Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hand & CAD - The Wireframe Years - 1

Columbus Circle, Steamboat Springs & the Queens Museum.

When computers began to be used in architectural offices, they were unstable and relatively primitive. I lived through that period of frustration, elation and work-a-rounds.  This is just one of a number of posts I want to write about it – partly, just to leave a record of the work, but mainly as an example of mixing the digital with the hand.

In the early 1980s 3D computer modeling was not an option in architectural offices. Just buying a computer with the requisite memory and graphics was way too expensive. But in 1985 the office in which I worked bought an early CAD computer and a very early version of AutoCad, which was used for Building Department submission drawings. Simple diagramatic drawings were created, with much computer crashing and gnashing of teeth.  The simplest 3D modeling was a faint glimmer in the recesses of that early software.  

The layout above was done for the Columbus Circle Competition in 1985. The red curves show where I used a print out of circles in perspective from that early CAD computer. Without those print outs, the semicircular fa├žade of the proposed building would have been a frustrating job of sketching and re-sketching. With a large plot of these curves the layout was not much harder than a run-of-the-mill hand layout.

In 1987 I bought my own CAD computer, and played with it whenever I could find the time. I spent my nights working on small rendering jobs, and very occasionally I found that I could use the (at that time) primitive AutoCad program to help speed my work. The sketch above mixed a photo of an existing building with a CAD view of rotated cubes and some hand layout work.

This interior view of the same job used a crude wireframe of the ceiling and floor (now lost), and hand layout work. The computer made the curved lattice and joints easy. In both drawings the paste-up layout was made uniform by redrawing it using ink on mylar.

Another project that used complex curves was a ski resort condominium in Steamboat Springs. In general, the building could have been worked out via hand or computer, but the ski-slope-like roof posed a problem.

By limiting the model to the visible walls I only needed to construct a few 3D “faces” for balconies and railings. I worked out shade and shadow on a letter sized printout, and used that as the center of a hand drawn setting in the ski resort area.

A pencil sketch of the final was Xeroxed and worked over with pastel…

…and a more finished sketch was tried over the ink final.

The final art was finished with airbrushed transparent ink on a photographic copy of the ink drawing.


Early in 1989 I had the chance to do a rendering of the renovation of the Queens Museum, on the site of the many World’s Fairs that were hosted by New York City.  Built for the 1939 Fair, and used as the home of the United Nations from 1946 to 1950, the museum is now a venue for arts and educational programs, as well as being the permanent location for the “Panorama of the City of New York”. 

The renovation architect was Rafael Vignoly, who has since gone on to much bigger projects. It happened that he had organized a small 3D CAD group in his office, and they produced the wireframe that I used. You can see the actual wireframe lines (created on a “pin printer”) to the right of the pastel sketch.

Another pastel and pencil sketch exploring a brighter approach. The lines of the building in the reflecting pool were created by copying the building as a “block”, and placing the copy upside down directly below the building itself. The plaza layers were turned off, and a print made of the museum and its mirror below. It was then cut into the rest of the image, producing a “reflection” in the water of the pool. 

The final layout was printed full size, and then reproduced on photographic paper. I airbrushed opaque white over the entire image to grey out the black lines. Then I masked and airbrushed each area with black India ink, starting with the sky. Streaked areas in the reflecting pool were produced by erasing back the airbrushed ink (a technique that worked well with some inks, but not with others).

Next: the Tokyo International Forum.

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