Visual Perception As It Pertains To Architectural Sketches

It is important, at this point, to discuss bodies and the occurrence of visual perception. An analysis of visual perception elucidates how architectural sketches are viewed and possibly how they are comprehended. Many psychologists support a well-known theory that the portrayal which appears upside-down on the human retina is like a picture, specifically, Rudolph Arnheim (1969). From his studies, however, James J. Gibson has disputed this theory. Gibson believes ' .a retinal image is not something to be looked at by an observer. It is, therefore, profoundly unlike a picture. There is a distribution of energy on a sensory mosaic, but it is not like a replica, or a copy, or a model, or a record' (Gibson, 1982: 261). Gibson is looking at visual perception in an unusual way, because he writes that the light and colors seen do not immediately record themselves in the eye. The brain must perform an interpretation and translation of the 'mosaic' seen. Gibson strengthens his argument by referring to the structure of the eyes of an insect, explaining that they ' see,' but they do not have the capacity in their multi-segmented eyes to perceive a meaningful depiction. They do perceive shapes, colors, movement, and especially light, which can be deciphered for use (Gibson, 1982: 261).

Arnheim's and Gibson's positions may not be as opposed as this implies. Gibson seems to be writing from an interpretive hermeneutic approach, where Arnheim presents an objectivist argument. The largest question might be the word i mage and how much interpretation must be made to understand this array of light and colors as a mental impression. ' Mental impressions' implies 'vision with meaning' rather than passive imagination. It is particularly compelling to agree with Gibson since he suggests the importance of interpretation.

James Gibson implies that it is possible to see form, shapes and color revealed by light, but that it is the brain that translates these perceptions into mental impressions (Gibson, 1982). It could be possible then that a drawn illusion does not allow for the interpretive activity of the imagination. On the other hand, an abstract allusion may allow the brain to interpret, and architects or designers may receive mental impressions from these esoteric beginnings. Sketches, regardless of their degree of ambiguity, have meaning as form generators. This action is reminiscent of the childhood game of finding objects in the abstraction of floating clouds. It is also similar to Leonardo da Vinci 's finding of cognitive associations in the stains on rocks (Summers, 1981).

Allusion in ambiguity will be discussed at great length with the associative qualities of imagination in Chapter 3. To add to this line of reasoning, Gibson finds that a ' ...picture cannot at the same time possess high fidelity for something concrete and high univocality for something abstract' (Gibson, 1982: 248). Richard Wollheim supports this theory and writes ' .whereas we cannot, at one and the same moment, see a picture as a configuration and as trompe l'oeiT (Wollheim, 1974: 29). It is not possible to mistake a two-dimensional picture for the visual perception of our three-dimensional surroundings when the mind is thinking of it as a flat illusion. Although it is conceivable that the descriptive illusion is more informative, the indefinite image may prove more richly suggestive. Gibson's former students, in their selected collection of essays, discuss perception as seen by their teacher. They also introduce an important aspect of this study: caricature.

He [Gibson] hypothesized that a faithful picture is a surface that reflects a sheaf of light rays to a point that is the same as the sheaf of rays coming from the depicted scene. According to this view a picture performs its representational function by providing the eye with the same variations in light energy as would the depicted scene... Thus, a line drawing, which preserves relational information but not a point-by-point projection of light energies, may provide as accurate information as a photograph.. .Caricatures are paradoxical in that they do not present either the same sheaf of rays or the same nested visual solid angles as the things they represent; yet, in a sense they are more faithful representation than photographs. (Gibson, 1982: 226-227)

The caricature, as a way to view a sketch, can present an added dimension to the original. Its likeness to the original is selective, rather than being dependent upon a 'faithful picture'. The selective emphasis of artwork exaggerates or clarifies what the observer sees, and thus accentuates an understanding (Gibson, 1982). Gibson's discussion is valuable for architectural sketches because it proposes an important question: since perception has little resemblance to an image (two-dimensional combination of marks), does drawing an illusion promote understanding?

