© 2019 :: Digital Nouveau :: A Miscellaneous Project :: New York

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The following video was a micro-lecture provided for the ARCH202 Intermediate Design studios at Pratt Institute as an introduction to concepts and techniques of architectural analysis through decompositional drawing and video-based representation. The first segment documents examples of forms of decomposition in architectural analysis drawing such as X-Rays/MRIs or layered transparent systems, scans, overlays, fades, and exploded relationships. I worked with diagrams with a fixed view (oblique or axonometric) and began to reconstitute the decomposed elements and systems into primitive video compositions.

The remainder of the video is intended to showcase several examples of video as a medium of architectural representation. The sections generally align with the predominant techniques of x-rays/scans, fades/compositions, and explosions/decompositions. A few of the examples are from my own work or works of students from the past fifteen years, but most are referenced examples found on YouTube or Vimeo. The intro segments that explore Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion were extracted and animated from our Representation 2 course, Architectural Interfaces, which I am coordinating this semester. These are simple animated gifs created in Photoshop from series of drawings and diagrams output from Rhino.

Since graduate school, I have often produced short presentations in video format. It is a medium I enjoy working with, manipulating time and sequencing for an emotional effect that heightens the experience of the content. It is also a good way to keep a presentation to a strict time constraint, if a presentation is to be seven minutes, and I create a seven-minute video, then I must be disciplined in my verbal presentation and finish with the video. With a little more work I will even integrate the presentation as narration, but this isn't always as effective as a live performance.

Below is a general transcript from my lecture (though after several rehearsals I didn't read any of it, but I am pretty sure I covered all the points :):

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Let's begin with a few projects that you are all probably familiar with.

Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye is an often studied precedent of 20th-century modern architecture.

It exists between building and diagram, his five points, with clear formal, tectonic, programmatic, and material systems.

The video of a student's analysis (from youtube) implements several representational techniques to analyze the key elements and relationships of the project.

(try to ignore the strange hyperspace plans background)

The program is highlighted in planar and volumetric color overlays.

Architectural elements assemble based on layers of the plan, groups of similar elements, and clipping plane fades.

The simply rendered floor plans fade and composite to reveal material and program in connection to environment and provide a notational map of the spaces.

[PAUSE]

All of you have at least 80% of the skills to put together a video-based analysis and narrative like this. The only new representational techniques are camera animations and clipping plane animations.

[START]

We can start with what we know. Focused 3D views, isometric or oblique, that establish a platform of drawing layers to scan the architecture.

Animating overlayed elements and systems build complex integrations of parts-to-whole as we x-ray the architectural body.

Colors and tones organize differences and produce emphasis.

Layers become frames in time, decomposing the architecture.

[PAUSE]

A great place to start is with the classics, such as this exploded / sliced axon drawing of the Villa Savoye by Francis Ching.

Once you establish the decomposed elements and representational system, you can combine the assets to rich effect in a video or gif format.

[START]

The following are a couple of projects by OMA that offer more contemporary examples of architectural decomposition diagrams of building systems.

The Seattle Public Library - this model diagram of solid/void, circulation, and envelope gets straight to the primary ideas.

While simple in concept, the architectural consequences are quite complex.

OMA does a lot of analytical drawings to decompose the elements of the project and describe/represent the complexity of the systems - structure, slab, core, skin - x-ray.

[PAUSE]

We see both the x-ray of the architectural body and the exploded map of its inhabitation.

[START]

This circulation map is an exploded MRI scan of the complex circulation and activity connections through the building.

The CCTV Headquarters:

This project goes even further in the cataloging of decomposed elements.

We can see another complex assemblage of form, program, structure, and circulation.

[PAUSE]

A series of decomposed structural components isolated in a catalog of x-rays of the overall form documents the parts in context to the whole.

[START]

The program catalog has even more depth to its isolation of elements, categorization, and local and global contexts.

By compositing the series of isolated elements we can explore multiple connections simultaneously in the x-ray fade animation.

We can analyze architecture as a functionally integrated system of interconnected and discrete elements.

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From here on I decided to speak with the flow of the video, highlighting techniques and consequences of storytelling through the medium of video. Many, probably all, of the video excerpts are speed up by 150-200% to work with the time constraints of the lecture and isolate the techniques over the narratives.


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Beginnings

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During my graduate studies at Columbia GSAPP I had the opportunity to take several visual studies elective that introduced me to video as a representational and generative design tool. Since my undergraduate degree was packed with rigorous technical courses on structural systems, building environments, lighting, and mechanical systems I was able to opt-out of a few similar courses in grad school. This freed up a little extra space for me to explore extra electives, and for reasons now long lost to me, I took two classes with Prof. John Szot: Video Video and Cinematic Communications. These focused on technical aspects of working with video in tools like Aftereffects and Premiere, combining live DV video footage with synthetic computer-generated scenes, and developing a narrative in the medium of time, images, and sound.

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Video Video Based Analysis :: GSAPP :: 2005 :: with Singjoy Liang

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A rough attempt at compositing a speculative architectural facade system developed in our housing studio with a live video recording. Integrating the speculative with the real to give the viewer a space to integrate possibility with reality. The tectonic system and video composition were produced by Singjoy Liang and me in the fall of 2005.


