The Death of the Death of the Death of Drawing

death drawingDrawing is far from over. It’s not even close to dead. Not by a long shot.

Just to make sure, I just tweeted: ‘Is drawing dead?’

Death of Drawing anyone?

‏‪Case Inc’s @davidfano immediately tweeted back: no 🙂

‪@JayZallan Agreed: no. Next.

‪Chicago architect-in-the-making @joshuamings tweeted: nope. I’m heading out the door to sketch Alfred Caldwell’s Lily Pool and maybe Studio Gang’s pavilion in Lincoln Park.

Mexico City’s ‪@Rodrigo_Medina replied: Drawing will always have its practical applications, thinking it is enough is where I see the real problem.

‪@Parthenon1 Silly question?

‪The serially successful “Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity” author @gapingvoid tweeted: I would say that was an extremely silly question. But I’m old school 😀

You get the idea.

Readers may recall the 2012 NYTimes article by architect Michael Graves “Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing” which declared:

“It has become fashionable in many architectural circles to declare the death of drawing.”

And then asked:

“What has happened to our profession, and our art, to cause the supposed end of our most powerful means of conceptualizing and representing architecture?”

Says Graves,

“The computer, of course.”

David Ross Scheer, in his new book The Death of Drawing, also answers this question in terms of technology.

Only his answer is book-length, well-illustrated, and extremely relevant for our age.

And I recommend that you purchase a copy, read and discuss it (with only one reservation, which I’ll get to in a moment.)

One look at the six chapter titles in the book’s Table of Contents will speak to the book’s immediacy and relevance, and should help you determine whether this book is for you.

I suspect many of my blog readers and Twitter followers will find these chapter headings both pertinent and compelling:

1 Representation and Simulation 19

2 Drawing and Architecture 49

3 Building Information Modeling 101

4 Computational Design 129

5 Simulation and Architecture 165

6 Simulation and Ideation 193

Earlier drafts of the book’s chapters, the author tells us, were reviewed by Chuck Eastman, Ole Fischer, Daniel Friedman, and Michael Sorkin, a formidable group of scholars and speaks to the author’s pedigree.

Thesis, Purpose, Goal, and Central Argument? Oh my.

Scheer’s thesis will be self-apparent to those who are living it, anxiety-inducing for others:

“I believe that we are in the midst of a transformation that will ultimately reshape architecture to an extent not seen in over 500 years.”

He goes on to explain the book’s purpose:

“These changes reflect the incorporation of architecture and the building industry as a whole into a pervasive social and cultural movement towards virtualization and predictive control through digital simulation. Architects need to understand why this is happening and its effects on how we think and work if we want to continue shape the design of the built environment. This, in a nutshell, is the purpose of this book.”

Elsewhere, Scheer asks:

If architecture loses the idea of representation, how will buildings acquire meaning?

Architects have infused their designs with meaning for ages. But drawing is not the only means by which meaning is actualized. In fact, as with all communication, meaning is a two-way street: the building user and the public at large have some say in the matter. And the meaning they interpret may not be the meaning the architect intended (just think of Venturi’s Princeton Biology Building nicknamed the Purina building for the building’s elaborate brick pattern recalling the Ralston Purina checkerboard logo.)

A great deal of a building’s meaning is acquired not through any effort on the architect’s part, but on the building’s immediate context.

How does the architect know that the meaning they implied was received as intended? What role does genus loci – the spirit of the place in which the building is built, inform the building’s meaning? Is it naïve to think that buildings acquire meaning from the architect’s skill at drawing or from the drawing alone?

Society looks to architects’ buildings to be somehow significant even as it diminishes their ability to do so

Early in the book, Scheer says that he “believes” that BIM and computational design “will ultimately replace drawing as the medium of architecture and the construction industry.”

There’s no reason to “believe” this. It is 2014 and this has already happened. At least in terms of deliverables and documentation, if not – per the tweets above – in terms of how architects converse with themselves.

A few pages later, Scheer states that “this book’s goal is to stimulate debate about the future of the discipline of architecture and inform decisions about its direction.”

One expects that The Death of Drawing will inevitably lead to such discussion – in the studio, in coffeehouses, in schools and in the office.

Simulation and The Author’s Discontents

Scheer next states:

“My central argument is that the relationship between design and reality is undergoing a shift from representation to simulation and that this shift has many profound implications for architecture.”

My one gripe with Scheer’s book is its lack of context. Why is this shift happening? One would expect to find a mention of 9/11 and the subsequent reality hunger that ensued in the arts and service professions? Or a reference to the 2008 economic downturn that perhaps might have led to the need for firms to increasingly simulate in order to differentiate themselves and provide themselves with a competitive advantage?

