Sunday, September 02, 2012

Art & Science

Vermont House elevation study
It is always interesting to see what pops up on my Google News feed that simply searches "Revit". Most of the time it is various press releases from companies announcing new add-ins or services (not terribly exciting), but occasionally something of real note pops up.

So this morning as I ate my muffin before going to chucch and browsed my tablet I found myself reading an OpEd piece by Michael Graves in the NYTimes. Now Michael (Mr. Graves, I dunno...?)  is not my favorite architect by any stretch of the imagination, but he is certainly not awful in my opinion. When I was in Philly our office had the opportunity to work with his firm on a local project and we chased some work together (I even spent an afternoon in their office working on sketch-up with some of their folks). It was a good relationship and we (firms) worked well together.

So to the point, I generally agree with him in his piece. I particularly like how he separates "Architectural" drawing into three distinct categories. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a good drawer at all, I enjoy sketching, and I love to use it to get my ideas out, but usually I'm the only one who understands my sketches (maybe I should have focused more on hand "art" while in school).

I would however put forward that even the lines of the first two categories (referential sketch and preparatory study) are being blurred by technology. With the advent of tablets, and programs like Evernote, Sketchbook, the new "collaboration" between Moleskin & Evernote and the fact that styli are actually helpful even with a tablet (sorry Steve) it seems to me that more and more people will start to use these electronic tools to do sketching, and in fact they can even support the workflow that Michael describes in his piece. Of course these technologies do not replicate the "feel" of using a hand sharpened lead against yellow trace, but the question I pose is; what is more important? The end product, the result, or the means by which we get there? I understand and support the need to sketch, and I don't expect that we'll ever be "sketching" in a program like Revit, but I do believe that technology can make it easier and faster to collaborate, even when we are sketching and drawing (and still get an artistic end result that we can say is "Art"). Furthermore, at the end of the day, I will still always keep a roll of trace handy at my desk, because sometimes (at least today and likely the near future) it is in fact just "easier".

However, as an example, of where "electronic" is taking over for physical last year when I was the project architect and I had to send "sketches" to our structural engineer, what did I do? I didn't print something out, draw on it, scan it and e-mail it, nor did I just draw something from scratch. Instead I used "Snip" a utility that comes with Windows7 to capture a screen shot from Revit, and use the built in pen tools to mark-up up the screen shot then directly e-mail to the engineer. Now it did help that I had one of the old Wacom screens off to the side (3rd screen, 1024x768) to quickly do my mark-ups, but in the end that is a minor point.

I realize that these sketches do not fall into the two categories that are the focus of the OpEd, but I think the point of the application of the technology still stands, and one can see where the same underlying technological tools could be applied to the practice discussed. I'll also admit that the "study" shown at the top was probably not 100% hand drawn (I honestly don't remember at this point), there is a good chance that the sketch was based roughly on a computer drawing, but the act of "sketching", was way to explore and embellish what would otherwise be a very un-emotional and static drawing produced by a computer program.

The biggest difficulty I find is making the technology available, and part of our dialog. The workflows and processes exist at an individual level (like myself) but I've yet to effectively capture it in a way to teach it, or make it available to others. The limitations of the availability of tablets (and other technology) fully integrated with enterprise systems also raises barriers to teams adopting artistic digital workflows (for instance I can't put a Wacom on everyone's desks, even old ones). I hope that the day will come, but I'm not sure when and I'm also not sure "how much", how much do people need the physical feel of drawing to execute drawing, versus the graphical result, without the "touch"?

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

Dima said...

I think it is very important to realize what is the "end goal" and what is important and what is not. Also I think that architects have a very different set of responsibilities before the society then fine-artist for that matter. What I am trying to say here is that the "end product" of architects' work will be affecting and interacting with end user in much different way than the end product of a fine-artist.
And this article by Mr. Graves... we've all heard that before and will keep hearing this sorts of opinions for a long time. I think the best answer to this attitude I heard in the TED video of Philippe Starck here
Quote "Every generation thinks - we are the final one. I AM the MAN. We mutated for 4 billion years before, but now, because it's me - we stop! Fin"