Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Small Projects, Part Two...Breaking the "Fourth Wall"

My previous post on drawing small projects focused primarily on larger scale scale elevations and quick perspectives as "stand alone" images. Part of that "stand alone" quality is both deliberate and compositional in nature and part of it is the graphic limitations of Google Blogger in presenting drawings online. It was also a reflection of the purpose of the drawings, primarily the initial exploration of design concepts and the use of these drawings as a more effective presentation tool than purely digital images. Small projects also provide many opportunites for the use of composite drawings as a presentation tool.

Composite architectural drawings have a fairly simple definition. They combine multiple drawings (plan / elevation / section or plan / perspective) into a single composition. While primarily used as a design presentation device, good compositional skills can and should inform the production of working drawings, digital or otherwise. But that's a story for later. Maybe.

Composite hand drawings have a rich history in architectural presentations, especially in a pre-Bauhaus context. The most famous and influential examples that leap immediately to mind are the drawings that Marion Mahony-Griffin did for Frank Lloyd Wright's Wasmuth Portfolio. These are some of the finest architectural drawings of the 20th century with Mahony-Griffin's combination of plans and perspectives into single composite images being especially beautiful and effective. The relentlessly axial, formal nature of Wright's plans and elevations lent themselves well to the Beaux-Arts presentation method of composite drawings. But it was Mahony-Griffin's preference for perspective in lieu of elevation and her superior drafting and entourage skills that really set the Wasmuth drawings apart and made them so influential.

The drawings I am showing here are by no means Wasmuth-worthy, but then again, so little is these days. The beauty of small, historically themed projects is that their limited scope often allows exploration of drawing techniques (like hand-drawn composite images) that larger, more contemporary projects (or your office) may not support. This project is a small pool house addition to a large venacular residence on Nantucket Island. I had the benefit of already drawn AutoCAD plans and existing condition photographs to draw over in composing and executing the drawings. The most effective component of these drawings is the use of perspective instead of elevation to convey the exterior design concepts. Perspectives, from a client or critic's point of view, trump elevations everytime.

The original size of these composite drawings as drawn and presented to the client were 24" x 36" with the plans drawn at 1/8" scale. The perspectives are compositionally treated as overlay images on the drawing with implied paper edges, tears and curling graphically represented as part of the image border. They are drawn in ink on white tracing paper and rendered on both sides with Prismacolor pencils and ChartPak-AD markers. Three separate schemes were presented, the small scale of the project helping make this level of study and rendering possible. For presentation purposes, the drawings were printed at full size and the perspectives were also printed as larger images at 11 x 17. Borders on inset images are not always necessary, as controlled fade outs with landscape, color and good linework also can work well in over-all drawing composition and technique.

Small, traditional projects like this lend themselves well to highly personalized drafting styles. As with most traditionally oriented projects, good material representation through drawing begins with the quality of line work. Bad line work is often most glaringly obvious in plans and elevations, the most commonly used of architectural drawing types. When perspective drawings are used in presentations, an emphasis on quality in mere "orthographic" drawing is often diminished or completely ignored. Graphically insensitive and rigid IT-generated pen maps have a lot to do with this, but unimaginative, "task only" oriented CAD managers / operators do as well. Good hand drawing in architecture, especially orthograhic drawings like plans and elevations, is fundamentally an exercise in abstract representation and depends on quality line work and good composition. While this is inherently true in perspective drawing, it really becomes apparent in successful composite architectural drawings.

There is an expression actors frequently use called "breaking the fourth wall", where they address the audience or the camera directly, sometimes as part of the script, sometimes not. Composite architectural drawings that utilize perspective frequently embrace this same basic concept. As a communication tool, the superiority of perspective imagery to merely orthographic drawings is obvious. The use of perspective as part of a composite drawing breaks the "fourth wall" of an orthographically generated script and provides a much greater degree of understanding on the part of the audience, in this case your client, colleague or critic. A good composite drawing can be a purely orthographic drawing exercise with the immediate juxtaposition of plans to elevations heightening the understanding of both. They can also be very supportive of and reinforce design elements like formal or axial symmetry. But small projects allow you to immediately explore and develop compositional drawing techniques you can then apply to your larger projects, traditional or otherwise. Composite drawings can still be accomplished through purely digital means. However, developing an understanding of compositional drawing by hand will improve the quality of your presentations, digital or otherwise.

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