The fact that nonfiction, these days, trumps fiction every time. And that the architect of representation practiced a refined form of fiction.

Until the fiction is objectified, justified or otherwise backed up with data.

This lack of reference to the outside world – especially given the book’s topics of BIM, computational design and simulation, is disconcerting.

Especially considering we’re living in an Age of Context.

Subjective statements – as well as Theses, Purposes, Goals, and Central Arguments – remain subjective until placed into a larger context.

As with buildings, without that context for reference, they lose meaning.

A book’s argument – any research actually – is a claim backed by reasons based on evidence.

With its thesis, purpose, goal, central argument, this book is not short of claims.

And the reasons – however personal – are there as well.

But the book, despite its wealth of beautiful images, lacks evidence. All we have is the author’s word and a veritable cornucopia of drawings to enjoy.

Due to the lack of evidence backing up the author’s claims, the book almost reads at times like it is a museum exhibition catalogue.

Scheer’s book doesn’t, for example, reference Grave’s article mentioned in the opening of this post, nor any of the other online arguments that spawned from it.

Nor does the book reference the 2012 Yale symposium entitled, of all things, ‘Is Drawing Dead?’

The fact that David Ross Scheer received his Master of Architecture degree from Yale University – it’s mentioned on page 1 – is not lost on the reader or reviewer.

It doesn’t reference MIT’s former Architecture Department Chairman, William J. Mitchell “The Death of Drawing” in the UCLA Architecture Journal 2 (1989)

Nor does it dip into social media. Forget Twitter. See for example, Lee Castili’s thoughtful post What is the drawing’s purpose?

Scheer, for example, states that “Skill in drawing has been the hallmark of the profession.”

But as with so much that is said in the book, we have to take the author’s word for it.

It doesn’t pass the otherwiseness test: What about other hallmarks of the profession, such as problem defining and solving, seeing the big picture, understanding how local decisions have global impacts, or envisioning what others can’t see? Don’t these count?

Simulation is the Enemy

Every good story has a protagonist and antagonist. Scheer’s real war in the book is with simulation. Simulation, he explains, that exists to anticipate building performance.

“Drawing and simulation entail vastly different attitudes on the part of the architect. In fact, the shift in attitude is more important for architecture than the actual uses of a given simulation. Once an architect decides to work in simulation, the values implicit in drawing no longer apply.”

The architect Scheer describes comes across as “as a wielder of information rather than a creator of form.”

He elsewhere writes “computational design is directly concerned with the generation of form.”

Except for when it is concerned with building performance or human performance.

But whether building geometry, building performance or human performance data and information are equally data. In other words, information and form are not separate activities, but integrated and interdependent.

Design integration doesn’t fare well in the book either:

“With all information in a readily transmissible form, there are great incentives to share it more freely, resulting in a leveling of the design team and a consequent redefinition of the architect’s role within it.”

This explanation of integrated design is exactly backwards. Designers aren’t encouraged to share because their work is in a form that is sharable. They share because the other – analogue, drawing – methods didn’t work.

They share information because clients require them to do so. They share information to avoid clashes in the field, cost and schedule overruns, tension in the field, finger pointing and poor relations between team members.

The earlier methods – however good they look in galleries, museums, and books such as this – led to a loss of productivity in the profession and industry. So bad, that many other fields have popped up vying for the opportunity to outdo designers and contractors at their own game.

Watching Michael Graves sketch on bumwad was a lot more fun.

But it didn’t work.

An Elegy for the Architectural Drawing?

There is a romantic notion throughout the book of the lost halcyon days of paper architecture, hand sketching, and perhaps even drafting.

And from what I recall from my 30-year career as a building designer, form-for-form’s-sake wasn’t an especially strong argument for justifying one’s course of design action.

Scheer is all for representation. He states emphatically, “Representation and simulation are incompatible modes of experience.”

In fact, firms like Thornton Tomasetti and their research arm, CORE Studio, have created software and apps, such as TTX, that serve simultaneously as both representational and simulation tools.

Scheer anticipates this when, later in the book, he writes “simulation is as much an orientation towards experience as it is a process. The same simulation can be taken at face value by some and regarded as representation by others.”

He next writes “An architectural simulation behaves like a building—it gives the same results as a building when tested in specified ways.”

If only that were the case. There have been many instances where LEED did not predict energy savings outcomes in the built building.

Again, the book here is weak on context. Surprisingly, Sherry Turkle’s seminal Simulation and Its Discontents is listed under Bibliography and Further Reading but not referenced in the book.

About a third of the way into the book Scheer asks, however rhetorically:

Is representation good and simulation bad?

