Conference Agenda

E: Paper Session_C4: Representation, Improvisation, and Visualization
Friday, 09/Apr/2021:
9:45am - 11:15am

Panel Moderator: Philip Plowright


Online Bricollage: Toward an Architecture of Scavenged Means, Improvisational Methods and Decentralized Processes

Scott G Shall

Lawrence Technological University, United States of America

Architects, as performers, generally require a script. To produce well-formed work, they, like engineers, planners and most other design professionals, demand a carefully choreographed process and a predictable palette of means and materials that are both specifiable and consistent. Driven, in part, by the historic attachment of these professions to patronage-based supports, this need for premeditated choreography creates a bias toward concerns that are easily measured and goals that are either largely internal to the field or easily quantifiable. It also leads to an innate inability to accommodate idiosyncratic or unexpected means without inflating time, cost and effort.

Unfortunately, this demand for a script is at odds with the promise held by tools currently available to the field – a state of affairs that will only become more pronounced as the technologies supporting these tools continue to evolve. Already, the processing capacity available to the architect permits a much stronger embrace of idiosyncratic materials and complex means than can be deployed when operating within the field’s accepted patterns of engagement, as defined by tradition, legislation, and professional training. The sophistication of modeling programs routinely deployed in the design of new work similarly permits the engagement of much vaster, and more complicated, concerns. And the immediacy of widely-available global communication tools, supplemented by the increased capacity of emerging scanning and modeling toolsets, allows for the architect to bring together contributors from around the world to engage thoughtfully in localized concerns, regardless of any given contributor’s physical geography.

The paper that follows will demonstrate that, by embracing the full promise of these technologies and tools, the architect will become able to embrace more improvisational forms of practice. The paper will further articulate how this more improvisational performance will permit the professional to build stronger, more authentic dialogues with communities currently quite distant from the architect’s practice - communities that are built illegally, using scavenged materials and the improvised tactics of the bricoleur. To illustrate the potential application of the points raised, the paper will conclude with a short study of a series of improvisational design performances deployed as a part of a multi-year project in South Africa, wherein the author worked with a small team of students, designers and faculty to collaboratively design and construct, using scavenged materials, localized means and remote technologies, schools, clinics and other much-needed community assets. Completed on a budget of less than $2000, these modest projects illustrate the value of an architecture borne of improvisation, and built by contemporary technology.

The Medium isn't the Message Anymore: When the Renderings were too Good to be True

Aaron Brakke

University of Illinois, United States of America

Access to advanced computation has permitted architects to create renderings that are very accurate and realistic, yet the representations produced by architects and urban planners continue to carry inherent distortion. Research that investigates the agency of representation in architecture, recognizes the increased performative nature of presentation drawings and the “undeniable charm of slick, smooth translucent and reflective surfaces” they awake in their audience. With their ability to fabricate space, computer generated images “further problematize the relationship between the image and the thing” in a world where “collective imagery is a major field of ideological struggle” ( Altürk, 2008). Similarly, thinking of the urban as a symbol of a dominant set of urban relations, Swati Chattopadhyay recognizes that “only certain people and institutions have the language, resources and authority to make themselves and their ideas manifest in public” (2012). Grounded in this acknowledgement, Tran O’Leary use a case study of landscape architecture in a racialized setting to illustrate how “the authority of design elite” can be decentered (Tran O’Leary, Zewde, Mankoff, & Rosner, 2019). Hsueh, et al. have argued that space is rendered into a commodified version of itself and argue that digital architectural representations encourage us to mimic the forms of occupation proposed in the renders, while limiting our ability to think of the potential social impacts of architecture (Hsueh, Chu Hoi Shan, & McGrath, 2016). This paper will discuss how politicians and developers (mis)communicated planned social housing projects in Colombia, how messages masked intent and how citizens have responded to the actual content that has been delivered. Framed by the politics of futuring, it is a pressing concern in times that urge us to decolonize futures and imagination (Miraftab, 2017; Nederveen Pieterse & Parekh, 1995) in order to be able to bring alternative just futures into existence.

On Conflicting Priorities Within Digital Models Of Urban Form

Mike Christenson

University of Minnesota, United States of America

As part of the larger project of architectural epistemology, this work seeks to develop a method for digitally modeling urban form emphasizing conflicting priorities, deviations, and shifts as characteristic. In particular, this work examines how representations can exist as registers of difference. The skyway system in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota is examined as a test case.