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Cinematic Communications :: GSAPP :: 2006

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A short assignment to construct a video dialog with New York City. For me, this became a sort of music video grappling with my reactions to the pedestrian street landscape of NY during my first couple of years living here. Time and Overlay are the primary techniques, the video is cut to have a loose connection to sound events in the music and a dialog with the words of the song.


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Cinematic Communications :: GSAPP :: 2006 :: with Singjoy Liang

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The final assignment for this course was a video-based documentary of a condition in NYC. Singjoy and I were doing a project n Brownsville, Brooklyn in the Fall and had discovered an interesting group of people at a local community center that entertained our project. We both learned a great deal from the many interviews we had with the life long residents of the neighborhood, greatly enhancing our appreciation for the growth and evolution that has taken place in the density and complexity of New York.


What do we do with all those photos?

On travels, weekend adventures, commutes, and just around the house, I often grab the convenient personal computing device (aka iphone) and point its image capture device (aka camera) at something visually interesting. Those photos get automatically uploaded to the cloud via iCloud and Dropbox (and probably other services I have forgotten to disable) to be saved as bits of data forever. I do quite often pull up recent photographs for reference in conversation, occasionally I dig through the archive to use in a lecture, and I organize archival images from big trips and studio reviews. But many just sit there in the catalog, feeding on electrons, waiting.

In a recent fit of procrastination, I was searching for some image to drop into a lecture for a bit more personal touch and got sidetracked organizing a year or more backlog of uncategorized images. I came across a few pictures from a short trip up to New Paltz that Lauren and I took last April to get a few hikes in and see my friend Kira. The rushing water and magical rock rift jumped out quickly to trigger my memories of the weekend, but this foggy treeline was completely foreign. I think it's a nice image (with a little cropping and levels adjustments) but I cannot for the life of me remember seeing this or taking a picture of it. The day was warm and very muggy with spring moisture rising from the ground, we were on the road early for breakfast and to beat the heat of the day, but nothing about this fog. Fun, something unexpected, something to explore without an emotional context, but also something I know I must have seen and reacted to.

I think I will make it into my desktop for a while, and maybe play with layering it with some of the other highlights from the trip.

The thawing Catskills had the river flowing strong. The sound was overwhelming in the ravines and brought a deep heavy meditative rhythm to the hike.

We came across this massive rock outcropping riven in two by the slow creep of water and the subsequent invasion of tree roots. The moss and lichen provided a majestic contrast to the wet grey stone, so much so that I decided to play around with the image and practice my giffing in Photoshop.

Voyage onward!



As we approach another semester at Pratt it is time for planning and designing a provocative and meaningful studio prompt. This Spring I am teaching our arch201 Intermediate Design studio, which is a second-year, fourth semester, undergraduate architecture design course. The students are coming out of the Fall with a foundation in plan organization and programming at the scall of a small institutional extension. This brief focusses on developing architecture as a vertical paradigm within the fabric of New York City. Section is the primary organizing device and strong attention is on structure and envelope. My interest here is in how the envelope of the building can be considered as a thick territory that permeates through the structure to create a strong overlay with the city and pull the civic space of the street into a public institution, architecture as a thick envelope.


The prompt for our Lottery statement and trailer provided by the coordinator was, "What is the relationship between cinema/film and architecture today?" I did my graduate studies at Columbia GSAPP on the tail end of the major digital shift, not just in architectural productions, but in the integration of software and computation into the design process. This shift emerged during the 90s as software for drafting and project automation was being adopted n professional practice and the playful tinkerers of academia started to question what else it could do. The software to easily construct synthetic realities, virtual digital models, of projects was limited in the architecture space, so we turned to cinema.


Applications like Maya and 3DS Max were made for special effects and generating motion camera inhabited virtual environments. They also contained powerful output/rending engines for the time, helping to bring greater automation to raster-based image creation. Probably the most exciting side effect of these new design programs for me was the integration of animation and later simulation tools within the same platform as 3D modeling. This meant that we could output moving emotional images that scanned deeper into the virtual space of our projects and provided immersive experiences for the viewer. It is not surprising then that a huge wave of discussion formed in academia around issues like Time and Sequence and Virtual Reality. Books such as Deleuze's Cinema I and II became popular readings, and while film and architecture have often had a strong relationship due to the inhabitation of built space by humans, the crossover of cinema into architecture intensified in the 90s and early 00s.


There is a lot more history here, and a good subject for deeper analysis, that I am sure many people have written about and explored though design and pedagogy, but I will leave that for another day. This influencing period is important to what the relationship between the two mediums is today and how that can influence a design studio. My process to define these in 150 words began with many pages of free writing and wordplay, visual diagrams of thoughts and phrases floating and coalescing around the page. I wrote a couple of drafts, they were too heady without clear substance to grasp onto. I tried again, took a break, and then stepped up to the keyboard to compress two decades of thoughts on this subject into a few sentences that would speak to twelve undergraduate architecture students. I am not sure if what follows will meet that criteria, but my good friend Cam (who is not an architect or filmmaker) provided some useful writing and conceptual feedback along with some encouraging comments:

"It does sound smart and fun, I think a lot of smart people would be interested."