His answer, perhaps more than anything else in the book, states his case:

The question, he says, makes no sense.

David Ross Scheer’s The Death of Drawing comes out in July, 2014 and can be found here

The Death of Drawing Website and blog http://deathofdrawing.com

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Death of the Death of the Death of Drawing

  1. If a lawsuit occurs, and a professional walks into a court room with their seal on the line, they aren’t throwing a model on the table as “Exhibit A” for their defense.

    They’ll throw the signed, stamped and sealed drawing.

    I appreciate the art of the drawing, the simplicity of a piece of paper communicating complex ideas and perspective…but Drawings aren’t going to die soon…not because Models or Simulation can do it better…but because (at least in the USA), each individual state requires a signed, stamped and sealed drawing as the legal document on a project. Every project, from the backyard addition or deck to the 200 story hi-rise, to the 20 mile road/corridor creation, to the parking lot paving in your neighborhood.

    Drawings aren’t going anywhere until that requirement goes away…and even then, I don’t necessarily seem them going immediately after.

  2. your review has convinced me not to buy and/or read the book.

    My question for you.

    Who are the top 20 architects (not the firms like SOM, etc) the architects:

    I.M.Pei’s who are being given awards and published heavily.

    Where are the articles of their drawings and sketches
    such as we saw in the 60s, 70s, 80s?

  3. Randy-
    Thank you for taking the time the read and review my book. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Nevertheless, you make some comments I think are not supported by the book itself.
    The context, the lack of which you criticize, is in fact provided in economics. BIM and certain uses of computational design owe their current prominence to the economic interests of building owners, which is clearly stated and the NIST report cited. If I had cited “reality hunger” as the main cause of the ascendance of simulation in architecture, then I would have had a difficult argument to make indeed!
    I provide further (actually, more detail on the same) context by making the point- at length- that drawings are being superseded because they became inadequate to the task of documenting modern buildings. Indeed, as you say, drawings “don’t work” any more. However, “working” in the sense of providing sufficient information for construction, has been only one of drawing’s roles in architectural culture, and its failure in this one regard takes the rest down with it.
    You evidently took away from the book that I am anti-simulation, in spite of the fact that you quote me to the effect that the question of whether simulation is bad or not is not a real question. I was afraid this would happen and was warned about it by a few of the people who read drafts. I thought I had it covered. I guess not. For the record, I’m not anti-simulation. I want people to think about what it entails for design and construction. I say very clearly that there is no prospect of turning it back. If I emphasize the qualities of drawing that are absent in simulation, it’s because I believe a large part of my readership (most architects under 40) will not be familiar with them.
    The replacement of drawing by simulation has not already happened as you claim. As you well know, drawings still serve as essential contract documents on virtually every project in the world. Many people (including me) expect that they will eventually be replaced by electronic documents, but there are many serious obstacles to this actually happening. As long as drawings are the chief product of our software (and vendors continue to design their software with this end in mind), we will continue to rely on the conventions that govern them in our work.
    I do think faulting the book for a lack of evidence is fair to some extent. I ground my critique of simulation in the work of well-respected philosophers and discuss current practice extensively to identify where and how simulation is having effects. But the book as a whole is a thesis intended to spark discussion. This requires making the thesis plausible, which I hope I do. Concrete proof- case studies, etc.- would be another book.
    As far as referencing other relevant works- Graves’s article hadn’t appeared when I submitted the text to the publisher. I attended the Yale symposium “Is Drawing Dead?”. As with most symposia, few of the presentations really addressed the topic. One exception was Mario Carpo’s contribution and I do refer to his written work. I wish I had found Mitchell’s 1989 article- I will read it now. However, given the hundreds of books and articles I do reference, missing one doesn’t seem too bad.
    Do I really have to prove that drawing has been a hallmark of the architectural profession? If so, don’t the drawings prove it? Since the book is about drawing and architecture, is it relevant that there have been other such hallmarks? I don’t say, or need to say, that drawing is the only one.
    The fact that LEED is poor at predicting building performance only means that it is a poor simulation, not that simulations in general don’t work.
    Finally, saying “representation and simulation are incompatible” does not imply that I think representation is superior.
    At any rate, the debate I hoped the book would spark has started. Thank you for your response. I respect your opinion very much and look forward to continued conversations.

  4. bimingargentina

    Reblogged this on BIMing Argentina and commented:
    Architects have infused their designs with meaning for ages. But drawing is not the only means by which meaning is actualized. In fact, as with all communication, meaning is a two-way street: the building user and the public at large have some say in the matter. And the meaning they interpret may not be the meaning the architect intended. A great deal of a building’s meaning is acquired not through any effort on the architect’s part, but on the building’s immediate context.

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