From line to hyperreality

From Perry Kulper to Aristide Antonas, from Xavier Claramunt to François Roche, a group of architects in a timeless dialogue examine the methods and aims of representation in architectural research today.


Architecture / Ethel Baraona Pohl, AR interaction by dpr-barcelona powered by Aurasma

If we were to describe our street in the manner of Georges Perec, we might start by counting how many buildings are in the street, describing the door of the bar next to the supermarket, the window beside that door and the hand that is cleaning the window, the texture of the street, the cigarettes that lie in that street, the leaves near the cigarettes. But how can we represent it in a visual way? With photographs, drawings, models or all of these at the same time? The need for representation techniques that create a context for the viewer and transmit and communicate dreams and projects has a long history. It has guided architects and artists to researching the best ways to communicate their innermost thoughts, just as Giovanni Battista Piranesi did when he transformed reality with his Carceri d'invenzione, or "Imaginary Prisons".

The utopian dreams of the 1960s and '70s wouldn't have been the same without the new forms of representation used by the avant-garde architects, where every reader was in the position to decipher the message behind the represented work. Drawings, collages and models transmitted an urgency to be understood, to find eyes able to receive the message that was being sent. By comparing the work of the "paper architects" to the recent technology of augmented reality, we can see how representation techniques have evolved, especially in recent years, with digital tools becoming almost an extension of our body. Given that representation techniques and methodology in the production of architecture are helpful to understand the conceptual range in which this architecture has been created, the technological moment and the cultural and socio-political context are key.

Top: Perry Kulper, The Central California History Monument, competition (photomontage and hybrid techniques). Above: Aristide Antonas, the vertical mobile village offers temporary housing for new residential areas in Hymettus, Athens, Greece

It is important to understand the representative process of design as a counterpoint to the materiality of built architecture and a reinforcement of the intangible flow of imagination and thinking that lies in the process itself. When you can describe someone's drawings as "a presence in itself, a poetic impulse", as Germano Celant wrote about Aldo Rossi's drawings, you can say that the power of representation lies beyond materials and forms. Representation by means of lines aims to delimit our conception of space but then becomes a contradiction, because the poetry behind the representation can surpass those limits and become the starting point for new thoughts and ideas.

wAi Think Tank (Nathalie Frankowski and Cruz Garcia), Cities of the Avant-Garde, 2011 (collage, digital manipulation and mixed techniques)

Jean-Paul Jungmann wondered if there is a mental creation, an image before the graphic transcription. The practice of representation has always been an architect's main tool for design thinking. It is interesting at the current moment to analyse how this tool has evolved from hand drawing to parametric modeling and augmented reality, which is why we have made an overview of different approaches to representation in architecture. The result is a timeless dialogue between specific architects whose distinctive hallmark is the transmission of their ideas. This article aims to be a sketch itself, a representation of representation. The ideas are spread out on paper, and it's up to you to connect them. The narrative starts at the very moment an architect puts pencil to paper as the most basic tool to express his ideas. He uses these drawings as a kind of basic project manifesto—not only to test the validity of his ideas, but also to try out the way they are represented and communicated. In the past several years, there has been an interest in the rendition of architecture and how the drawn work affects the course of architectural thinking. Many examples show how drawing is used to express a philosophical gesture, a forward-thinking approach. WAI Think Tank declares "That if architectural representation is limited to the typical drawings and perspective (like it usually is) it will delimit through those tools the way we think and understand architecture". WAI is convinced that by exploring the potential of tools of representation used in other intellectual disciplines, like literature, art and music, it is possible to provide new ways of expanding the limits of architectural language and therefore increase the limitlessness of our world.

The narrative starts at the very moment an architect puts pencil to paper as the most basic tool to express his ideas

EQUIP Xavier Claramunt, Sphere Building: two spheres, one inside the other, standing 100 stories high and with an area of 1,660,900 m2

One example is the work of Cómo Crear Historias, which represents a sort of urban fairy tale. The same idea lies behind the work of Perry Kulper, who says that representation enables continuous critical debate in the discipline of architecture and the possibility of architectural vision without necessarily being constructed (visionary architecture). While Kulper argues that representation enables movement between languages of architecture and languages of representation (the mediating role of representation) Aristide Antonas says: "We understand the world as a communication process having to do with representation. Communication is not an impossible project; it means keeping important the process of representation while its meanings and rules remain impossible to get". Does representation have ontological importance as a means of communication dealing with the human desire of "being heard"? According to Antonas, we conceive ontology as different to representation. "we conceice 'being' as a non-representable power that can only give shape to other different representations while 'being' itself stays secret and unseen". Antonas says that when it comes to representation, we are in front of architecture much like an archaeologist trying to read hieroglyphics without having a clue as to what they mean. Such an archaeologist might spend his life trying to explain one or two hieroglyphs.

