The Field of Play (V)

Some thoughts on the field of play, where thinking happens and understanding grows:



You’ll want to click on this article “Unavoidable Nuisances”: August Komendant, Louis I. Kahn, and the Difficult Relationship between Building Design and Engineering and scroll to the bottom of the page where you see these two images:

Louis I. Kahn and August Komendant (two Estonians, I just learned from the article) designed this building, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth Texas, completed in 1972. A pure delight I’ve walked through many times.

The photo brings back memory of it. Recall walking through the museum if you’ve been there. Notice that if you could walk through a virtual reality model of the same building, the VR experience would be similar to walking around the museum in real life. Of course there are very important differences between real life and VR, really major differences. And I’m tempted to discuss many of those differences at length, but I won’t. The differences are less important than the similarities. And you’re familiar with the differences anyway. The primary similarity is that in both VR and real world, the Kimbell Museum is experienced spatially; you walk around in it. Or you move through it in some manner; you could fly lotus-style on a magic carpet through it if you like. The point is that it’s spatial, and therefore you can move through it. So, though a model and the real thing are different things, in the most primary way, those two things are alike.

The drawing on the other hand (the image to the left of the photo above) is another thing altogether, a completely different kind of thing, lacking any kind of primary similarity with either the real world or a virtual simulation of the real world.

What alien thing is this then?

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 12.26.45 AM

Kahn and Komendant are communicating something, to themselves and each other, and to others, in drawings like this one, something that they cannot well communicate in models, not in any kind of model:

  • a physical model, of which they built many
  • a digital model
  • the real thing in the real world

What they are communicating, in drawing, specifically, the kinds of things that drawings are used to communicate, I’ll discuss. This is something that can be discussed. There is a basic nature to the kinds of things that are communicated through drawing. And these basic things can be generalized, named, categorized. But I’m going to talk about that tomorrow in part VI of this article. Tonight I just add a couple more examples and leave the question open.

But one last remark before the fun examples; notice this:

This drawing above and all drawings like it cannot be understood, and indeed make no sense whatsoever, unless both the person drawing it and the person viewing it imagine the drawing in-situ within a mental model of the spatial whole of the building (or other kind of thing if not a building). There is, when drawing, always a mental leap from the drawing into the spatial whole.

If you think about this, it’s difficult to imagine a case where this is not so. And though some minor exceptions could be presented, the truth of it carries: there is an interplay, a back and forth, a mental ping-ponging between drawing (whether you’re the one drawing, or the one reading the drawing), and modeling (whether the model is mental, physical, digital, or real).

There is a great set on this page of really excellent photos of the Kimbell museum, and of drawings and physical models of the same produced by Louis Kahn and August Komandant. Do click the link and enjoy! Included on the page is this drawing:

Kahn-Komandante drawing of Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1972

This is an outstanding example that makes the point. There is a great deal of very essential communication made here by this drawing, very concisely. And this is the problem. For anyone familiar with producing drawings of this type, and who also is familiar with the production of digital 3D models of projects like this, this drawing makes you laugh out loud while crying tears of suffering and pain, with the memory of what it takes, if you model these things today for a living, to model the whole of a project in such a way that the whole of a model contains the same quantity of information that is conveyed here very clearly, and concisely, unambiguously, and without doubt. Without, that is, and this is fundamentally important: without doubt that anywhere in this drawing, that what should be shown, is shown, and that someone qualified to determine this fitness, has done so, determined it.

The scope of work required to even attempt to approach this level of clarity, and to do so unfailingly throughout the whole of the space of an entire 3D digital model, well that is another kind of undertaking altogether. And it is unachievable. The lack of time and manpower resources is only part of the problem. If you have the skill and the time to model at that level, not just in some parts of a model, but throughout all of it (I mean, you don’t have the time; no one ever does), but even if you did, there is still the vexing unsolvable problem that you don’t have any means or method within the model of telling someone where in the model you’ve achieved the required completeness, and where, maybe, you haven’t. But it’s not only that you have no means of communicating that to others; it’s also that you really have no way of tracking the status of it yourself. The problem is fundamentally one of scope and the cognitive limits of the human mind. There’s simply too much, too much information, too much stuff.

And there are too many distractions. We have to go to the bathroom. We have to get coffee. We have to eat lunch. We have to answer the phone. We have to answer emails. We have to take breaks. We have to go home at night. We have to think all day. We have to ask ourselves 6 times a minute: Am I even doing the right thing? Is this design a train wreck or are we going in the right direction? What is the client going to think? Is my family going to be disappointed because I’m working on this again all hours of the day and night? When is the last time I saw my child for more than 15 minutes? Can I wait another month for new tires on my car? Should I get a second dog? Am I getting fat? How many more months until this project is done? What about the owner’s budget? Is the roof going to leak? Am I detailing this right? Will it fall down? Will maintenance cost a fortune? Is my professional reputation going to be ruined by this project? Am I taking too long to get the model done? Are we going to miss the deadline for the client meeting next week? Is our office going to go out of business? Will we find another client?

That’s just a fraction of it. How is someone supposed to keep in mind not only a complete mental picture of the entirety of a project model, assisted by a digital model of the same, but also keep track of the quality/completeness status of the entire digital model, everywhere, throughout the entire space of the model, without using some kind of device like a set of drawings, or not like a set of drawings, but actually a set of drawings? (which accomplish precisely this tracking function)

More on the functions well served by drawing in section VI. Having been the self-inflicted victim of this myself for many years working as a professional modeler and drafter, this is the stuff that makes you laugh and cry (mostly cry), and that mostly you keep to yourself. After all, you’re the guru of 3D modeling; how could you admit a problem with the whole premise? We’ll come back to that. For now I need a break. Enjoy these beauties, and notice while looking at these that your mind jumps, back and forth, ping-ponging between drawing and modeling. Let yourself ping-pong. It’s there in the ping-ponging that thinking happens and understanding grows.

From the blog, Arquitecta d’Armonía:



Go to part 6: The Field of Play (VI)

Return to part 1: The Field of Play (I)