This is a thought-provoking question that can begin an exploration of the cognitive act of seeing. The sketch can portray an important mode of comprehension, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty expresses when discussing Klee and Matisse: ' the line no longer imitates the visible; it "renders visible"; it is the blueprint of a genesis of things ' (Merleau-Ponty, 1964, 183). 'Rendering visible' implies an understanding deeper than an illusion. This may be a distinct feature of sketches, which are often incomplete and vague. Again, this is reminiscent of the sketch 's role in ' seeing' as understanding. The architect 's mind must be able to immerse itself in the making (Gibson, 1982). In a similar way, Louis I. Kahn writes about seeing and expresses this relationship to understanding:

There is no value in trying to imitate exactly. Photographs will serve you best of all, if that is your aim. We should not imitate when our intention is to create — to improvise.. .The capacity to see comes from persistently analyzing our reactions to what we look at, and their significance as far as we are concerned. The more one looks, the more one will come to see. (Kahn, 1991: 11)

An architect must visualize within the confines of a substitute medium to project him- or herself within the frame and flatness of two dimensions. Much of our knowledge is acquired through pictures, and Gibson acknowledges this second-hand learning. ' The learner must ordinarily be given acquaintance with objects, places and events which he has never physically encountered' (Gibson, 1982: 242). This is especially important to architects, as they are dealing with future buildings. A sketch provides a substitute for the object with which to project possible solutions. Learning may emerge from manipulating a substitute, or acquaintance with the future through a sketch.

This beautifully atmospheric sketch of the Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa by Antoine Predock (Figure 1.4) conveys an observed scene and also requires interpretation. Antoine Predock is an architect known for his remarkable architecture integrated with the landscape of the southwestern

FIGURE 1.4 Antoine Predock; Staglieno Cemetery, Genova, Italy, 1988.

United States. He is the 2006 American Institute of Architects Gold Medal recipient and has completed projects such as the Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts in New Mexico in 2004. Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, his practice found prominence responding to the unique desert environment, repeating forms and colors of the landscape, and focusing intense desert light. More recent projects include the US Federal Courthouse in El Paso, Texas, and the National Palace Museum in Taiwan.

Rendered with a soft medium such as chalk or pastel crayons, the cemetery follows the slope of a hillside. The grave stones appear to emerge out of a mist as their tops are articulated with ink, while the lower portions disappear into what seems to be foliage. The central figure is indistinct in scale as it could be as large as a church or as small as a mausoleum. When asked to comment about the sketch, Predock describes the shift in scale: ' [a]t a distance, a city with an amazing miniaturizing shift of scale at close range'. The road in the foreground has been defined by only a few lines but sets the stage for the stones. This sketch is compelling, as figures seem to come forward and recede when the observer focuses on them. A mosaic of colors, depth, and dimension appear out of the dark and light tones. The soft indistinct technique provokes an atmosphere of overgrown decay. Some of the forms suggest human figures. It seems Predock did not need to bring a realistic view home with him; the hazy scene creates an impression of the experience and also elicits interpretation.

In the making of a drawing or painting, the messages evident in the artwork reinforce perceptual stimulation. The artist or architect perceives a line and responds with another. Gibson believes it is reasonable to suppose that humans can think in terms of drawings (Gibson, 1982). Conversely, but consistent with his theories of visual perception, there cannot be vision without the cognitive action of thought.

As a definition of sketches implies, they are often notoriously imprecise, valueless physically, and seen as a means to find something, or communicate, rather than as prized objects in and of themselves. They are usually, but not necessarily, loose, and lacking in detail. Frank Lloyd Wright claimed to have often progressed directly to a stage of drawing up a building without using any conceptual sketches (Hewitt, 1985). On the contrary, other architects may make simple but precise diagrams. Still others may use sketches purely for communication with other architects or the client. Whatever technical method an architect uses, they all touch, if ever so briefly, on a period of conception where the design is in beginning stages, and thus in dialogue they consist of tentative and incomplete thoughts.

