Caricature As A Mode Of Transformation

By virtue of its wit and intelligence, this sketch by Eric Kahn (Figure 4.1) may resemble a caricature. It is poignant in its method of communication as it locates the unique essence of form relationships. In this sketch Kahn employs lines that are exuberant. The swirled marks are so tremendously abstract that they could be mountains, waterfalls, foliage, or dancing figures.

The loose lines dance across the page seemingly denying boundaries. Although it may appear Kahn was doodling or scribbling, the intention of the sketch can be seen in the repeated forms and areas of concentration. The sketch may have been a method to quickly visualize form, proportion and volume before committing to a particular composition. The abstraction may have allowed Kahn to see the basic volumes and find associative shapes in these sketches that have been completed with great energy. This may suggest that he sketched arbitrarily in order to preclude any connection with intention. The repeating shapes indicate a theme or search for a way to represent a vague form in his mind 's eye.

Kahn writes about the sketches: 'Gothic tracery, lines of force and specific materiality drifts. Sets of lines gain new materiality and behavior; bundled tight, unbundled and loosened, control confronts disarray, the dense weave is undone and redone.' Profoundly metaphorical, the images reference an ephemeral interpretation. As allusions, these sketches appeal to emotions and thus reveal a more complex meaning not initially apparent. They capture an essence that may be hard to define. Although the intention of the sketches was not necessarily caricature, their search for interpretation may find a truth in the purpose.

Some qualities of architectural sketches can be understood more easily when perceived as caricatures. Sketches are quick and, in their quickness, can display combinations of elements which would be impossible in other types of drawings. Architects employ these brief drawings to spark their imagination, to communicate, to think through a detail or to convince a client. As convincing and quickly apprehended visual devices, sketches that are conceived as caricatures provide the viewer with a richer context than might be expected. These include sketches: as sub-themes, as architectural details acting to caricature a building, containing borrowed sources, caricaturing another building either by the architect or by another architect, as manifestations of self-reflexivity, as caricature of the finished work, or as metaphorical references. Often the sketches may be comprehended as elements of ridicule and satire, where they become modes of critical humor. Understanding the architectural sketch as caricature opens the reading of sketches to interpretations that may otherwise be overlooked.1

1 Aspects of this chapter were explored in the article: Smith, K.S. (1990). Architectural Sketches and the Power of Caricature. Journal of Architectural Education, 44:1, pp. 49—58.

FIGURE 4.1 Eric A. Kahn; Cathedrals: Notre Dame, Paris 2004.

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