Wednesday, January 28, 2015

War, Perspective & Reality - 1900 to 1940

A couple months ago I traced the development of perspective to the end of the 19th century (Perspective - A History of Perspective Layout). I ended the survey at the beginning of the last century because linear perspective had reached its apex. I will now look at the years when perspective was the established art technique, but the drive toward realism, with linear perspective as the prime tool, was being questioned.

I will not dwell on the reasons for this turning away from reality; they are well known. The First World War destroyed the illusion of European superiority among young Europeans. The Great Depression and World War Two destroyed Europe’s military power, and led to economic stagnation. The heart of western civilization was still alive, but had ceased to believe in itself. Culturally, Europe believed in everything, but could not synthesize the confusion; and therefore it increasingly believed in nothing. There was peace under the aegis of the United States, but it was a new world sown with cultural doubt. Tradition was worth nothing, but anything new was feted. “Subversive,” “revolutionary,” and “transgressive” replaced “beautiful” and “skilled” as words of praise. This was not a new phenomena in human history, but the speed and scale of the change was that of another world war; and, it has not resolved itself yet.

Let’s look at the turn of the century in architectural illustration…

Looking back we see that perspective layout had become “normal” by the early 19th century. Perspective (both one and two point) was well known in all the graphic arts. Not only highly trained architects and artists, but technicians knew how to produce excellent work. In addition, the public expected and demanded illustration that closely modeled reality. Cram Wentworth & Goodhue’s 1893 proposal for the N.Y.C. City Hall (above) was presented using a simple line perspective. I don’t know if Goodhue himself drew it, but it has the feel of his later work. The Goodhue post is here.

 In addition to the use of perspective, artists and architects used a range of visualizing tools to make their two dimensional painting or drawing look like three dimensional reality. Shade and shadow, reflections, texture, and many other “tricks” were normally learned by the turn of the century. The Beaux-Arts handling of perspective came to California in a big way with the competition for the University of California master plan in 1896. This rendering of the proposed Stadium by Emile Benard shows the softening effect of ink wash over the precise layout. 

By this time in history the use of perspective to imitate reality had arrived at its widest dissemination. It was the structural underpinning of many different rendering styles, illustrating all the new designs that began to be proposed. The modern design movement was built on the rational visualization process developed during the Renaissance.  Above is Cite Industrielle by Tony Garnier, from 1904.

Frank Lloyd Wright developed innovative designs throughout his long career. The perspective renderings of those designs were also innovative in their use of unusual viewpoints. The Hardy House (1905) takes a view from the lake far below the house itself. The lake occupies the lower half of the paper, and the house is tucked just below the top edge.

Eliel Saarinen was another architect/artist who worked from exacting perspective layout to create evocative atmospheric illustrations. The proposal for the Parliament House of Finland, completed 1908, is a good example of his approach. The design is simplifying the classical style in a careful way, while taking the art of architectural rendering into the realm of drama.

At the same time as Saarinen was working his magic. Peter Behrens was pressing architecture toward the machine. The AEG factory above is an example of “industrial classicism”, a precursor to the Bauhaus and the modern era of design. The rendering of the project however, was in no way experimental or ground breaking, but is a nice clean, if pedestrian perspective.
The end of World War One came in 1918. It is as good a date as any to mark the beginning of the modern era. The seemingly mindless killing on an industrial scale brought the whole humanistic enterprise into question. Although the old ways continued, new styles, ideas and attitudes began to gain a following. 

Accurate perspective layouts were still the basis for all sorts of illustrations and designs.  This drawing of a Victorian club room by Erwin Pauli is from1918.

Some perspective drawings matched the simplified “architectonic” style coming into fashion at the end of the world war. This rendering of the Amsterdam Royal Academy by Bijvoet & Duiker, from 1918, is a good example of the curious tension between the 2 dimensional graphic and the 3 dimensional perspective.
You might note from this survey that abstraction in architectural illustration was found more often in the work of architects from continental Europe. Britain and America continued to prefer 3 dimensional realism.

Drama and sentiment were also increasingly valued in illustrating traditional designs. This dramatic view of Madison Square Garden by Hugh Ferriss is also from 1918. Ferriss did not use a separate layout when doing his charcoal renderings, but instead roughed out the perspective as he went along. You’ll find the Hugh Ferriss post here.

This rendering of a villa from 1919 is much like the Amsterdam Royal Academy in its strict perspective and flat coloring. The architecture features large blank walls with interspersed geometric ornament, a style surprisingly congenial to the rendering.

