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    By Polms
    Jan 26, '13 6:41 AM EST

    “The architect well-patronized and awarded in competitions, is not the one who knows how to build the best, but the one whose projects look best on paper.”(1)
    Adolf Loos

    Since forever, images have been captivating our thoughts. Ubiquitous, it is an effective communication tool and in architecture, is the support of theoretical speech : the project cannot be intelligible or buildable without its representation.
    The evolution of computer technology in recent decades has led to a significant improvement in architectural representation.
    From drawing to painting then from photography to computer generated images and photomontages, these tools all tend to a common purpose : an exacerbated realism (2) and a greater immersion into the projected space.
    Today at the center of both ethical and political discussions, computer visualization is highly controversial and questions the architects we are.
    What is the history of representation in architecture and how are images – especially computer renders – whose original goal is to understand the project, used as mercantile tools?

    Definition of image according to MIR, a famous architectural rendering firm.
    “MIR makes portraits of non-existing architecture, portraits capture the soul and character of the subjet into a two dimensional format. Great images tell their own story, they have the ability to evoke emotional response.” 

    The motto of LABTOP, seen on their homepage :

    “Too many good people have been defeated because they tried to substitute substance for style, they forgot to give the public
    the kind of visible signals that it needs to understand what is happening.”
    in Initial Working Paper on Political Strategy directed to Jimmy Carter, 1976.
    “We like to quote this excerpt mainly because it insists on the strategic approach
    you need to build when producing an image of any kind.”



    In the fifteenth century, plans, sections and other technical documents based on geometrical drawings and 2-D were the only media expressing architecture. The discovery of perspective and three-dimensional drawing has risen to a new type of representation. Even more idealistic is the atmospheric composition created by sensitive experience that engages the spectators (renderings, photographs, etc.)

    In those days the architect’s first intention was to represent the visible; the perspective allowed a greater immersion into these projected spaces.

    Painting by Piero della Francesca – Ideal City, (around 1470), 60x200cm.

    The invention of photography in the nineteenth century leads to the emergence of new thoughts and reflections dealing with realism in architecture. The photographs below seem to reflect a calculated scene where the position of each object would have been carefully pre-set. This is a truncated reality seen through the photographer’s eye.

    The second image may have even been rendered by the talented perspectivists MIR or LUXIGON. 6 x 6 medium format, monochrome atmosphere, vintage characters, a beautiful lawn that most neighbors would be jealous of, vegetation in foreground, motion blur on the toddler and his bike, the whole thing toped by a B & W filter straight out of Instagram, the famous app’. Julius Shulman’s photographers highlight a seduction which was already inherent in the images at the time.

    Photographs by Julius Shulman, image 1: Case Study House #22, Two Girls (Pierre Koenig, architect, 1960), image 2: Everyday California.

    The kind of images developed by Archigram and other radical groups of the 60’s and 70’s help to understand the evolution experienced by architectural representation.

    Archigram focused on surpassing the dominant thoughts of their time by tackling issues of housing and city planning with the use of photomontage. (3) Their subjective images; futuristic, utopian and totally pro consumerist fed the architectural reflection through hypothetical projects.

    Archigram – The Walking City, (1964).

    Superstudio – The continious monument, (1970). 

    From Frank Lloyd Wright to Jean Nouvel, many architects quickly grasped the communicative power of images. By publishing their work via the mass media (television and newspaper) and promoting simple representation (4), their work was better understood and desired by many people. Architects were ensured effective communication without being subject to criticism for their use of these medias.

    Computer generated images rendered currently tend to halt the reality and leave less room for imagination. Their intentions differ from the photomontages created by avant-garde groups such as Archigram, Superstudio or Archizoom.
    One could say that images are now used for a wider range of purposes. We will mention two major ones. The first one uses 3D renderings as a tool for project design (the study of the contribution of light, building’s footprint, etc.) and is sometimes essential to the project (composition of complex shapes via 3D software, generative and parametric architecture, etc.)

    Zaha Hadid – Project : Theatre, Rabat (2010).

    The second one is assimilating competition images, and resembling the feeling and mood of  compositions. These images are sometimes linked to notions of consumption and communication and are enabled by the settlement of a few graphic codes (fog, light grazing, etc.) We would like to clarify that competition image are not the same as images used by sales promoters. Do those graphic codes prescribed by the “Ministry of aesthetics” not cover up the project and its imperfections? The way we feel about architecture has changed; the journey of a projects’ representation from sections and blueprints to 3D renderings induce a narrative representation of what we would like the project to be. 

    Perspective by MIR – Housing project (2012).


    Why all this fuss about computer renderings, which draw heavily from representations cited above? Why should we refrain ourselves from using such powerful medium? Is it because we cannot afford the expensive services of the most talented perspectivists? Or is it because of real professional ethics?
    It seems normal to present a building at its best. Did the dictatorship of the object and its representation get the best of the XXIst century architecture? The possible sale of competition-induced architecture is essential to the success of the business. All means are good; we “objectify” the project.

    mage de 1,2 : Big Duck, popularized par Robert Venturi in Learning From Las Vegas (1977) – Image 3, perspective by MIR, project Pier Icon Concert by BIG (2011).

