Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hand & CAD - The Wireframe Years - 2


Being rather isolated at my small work station in a one bedroom apartment (shared with my pregnant wife and a toddler), I had not heard of the big architectural competition of that year. So it was a surprise when I got the call from Rafael Vignoly Associates (well, not a complete surprise since I had done work for them before).

The competition was the Tokyo International Forum, a large convention center in the center of Tokyo. The design was largely done and the submission date was coming up fast, when I was called. Luckily, they were early adopters of 3D CAD work and had produced a model.
At the very first meeting they showed me a number of views produced from that model; 4 of which looked promising.

The first view was an aerial which gave a very effective idea of the massing. I took the wireframe print and worked it over with black pastel to produce a night view. This is a Xerox of the lost original (8” x 10”), but you can see the dramatic concept: a glowing Japanese lantern set in an elegant assemblage of solid blocks. Unfortunately, being an urban site it was partially masked by the existing foreground buildings. In addition, this view showed a major commuter rail line which emphasized the odd juxtaposition of uses. At any rate, this view was set aside. 

Although this view was not used, the monochromatic rendering with a touch of red accent became the theme of the competition renderings.

The next view was from the same side of the project, but was taken from street level. The major elements of the design are visible, and the plaza running through the site is well represented. Both this and the aerial view were redrawn for the pastel sketch because the dense lines of the printed wireframe would have created areas of featureless black ink; that is, I had to eliminate detail to make the drawing intelligible. 

I went with a night view in the sketch to keep the monochrome theme and to heighten the drama of the glowing curved glass hall on the left. The sketch was produced using pastel on a letter sized bond paper copy.

The final “line” art used the wireframe as the base, but added people, trees, signage and banners to carry the accent color. The result was reproduced on glossy photographic paper (with an extra print in case disaster struck). All rendering was done by masking and airbrushing areas, starting with the largest (the sky), and continuing on to smaller and lighter areas. Most of the spraying was done with black India ink (which gave a warm tone). The red accents and the warm plaza paving were done with colored transparent inks. Reflections and streaking in the street were produced by removing the pigment with various types of erasers.

Since the “Glass Hall” was the focus of the design, both interior views had to include it. The red banners first seen in the aerial view were eventually included in all views so as to clarify the location of each rendering. This pastel sketch was only 8 inches square. The incomplete wireframe image was used with people and trees added by hand. It was a very quick and rough sketch, but it established the major toned areas of the final art.

The final wireframe included more detail than the sketch, although considerable hand drawing was needed before the airbrush work. The basic forms were printed in hidden line mode, but finer detail was added by hand. The banners were pasted over the original, and the trees and people were drawn directly on the print in ink. Again, the sky was masked and sprayed first, while smaller and lighter areas came later. As with the exterior view the final airbrush work was done on a photographic print.

The second interior view shows the exhibition hall (center and right in the view). The “Glass Hall” can be seen on the left. The concept of flowing spaces was nicely illustrated by this view. Again, the 8” x 8” pastel sketch is crude, but enough to establish the general tone areas. 

The final line art, like the first interior view, involved a lot of hand drawing and patching on a detailed wireframe. The result was photographically reproduced on glossy print paper, and then masked and sprayed, working from dark to light. I should note that spraying ink on glossy photographic paper created a very smooth machine-like finish, as long as the surface being sprayed was completely clean. This is why I sprayed the sky first: it needed to be perfectly smooth black, and spraying after applying frisket film or tape tended to leave noticeable imperfections.


The use of CAD 3D wireframes for this competition allowed the drawings to be produced on very short notice (I think it must have been about a week start to finish). The airbrush work had to be simple and strongly graphic, but developed enough to reveal the three dimensional space. The limitations of the technology helped to direct the direction of the architecture and illustration styles of that time.
It was an interesting, indeed exciting time to be an architect.