The residential sketches above by Arthur L. Guptill show that accurate perspective was still a design tool. These sketches from 1920, show that good perspectives were trickling down to the middle class domestic life in the U.S.

At the same time, perspective was being used to describe very avant gard living spaces. Above is a rough pencil sketch for a residence by W.A. Hablik. It is no coincidence that the traditional was still largely accepted in America, while it was being replaced in Mitteleuropa.  The U.S. had been hardly touched by the war, but Europe had been devastated. 

This imaginary power plant by Antonio Sant’Elia (1920) exemplifies the love affair that avant garde architecture had with the machine. The drawing, on the other hand, is a perspective sketch embued with a human emotion. Le Corbusier took Sant’Elia’s prophetic revolutionary ideas, and froze them in aphorisms and concrete.

Early modernism flirted with the reinterpretation of classical forms. Auguste & Gustave Perret were at the forefront of this movement. Their radical 1922 proposal for neoclassical towers near Paris is now forgotten. The rendering is pure Beaux-Arts, in the style of Jules Guerin.

For some architects, ornamentation, especially that derived from the old and therefore discredited ancient world, was verboten. Riviera Villas by Adolf Loos is an example of a very “stripped-down” design presented with the old established technique. It is an interesting example in that the design is relentlessly rectilinear, and therefore the drawing itself is little more than the basic layout of an earlier rendering. Loos would lose influence, but come back into vogue in the 1980’s.  

Wright’s Mayan period is represented in a correct, if crude way in this rendering of a fraternity house from 1924. His long career involved many shifts in style; the prairie school being the one he began with in Chicago working for Louis Sullivan. In every shift of style however, perspective was always his preferred presentation technique.

The Soviet Union was a curious place to practice architecture. Much of the new construction was banal and soul-less, but the approved “heroic” style could be interesting. Above is a project called Suspended Office Block, by El Lissitzky & M. Stam, “suprematists” from the Soviet Union. The Wolkenbügel design is radical, grandiose and utopian, but the perspective is plain vanilla.

Large scale urban projects also used the old Renaissance tools. Above is the French Hospital, in N.Y.C., by Crow, Lewis & Wick (1925). While the Soviets at this time seemed to bounce from extreme to extreme, the Americans looked for middle class respectability in their architecture.

Public works were equally tied to the old lens of perspective. Here is Hell Gate Bridge, in N.Y.C. by Henry Hornbostel (1925). This rendering happens to be a long time favorite of mine. Interestingly, it is the inspiration for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was rendered by CyrilFarey

“Paper architecture” was as prevalent in the 1920’s as it is now. Alvo Auat was a designer/illustrator who specialized in fantasy architecture at this time. He is largely forgotten now, but I have a copy of his book Architectural Visions. His work is like Piranesi’s sketches; fantastic, romantic and yet believable because of his use of perspective. 

Although most offices had a draftsman who specialized in drawing perspectives, the profession of perspectivist/renderer came into being at this time. This Residence Prototype by Johnson Kaufman & Coate, was illustrated by Chester Price in 1925. The design is traditionally domestic, and the perspective is a warm reflection of homeliness. 

The avant-garde of European architecture created new designs and images within the old perspective system. This small hotel in Brussels by Charles Colassin seems dull and pretentious architecturally. It also presents a fresh interpretation of a standard perspective view. Colassin, along with many other “cutting edge” designers, used gouache (or opaque watercolor) to illustrate their designs. Professional renderers in the 50s and 60s brought gouache painting to a new high of style and flexibility, but also made it synonymous with mass produced modernity, and in time mediocrity.

As time went on there seems to have been an increasing divide between realistic illustration in architecture, and abstract illustration. Both sides used linear perspective, but one emphasized the realism, while the other undermined the realism. This interior view of an “Apartment Hotel” for the 1930 Werkbund Exhibition by Herbert Bayer & Walter Gropius is an example of the latter ‘abstracted’ perspective.

This watercolor of the Holzworth House by George Fred Keck (1930), shows a modern design rendered in a fairly realistic perspective. It is appropriate that it emphasizes strong sunlight, since Keck was an early proponent of passive solar design. Incidentally, Keck mentored Ralph Rapson, one of my professors at school.

Hall des Torpilleurs by Auguste Perret (1932) is a practical assemblage of glass and concrete. The rendering of the building is firmly in the realist camp, but is a curious mix of static and dynamic.  The symmetrical corner view gives it a solid, even boring look, but the highly developed sunlit side and blank right elevation are a fascinating contrast.