Thanks Cam, a little ego boost is always appreciated when putting new and untested ideas out there for all to see. Our discussion also drifted into our life long shared diversion and interest in video games when he made the connection between my trailer image (above) and a recent SciFi Thriller game, SOMA. It is one I have never played, but remember being excited about during its development.


As a side note, I wonder if it is more appropriate to look at the intersection of video games and architecture today.


"It's just a scan, it'll hurt about as much as getting your picture taken" :: SOMA Trailer
"Does the color moving down the image represent scanning or is it just cool?" Cam

The comment about scanning from Cam and watching the SOMA trailer helped me zero in on the title for the studio. There were several drafts all building upon last semester's Think Space with Thick Envelopes and adding a dimension of film as storytelling:

:: Civic Territory

:: Architectural Fictions

:: Dream Architecture

:: Synthetic Realities (the leading candidate at the time)


I like to think of films as a medium for transporting us into synthetic realities. For a controlled duration we are living a different story, immersive and emotional, visually and auditorially rich. Film and the experience of cinema interface directly with our most overt senses and captures our attention. I think that one of the primary intersections here with architecture is around the experience of time. Both film and architecture can be transitory, fluid, episodic, dense, and repetitive. Our participation in the story is a hyper-space transit constrained to about two-hours of inhabiting dream territories. Similarly, architecture engages with all our senses, but the experience is drawn out, fluid in time, especially in urban contexts where nearly all our world is defined by built environments. The two mediums support each other, film provides the virtual platform for the story, architecture houses the tectonics of sensation.


Enough ruminating on the process, here is my statement with the "trailer" (full-res video this time) following for reference:


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THICK ENVELOPES :: SCANNING SYNTHETIC REALITIES


Film and architecture are mediums of sensation and affect, occupying a rift between material reality and synthetic dreams. Architecture forms a fabric of constructed reality deeply layered and interwoven with the human experience. Film instantaneously transports viewers beyond the present by hijacking the imagination through the senses and entangling the physical experience with virtual reality. This studio explores overlaps of constructed views, framed sequences, transient inhabitations, and visual effects as thick layers of an architectural envelope permeating through section.


We will analyze and extract dense metaphors that capture us in film and deploy them in the design of architectural fictions. Buildings are stories with the potential to hijack our emotional root code, unlocking access to our shared cultural histories, perspectives, and speculations. Architecture can support a participatory community of storytellers and viewers generating synthetic realities.


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When I learned that the project for the semester would be about film, specifically a vertical addition to an NYC institution to house a film center, I started making a list of movies I wanted to bring as an influence to the studio. The list kept grown, I organized it, thought of more things and got a little overwhelmed. How could I introduce these students to my cinematic interests and keep them focused on architecture? My mental database of films, affect, editing, cinematography, and stories are unique, a product of my explorations, diversions, and critical interests. There would be a disconnect. Then I thought, old and new, sequels and remakes, Blade Runner. Specifically, the scene from Blade Runner 2049 came to mind where the virtual companion Joi performs a holographic integration with a physical person. A place to start.


I grabbed a few gif images from around the web of some of my favorite and architecturally influential scenes from both the original (1982) and the sequel (2017).


Not all of them made the cut, and I wanted to integrate these aesthetic influences with some of my own, so I started with a base of my recent topographic collage, reoriented as vertical scan lines with a linear transformation down through the square frame.

I layered and multiplied that with Blade Runner's face in the sky urban billboard in a horizontal pan. It is dark with shimmering speckles of light and the recognizable face element slightly askew and off-center, punctuated by the vibrant swipe of the flying police car (still one of the best fly car visuals imho).

Then came a couple of vertical scan wipes with some Levels adjustments and heavy Divide layer blending. The motion is just a transform keyframe in AfterEffects.

The final layer jumps forward to Balde Runner 2049 with the scene that started this process, Joi's overlay integration. While I hoped for hyper parallelism with the layer blending and conceptual language, this one uses a Screen blending (rather than Overlay blending which was just too dark) to glide into the thick territory of the flowing pulsating images below. A dreaming floating effect layered with a dreaming floating effect.

That's about it, besides a lot of frustration trying to get a manageable size gif out of AfterEffects. Exporting an AnimatedGif is easy with the Media Encoder integration, just export to Media Encoder, choose Animated GIF as your format, tweak the settings if necessary, and encode. I ended up with a 90mb image, which would not be very web-friendly, so I opened it in Photoshop (after trying a bunch more settings in the encoder). and did a good old fashioned Save for Web as an animated gif? I had to reduce the color depth to 24, give it a 50% Lossy parameter, and shrinking form the specified 1200x1200 to 600x600. There was a lot of visual distortion in the compression, but it got closer to 5mb which I am willing to roll with in this hyper-connected present. I actually think the color compression was an improvement, more blending and visual ambiguity, a more gritty synthetic reality.


The Lottery is up, now it is in the hands of the students. I am looking forward to a fun semester of grappling with the speculation of Synthetic Realities in architecture.