The future of visualization could be the past
We take care of buildings every day. We sleep there, work there, live our lives using their accommodation. But like a song or a painting, one person usually helps create them, with those who use and build them, and then the world receives that work. But before being built, buildings are only ideas.
Ideas are not selected, they are formed. But to be realized by designer and user, these ideas must be understood, their flaws revealed and their opportunities realised. In this generation, the 3D world of paper and books and, well, desks, has given way to faster, cheaper and easier 2D work using electrons – culminating, in many ways, to become the “virtual reality” – VR.
In my freshman year of architecture school in 1974, Scientific American thrilled everyone by showing IM Pei’s Johnson Art Museum at Cornell, built along the Quad Walkway from my adviser Don Greenberg’s office. Greenberg had practically discovered the brave new world of computer rendering. This breakthrough made these mid-century models antiques within a generation.
Architects may revel in the security of virtual buildings, but construction is more than creation. To create, you have to sell the virtues of what is designed to the client, to the government, to donors, often to the community. The desire for love extends to everything we market, and the value of virtual reality is exquisite when an image is offered in which everyone can see themselves. But there is a cost.
The harsh realities of computer-aided drawing on a screen go beyond presentation and are a design tool. 2D VR rendering has evolved to simulate reality with a quality that evokes and encourages an aesthetic that is both perfectly controlled and antiseptic.
This way software presents designs has a direct parallel to how early 20th century photography transformed the way everyone perceived buildings. The pristine, timeless clarity of black and white images quickly found its way into real-time constructs. 2d became 3d, then achieved a new, near euphoric reality in buildings that transcends the materiality of construction and manifests the abstraction of fine art.
Something is also incomplete in the VR seduction. Human touch, the control of that touch, is both intimate and universal. The infinite reality of the sculptor’s model found in an architect’s model is both a search and a test of ideas, and the most human of methods of marketing. Tearing, cutting, gluing and taping is a direct connection from brain to hand to material to reality: tangible, physical, real. It is not a method of presentation. It’s a tactile way of thinking and looking that no sketch or screen can match.
Architecture can be public or esoteric. But buildings are inevitably and inevitably human experiences. Virtual reality is only human in our eyes and in our minds. The reality of space, form, scale is simulated on our screens, often beautifully, and if design is about creating imagery and a detached aesthetic, then photos and pixels are enough. But if design is intended to result in physical creation in this temporal and experiential world, then physical models, perhaps handmade models, have fundamental value.
I started working in the human mess and chaos of a carpentry workshop, before CNC machines changed everything. This mess was reflected directly in the adjacent architectural office of Louis Mackall, my mentor and co-owner of the shop. The messy ethos of this shop permeated our office. The instant physical exploration of ideas – with rapid cutting and gluing of cardboard, paper, foam and wood, spiced with modeling clay, paint or bits of transparent plastic and metal – has gave both designer and user a primordial joy that no screen can ever capture.
This article is part of ArchDaily Topics: The Future of Architectural Visualizations, proudly brought to you by escape, the most intuitive real-time rendering and virtual reality plugin for Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, Archicad and Vectorworks. Enscape connects directly to your modeling software, giving you an integrated visualization and design workflow.
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