End of examples…
I’m going to end this post here, since the Great Depression and World War II created a huge break with the past. The trouble in Europe spewed the new ideas over the Atlantic Ocean, where they took root in the newly powerful universities in the United States. The bubbling brew of modern vs traditional, and realistic vs abstract would end up traveling on American coat tails, and has now infected the whole world.
What does this mean for the future of art, architecture and architectural illustration? Well, it has been 70 years since the end of World War II, so there are more posts in which to answer that question; besides which, the human race moves forward by reinventing our culture, tools and traditions. It is not a straight line of progress, but rather a forward, backward, sidestep, turnaround dance. Sometimes the most important developments are put in the closet, only to be brought out by some later generation

Other posts on Perspective:
Perspective - Two Point Perspective - Distortions & Complications
Perspective - Three Point Perspective- Hand & CAD

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Perspective - Personal Examples and the move to CAD

I’ve been lucky in that I started illustrating buildings when it was done entirely by hand. I say that I was lucky because knowing the ins and outs of perspective helps any artist manipulate a nitpickingly correct computer perspective. Artists who only know computer modeling make simple mistakes, and often end up with mediocre illustrations.

I graduated from architecture school in 1974; a time when computers filled large rooms, and 3D computer simulation was crude, and limited to large, well funded institutions.  The following examples show my (and the profession's) progress from purely hand made perspectives to computer layouts. They also will illustrate some of the problems encountered and tricks learned.

 I had drawn perspectives for friends in architecture school for years, and when I arrived in New York City in 1977, I got a job as a draftsman largely because of my ability to draw perspectives (as well as my being willing to work cheaply and start immediately). 

At first the perspectives I did were “in-house” sketches used to visualize my own designs and those of fellow architects. Above are process views of a small perspective showing a trading pit at the Commodity Exchange in New York.

Eventually these perspective layouts included interiors and exteriors, and projects of every size. In this image of a small office building you can see the building plan with the picture plane floating in the space above the building. The vanishing points and station point are all off the paper to left, right and bottom, respectively. This building was relatively short, so there was no problem with distortion at the top of the front corner.

This layout of a residential building was done on trace paper, with the building plan laid underneath. It is hard to see in this photo, but the picture plane (a line of dots actually) is in the sky above the building. Being on a corner lot (with legal setbacks) the building appears to lean to the right, a defect that was impossible to remedy via viewpoint, short of playing with a three point perspective.

Here’s an aerial layout for a mixed use development in Stamford Connecticut. This drawing was not created using a traditional linear perspective technique. Instead, the site/building plans were made into a perspective (easy in a computer, but hard by hand), and the forms were extruded using an estimated vertical scale. Vertical lines are all parallel, while the horizontals are on a distant vanishing point (your typical two point perspective). The existing church buildings were constructed using a floor plan and site photos.

This layout for a proposed office building in Queens, New York has a very regular geometry, but needs three vanishing points because of the angled façade. The plan can be seen at the top of the image, but the picture plane is a bit beyond the top of the paper. Luckily the building fronted on a wide boulevard, allowing the station point to be at a natural and non-distorting distance.

This proposal for a development in Manhattan used a photograph of the site from across the East River as a base. The footprints of the new buildings were estimated based on the landmarks seen in the site photograph. The plans were then located relative to the station point, so as to match the estimate. Once the buildings were blocked in I estimated a vertical floor height, and extruded the forms. Obviously the design was very preliminary, and could reasonably rely on estimation for a rough perspective.

Here is a layout for a proposed signage ensemble at the north end of Times Square. The working lines have been cleaned up, and the result was later transferred to an illustration board via carbon paper. The background buildings are traced from photos, and the new building has at least 5 vanishing points because of the angled signs on the Broadway façade. This was one of the first renderings which I felt that I had produced real art. A closeup of the final rendering can be found in this post.

This residential tower entry is fairly simple, but it has floor tiles in a triangular pattern which calls for extra vanishing points. The plan was placed underneath the mylar sheet, and the picture plane can be seen as a series of dots over the glass canopy. By this time I was very comfortable with the perspective process, and would mark the picture plane with minimally different shapes for different building elements.

Office interiors are often very simple, but they have furniture and ornamentation which can be complicated. The construction lines for the stairway (at the right) are the most complex part of this view. Note the use of a diagonal vanishing point to simplify the layout of the ceiling lights.