    Architectural photography found in newspapers and specialized magazines always represent buildings at their best. The pictures are often similar from one magazine to the next. This being the case, should not the debate also be pushed towards photography? (5) Do lies become more acceptable once the project is built? Can’t models, axonometric drawings, and sections be just as misleading as a 3D rendering?

    Image production always reveals a subjective nature. It is therefore, necessary to know how far we are willing to accept this subjectivity. Renderings are the result of representation’s evolution.
    The next logical step would be to turn towards these “digitally scenographic, simulated, and highly interactive” environments(6), but we would stay in a purely visual representation while “architecture does not need to be shown, it needs to be lived and experienced “(7). Many experiments are in progress; we talk about virtual reality, augmented reality or mixed reality which always have as vocation a greater immersion into projected space. Gestures become interfaced, body activity (8) less expressive and in a less sensitive area, experience visual and above all virtual – it seems that the time to find new specific ways of representing architecture has come. The hypothesis  would refer to a representation closer to the sensible – maybe a combination of the visual experience and  other senses. In competitions, no more A0 or renderings, but OLED/HD helmets and olfactive masks. Who knows, we might even be able to give olfactive drugs to the board of examiners so they’ll like our project better. Should we and will we be able to find more effective tools less misleading and diverted from their communicative uses? The current controversy is either a sign or beginning of a mourning of pictures – isn’t it?

    Image 1,2 : google image, Image 3 : W. Pichler, Casque/TV/Séjour portable - Image 2 : Haus-Rucker-Co, Flyhead - Image 3 : W. Pichler, Kleiner Raum (via Le Laboratoire Urbanisme Insurrectionnel)

    Dad! It’s not like the picture!
    As we mentioned before; images are omnipresent, fascinating and represent a useful tool for mass communication and advertising. Some people look unfavourably upon technical progress, making the lie more and more attractive compared to reality. It is true, who has never opened their Big Mac box without swearing against these student morons who pay more attention to their tweets than the delicate arrangement of this legendary sandwich? All because we got fooled by the perfect illustrations on the illuminated signs. Today, we’re sure about that: “Well nope, it’s not like the picture!”

    Ettore Molon, Antonio Tresca, Le projet / La fiction à travers la leçon de Magritte (exposition “La Tendenza” au centre Pompidou)

    Nowadays some promoters complain about the possible seduction images exercise upon the jury in architectural competitions. One among them, I3F – an important player in the field of construction housing – took the decision to ban images from architectural competitions. This announcement brings controversy to the “architectural underworld”, and has recently fed the debate “AK04 ‘images!’ Is architecture possible without lying? ” in Paris. Bloggy Mary covered the event for you.
    The debate was organized and “arbitrated” by Gaëlle Hamonic and brought together the major players of the French architectural scene; Eric De Pin, architect and founder of the perspectivist  Luxigon firm and two journalists. Proving controversial, the debate quickly became virulent. We noted that the mjority of architects roughly shared the same point of view on the  purpose of images in architecture. The lie has also been the subject of minor philosophical dissertations. It was however surprising that among all the participants at the debate, there was neither consulting architects, jury nor promoters. The unofficial business agent of I3F introduced herself to briefly (and courageously) outline the reasoning behind their removal decision – we also noted that her boss was missing. Lynching desguised as  debate …


    “Le jury de Lizzie Borden”

    It turns out that far from calling into question the responsibility of architects, the speech the business agent gave showed a total lack of objectivity, and the backing out of several jury regarding architectural renders. The poor jury would be seduced against their will. Juries are mostly composed of a few elected members, one or more promoters and a few consultant architects. If the elected members are not equipped to correctly analyse images, they cannot have the judgement necessary to read a plan or section. It is for this reason that architects are consulted; they are the specialists of sections, plans and (nowadays) perspectives. While architects are blamed for the excessive use of 3D renderings, why aren’t juries (which include architects) blamed when they – theoretically – know the scheme of images, yet are fooled by a convincing image when it supports a bad project?


    Photomontage bloggymary, image extraite du film “le couple témoin” de William Klein

    Hypothesis begin to take shape. A better choice in the selection of the jury. To communicate 3D renders after a discussion based on the analyse of prior documents (sections, plans, axonometries…). We may even assume a few concessions concerning the freedom of speech: to chose one’s viewpoints. But does the question need to rely on the conscience of the artchitect, who has always been telling us stories with pictures? Should we create a kind of Hippocratic oath of architecture:
    I swear to always be honest and objective in the representation of my projects. To do everything in my power to be fully understood by everyone, including those who are not able to judge.”
    Nobody is a dupe, everyone knows it will never look like the picture. The question is no longer to know whether we should blame the mythomaniac advertiser or the pre-pubescent cook, the question is: “what do they add to their secret sauce which makes their sandwich so delicious?”


    Collaborative writing,
    Manon Gicquel, Part I, and Camille Fatier Part II Introduction Manon Gicquel and Camille Fatier. 

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BloggyMary is held each year by 5 different master degree students of the architecture School of Versailles, France. We are posting daily OUR selection of fresh architecture news but we are also bringing out for you: internships that are worth trying, suitable competitions for students and reviews on Parisian exhibition. As often as we can, we'll also post an in-depth article dedicated to a subject that matters nowdays. /

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