The medium (pencil, paper, clay, charcoal or computer) is not important when defining sketches; how they perform for design intention renders their value. Sketches may be three-dimensional in that assembling sticks, planes or volumes also allows an immediate view. Architects may use a soft medium to blur lines and make the drawing expressive yet vague enough to elicit association. Some architects use inexpensive tracing paper, while others choose a more formal medium. Some diagram in the fashion of the parti and others carefully redraw a known building to caricature it in a method of deformation and transformation. Computers conjure images that are quickly manipulated and can be either precise or imprecise. Such varied media make establishing a definition of sketches more difficult. When used by different architects, specific media techniques may appear substantially unalike.

In an attempt to identify what sketches are, this study proposes that sketches acquire many physical shapes, but that their similarities lies in how and why architects use them. Since it has been suggested that they are outlines or essential points, often as 'preparations for further development', it seems necessary to differentiate and further describe them as being illustrative of both the design process and their function for the architect. For example, Filarete cleverly uses the analogy of the building as a human body to explain the design process (Filarete, 1965). He writes about the stages of design as being comparable to conception, gestation, birth and nursing.

Stemming from their relationship to function, it is necessary to expand the description of architectural sketches and treat them as illustrative of their use in the design process. Architects often employ sketches for conceptual design to discover or attain knowledge, to accompany brainstorm-ing, and to find allusions or associations. Architects also use sketches to communicate with both colleagues and themselves. The sketch becomes the medium that communicates concepts to others in an office and also helps express emotional or poetic concepts. Architectural sketches can be applied to facilitate communication with, or to impress, a client. These examples make clear that the sketch plays a communicative role beyond that of a mere messenger.

Architects also use sketches to record; they can be used to record a likeness or a fleeting impression. They may be a travel companion to aid visual recollection or to register an emotion or a thought. In another way, architects often employ sketches to visually test abstract conceptual forms. They may be used to 'try something out for fit,' as a type of evaluation. Similarly, the sketch could help to conclude the formation of a mental image.

This sketch of the ' Black Diamond ' by Morten Schmidt (Figure 1.5) of schmidt hammer lassen poignantly presents the essence of the Royal Library Extension in Copenhagen, Denmark. The architectural firm of schmidt hammer lassen is a successful and innovative practice based in Arhus,

FIGURE 1.5 Morten Schmidt; Extension of the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen.

Denmark, with offices in Copenhagen, London, and Oslo. Using steel and glass to create luminous boxes they have won numerous awards for their work. A few of their more recent projects include the Royal Library in Copenhagen, residence halls and educational facilities for Kolding Technical College in Kolding, Denmark, the Aalborg Airport, Denmark, and a Culture Center in Nuuk, Greenland.

Everything in this sketch is secondary to the large dark parallelogram of the library extension. The dramatic view shows distinctly the presence of the building on the waterfront in Copenhagen. The background and foreground are lighter and less defined. The buildings in the distance are rendered with quick vague lines. The pedestrians in the foreground are brief profiles. Schmidt emphasizes the bold slice through the building contrasting its lighter value and adding to its transparency. Simplifying the dark shape into a bold form anticipates the final construction but also acts conceptually to identify the building's stark shape — thus the 'Black Diamond'.

The windows on the lower level have been shown as quick 'n' and 'm' shapes in contrast to the amount of time to darken the façade. With the layering of tones, it is possible to view the horizontal levels of the floor through the graphite lines. This has an ability to replicate the final effect of the glass curtain wall. Although a freehand sketch, Schmidt has employed a straight edge to render the bricks on the adjacent building and achieve other straight lines such as the balconies. This combination of ruled and sketchy lines adds to the dynamic expression of the image. As preliminary and preparatory, this sketch uses various techniques to explain more about the building to the architect.

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