In this example the plan, station point, and picture plane are visible. You can see the plan to the lower left, and the picture plane is the top of the sheet of mylar. Since the basic volumes are simple, the plan has been traced at a small scale (1/8” = 1’-0”), and the final view has been made large by pushing the picture plane back to farthest end of the hallway the viewer is standing in. Note the vertical line just to the left of the man on the right; it is the joint of an added strip of mylar allowing the right side of the hallway to be seen. Note also that the walls on the far right have been cheated so as to eliminate the distortion that might come from a strict adherence to linear perspective.

Here is another example of an interior perspective produced from a small plan. The station point is at the very bottom of the sheet, and the picture plane is at the top edge of the sheet, with the plan floating over the lower stairs. The geometry of the stairway and space was carefully worked out with the vertical scale being taken from the farthest corner of the space. Once the basics were set, the details, and ornamentation were worked in by eye.

The final trace is clean and neat, but not particularly impressive. It isn’t my usual approach, which is dramatic and moody. However, as a perspective created without any computer, it still is impressive.

And, the coldly precise line work is mesmerizing in its own way.

This is an unfinished layout for a restaurant called The Casual Quilted Giraffe, a celebrity haunt of the eighties.  As with the examples above, it was a simple space with spots of delightful detail (designed by Woody Rainey). Every part of the linear perspective form can be seen on the small (and aging) piece of trace paper. Once the basics of the ornamental torchieres were set, I worked them up into a neo Art Deco bit of fantasy. This drawing was purely for design purposes, and was never made into a finished rendering.

The plan and picture plane are drawn in pencil on the perspective above, while the actual perspective is traced in red. This is an example of a layout that was rejected. The station point is too close to the building, and the client wanted to see a bit more of the facades on the left.

This residential proposal in Scarsdale, New York was intended to suggest an architectural feeling. The footprint and height of the building was set, and a roughly sketched concept was followed, but the details were added while drawing. You can see some of the layout lines at the top of the roofs, and the vertical points are visible on the front corner of the main block. The final was drawn in freehand ink over this sheet.

This residential block on upper Broadway in New York City, switches the positions of the plan and picture plane. The roof plan has been drawn above the frame of the perspective (in light blue). The picture plane is drawn at about the 14th floor of the final layout (again in light blue). The result is a perspective which is smaller than the floor plan, allowing an accurate spacing of the windows. The vertical dimension line is at the right corner of the building; scaled at half that of the plan above.This is another rendering which began with exacting detail, but was finished with drama and color. The final rendering can be found in this post.

I was never satisfied with the view above of Canary Wharf. For one, the vanishing point to the left should have been much farther out. On the other hand, it was a quick sketch layout meant to test a viewpoint. The layout was not from a plan, but instead worked up elements separately from design sketches.

Above is a nice clean example of a large building perspective layout. The plan is drawn in red, the picture plane and working lines are drawn in blue, and the final perspective is in black. The plan includes the context, site and building details, indeed all aspects of a large scale exterior perspective. The finished rendering (again, dramatic atmosphere) can be found at the end of this post.

The layout lines which are light blue, can barely be seen on this view of a child’s chair. However, it is interesting for its viewpoint, which is that of a playing toddler. In effect it has been drawn as if it was a large building.

The two images above are together an example of an early use of computer model based hand rendering. The top is a very simple block model with rough window and ornament placement drawn on the faces (using AutoCAD). Below is the final ink line drawing. The complete tutorial for this rendering can be found HERE.

The computer modeling is getting more complex in this aerial view of a development proposal in Azerbaijan. It is too stiff to make a good rendering, and so it was used as an underlay for a pencil drawing. The tall and short vertical lines seen in the lower left were used to scale trees and people respectively.

This computer model has pushed the layout about as far as it can go. Beyond this point the computer was doing the rendering, and painting by hand became a luxury commodity. In this case I painted directly on a print with acrylics. The computer model handled the architectural ornament, and the people, trees and other “free-forms” were done by hand. Typically, after all elements of the rendering were complete, I would make one more pass to obscure and vary the image so as to create a more coherent and “human” piece of art. 

Creating the illusion of 3 dimensions on a 2 dimensional piece of paper is one of the ways to wow a viewer. It can be faked or dispensed with in many cases, but for architectural rendering a serious attempt at reality is a prerequisite. Having said that, the super realism of computer renderings have limits. The human mind prefers some mystery in what they experience. This can come from suggestion and keeping things unfinished, or from pure fantasy. There are many ways to elicit mystery out of a flat image, but you have to learn how to use the tools at hand. Linear perspective is still one of those tools.