The interior of Lab3D in Barcelona, the 3D representation workshop set up by the Spanish studio EQUIP Xavier Claramunt

The link between architectural representation and the physicality of its constructions has an undeniable influence on architects and students. In the academic field, Kulper describes this by saying that "Representation can allow one to work on things that one may not yet know how to describe spatially or architecturally". Antonas maintains that representation is not interesting if it is merely an emphasis or a better understanding of a single idea (that is proposed as correct). "Representation of a problem is more constructive", he declares. An important part of architectural research is done by means of scale models. Recently in Barcelona, the School of Architecture (ESARQ) at UIC celebrated its 15th anniversary with an exhibition called End Sequences, which shows the school's teaching style mostly through the use of model making as a tool to understand concepts such as geometry and complexity.

esarq-uic, Seqüencies Extremes installation view. Photo by Simón García

EQUIP Xavier Claramunt, an architecture and design office, has been conducting research by means of scale models for over 25,359 hours (and counting) in their 3D lab using basic materials such as paper, cardboard, balsa wood and silicone, but also advanced robotic techniques. Claramunt describes it as "an irrepressible impulse guided by the need to communicate all our work and ideas. It is the need to build everything that nobody lets you build". The idea is that having an object, albeit small, constructed impeccably is a tangible argument for defending a reality that has not yet come to be. If we think of models as translations of reality, what if models transcend the paper and the screen and come alive as robotic-mechanical machines? Is this still representation? François Roche answered this question: "At the Animism-Vitalism-Mechanism College there are some machines, some desirable machines that love to pretend to do more than they really do. In pursuit of pataphysics—the science of imaginary solutions—they never reveal their inner nature, their origins, illusions, genuineness or fakeness".

esarq-uic, Seqüencies Extremes installation view. Photo by Simón García

He also pointed out that by using strange apparatuses, these machines symmetrically articulate different arrows of time and layers of knowledge, all the while negotiating the endless limit of their own absurdity, where behaviour that seems illogical is protocolised by an extreme logic of emerging design and geometry, where input and output are described by rules and protocols. In this sense machines can be a representation of the next level in shelter, which will be symbiotically connected to rather than isolated from the environment, as "Vectors of narratives, generators of rumours, and at the same time directly operational, with an accurate productive efficiency", says Roche. The most advanced technologies of representation now are those involving augmented reality (AR), where our view of reality is modified by technology, by augmenting the real world with virtual information. Is it possible to embed the virtual within the physical urban environment? In the book Disappearing Architecture, Michael Beigl and Georg Flachbart talk about a new concept, that of "heterarchitecture", where real space and virtual space are "literally superimposed".

Drawing from the project An architecture “des humeurs” project. The architecture studio R&Sie(n) worked with a group of mathematicians, programmers, architects and robotics designers to develop a computational approach to architecture based on biological and physiological data. The aim of the research was to conceive designs for housing units and urban fragments based on relational protocols

Greg Tran's work at the Harvard Graduate School of Design gives us a glimpse of how AR would affect the development of an idea, subverting our perception of the physical world. His captivating videos are in fact another kind of representation in architecture, used as a static canvas to design spaces for a reality in motion. The main utopian provocation lies in the idea that we are capable of creating a new immersive reality, completely beyond our known limits, and that it can be embedded not in a blog, a device or a computer, but in the world.

Like every exercise of representation, the article you are holding in your hands effectively transcends the limits of the printed message. It has been provided with a transversal layer to expand the discussed concepts. You only need to interact by clicking with a mobile device on the images with AR icons. As Alfred Jarry wrote in Ubu Roi, "To keep up even a worthwhile tradition means vitiating the idea behind it which must necessarily be in a constant state of evolution: it is mad to try to express new feelings in a 'mummified' form". Ethel Baraona Pohl (@ethel_baraona)

The work developed by Greg Tran at Harvard Graduate School of Design (2011) glimpses how ar would affect the development of an idea, subverting our perception of the physical world

Robot Viab02, developed by the research project An architecture “des humeurs” by R&Sie(n)—François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux with Benoit Durandin and Stephan Henrich. All the models—were fabricated by the company .MGX by Materialise, Belgium— through a process known as Selective Laser Sintering