THINKING COMPUTERS IN ARCHITECTURE

THINKING COMPUTERS IN ARCHITECTURE

Existential and Embodied Wisdom in Architecture By Arch. Loki David

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In one on my favourite books, The Thinking Hand: Existential and Embodied Wisdom in Architecture (from which the title of this article is borrowed), Swiss Architect (and author) Juhani Pallasmaa looks extensively at the lost art of hand drawing and the importance of the ‘knowing hand’ in the creation of architecture.

To quote him:¬†‘Architecture is a product of the knowing hand. The hand grasps the physicality and materiality of thought and turns it into a concrete image. In the arduous processes of designing, the hand often takes lead in probing for a vision, a vague inkling that it eventually turns into a sketch, a materialization of an idea.’

A sketch i made on a tablet using a stylus pen

He continues, ‘The pencil in the architect’s hand is a bridge between the imagining mind and the image that appears on the sheet of paper; in the ecstasy of work, the draughtsman forgets both his hand and the pencil, and the image emerges as if it were an automatic projection of the imagining mind. Or, perhaps, it is the hand that really imagines as it exists in the flesh of the world, the reality of space, matter and time, the very physical condition of the imagined object.’

Juhani’s arguments are very convincing, but thinking about it, anyone from my (the younger) generation of architects and designers cannot help ‘hearing the voice of another old man lamenting the lost art of hand drawing and the thoughtless computer drawings driving our industry today’.

The influence of materials and techniques in the adaptation of form is very well illustrated in the history of steel construction.

The Park Avenue Hotel below (1969) was built of cast iron simulating steel

Tradition, many times, hampers us in spite of our best intentions. Unlike Airplanes which (luckily for them) had no background in history and so were able to progress unhindered by deeply grooved habits of thought, cars inherited a carriage tradition thousands of years old which held back their design for a whole generation.

It was only when the memory of graceful horse-drawn vehicles had grown dim that we could analyse the automobile’s function in its own terms and evolve a rational form to suit it.

I draw a lot, both by hand and using computers and I have experienced Juhani Palasmaa’s described feeling of forgetting both hand and the pencil, computer screen and the mouse; and the image emerges as if it were an automatic projection of my¬†imagining mind. In one of his painting, Angelus Novus’, Paul Klee depicts an angel looking as if she is about to move away from something she is fixedly contemplating,… eyes staring, mouth open and wings spread. Kenneth Frampton likens this to how we view history: The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make a whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from paradise, catching her wings with such violence that she can no longer close them. Architecture is very much an expression of culture, history, traditions, climate … and these can only be interpreted and expressed by the architect, not created.

Another Ipad sketch i created

In one of his painting, Angelus Novus’, Paul Klee depicts an angel looking as if she is about to move away from something she is fixedly contemplating, eyes staring, mouth open and wings spread. Kenneth Frampton likens this to how we view history: The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make a whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from paradise, catching her wings with such violence that she can no longer close them. Architecture is very much an expression of culture, history, traditions, climate … and these can only be interpreted and expressed by the architect, not created. Materials and

Architecture is very much an expression of culture, history, traditions, climate and these can only be interpreted and expressed by the architect, not created. Materials and techniques, however, play a large part in the architect’s expressions and mastering both which are of vital importance.

Mastering your technique, whether it’s the use of a computer or a pencil, will free you from the fear of ‘unknowing’ as well as reduce ‘surprise’ by the ‘forms’ that these tools generate (especially computers, which often lead to one getting too easily satisfied).

In the same way that the boundary between the hammer and the hand disappears in the act of hammering, the pencil, as well as other complicated tools such as computers merge with the user’s body, becoming inseparable extensions of the hand and the mind. It is, however, important to note that despite all these magical integrations, tools are not innocent; they expand our faculties and guide our actions and thoughts in specific ways. Borrowing Juhani’s conclusion: ‘to argue that for the purpose of drawings an architectural project the charcoal, pencil, ink pen and computer mouse are equal and exchangeable is to misunderstand completely the essence of the union of the hand, tool and mind’.

Summary

To conclude, I have included several sketches in this article, all of which are, surprisingly done with a computer. Since Apple’s plans to engage larger screen manufactures for their next devices were leaked to the press, many have been predicting a larger iPhone. I doubt it: the tablet computer is changing the way we do our work and I have a feeling even the laptop is on its way out!. Ever since I discovered the brilliant stylus by Go Smart for the iPad, I have worked on several drawings, taking advantage of the best of the computer while keeping the craft of hand drawing. This, for me, is a good way of working: I could, however, be very wrong. It’s a compromise.

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