.

Garden Pavilion by Anthony Ames (1985) is a plan projection looking up from below. Again, it is full of information, but reads as an abstract “color field” painting.

This “Axonometric Study” of the 6th St. Project in Los Angeles, by Morphosis (1987), is really a grouping of projection drawings of various components in the design. The whole drawing is elegant confusion unless you know the project (which I don’t).

Just to confuse things further… here is a simple plan of the Church of the Light by Tadao Ando (1988). It is not a projection drawing, but by selectively casting the light along the axis of the plan he has introduced a sense of mystery. The cruciform window in the bottom wall casts its cross shape on the floor, dominating the board in spite of being a mere light pattern. The graphic artistry of the painting falls right in line with the confusing projection drawings above.

Well… this is all very fashionable, but even the (new) avant garde can flip the fashion on the (old) avant garde. Leon Krier’s drawing of Atlantis Tenerife (1986) harks back to the early medieval drawings of cities: realistic, cartoonish and informative, all at once.

The abstraction of architectural drawings continued after the 80s, with Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Lebbius Wood, Rem Koolhaus and Daniel Libeskind, among others. I am not going to add them here because they are more artists than architects, and their work was completely divorced from actual building at that time.

Instead, in the next post I will return to the question of why architectural illustration developed in that direction.

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