Ars Electronica 1994
Festival-Program 1994
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Festival 1979-2007


The Transformation of Drawing

'Selim Koder Selim Koder

The institutional frame of architecture has never changed. The frame, through which we read and understand architecture, has been stable throughout the history of architecture. Other disciplines have seen changes and evolution of their institutional frames, such as the development of the word written on the walls of a cave and becoming a fraction of a byte on a computer disk.

As for architecture, the institutional frame is more operative than that of writing, operative in the sense that it affects the way in which meaning is received from architecture.

Architecture argues for an interiority, that of a real physical nature. One occupies architecture for many different types of uses such as symbolic uses where a conceptual relationship develops between the use of a thing and its symbolism. This duality constitutes the instrumentality of architecture, which has changed a little over time and in turn institutionalized itself in such a way that we assume in reading architecture today that the institutional frame is the natural.

Now how do we do it? If we consider the formal layer of architecture as its aesthetic and instrumental, then the conceptual layer becomes the abstraction of the formal. The conceptual is the idea of the formal.

Here we are talking about a third layer, which is the textual, the possibility of architecture to portray in the object itself its process of being made. The textual, which is the trace, becomes part of the interiority of architecture. Textuality as the marking of the conceptual condition is therefore always a secondarity. For example, an iconic system would be a formal system and an indexical system would be a textual system. The formal system usually represses the indexical or the secondary system. It is a secondary system because it depends upon an absence or a condition of process, that is a condition of non-stasis, that is a movement from one condition to another. And so if we were to move away from phallogocentrism in architecture, inevitably we're going to move away from the notions of presences, to a secondarity as a textual. And so as long as the relationship of both sign and being, that is the instrumentality of the column remains dominant that is undisplaced, no other possible writing strategy can arise. What we are proposing here is that the relationship between sign and being cannot be dominant, it has to be relaxed.

Achieving the textual level, such as allowing the computer to register or mark a certain level of inscription, is going beyond the instrumental and trying to open it up. Then you might have a possibility of inscription. Presentness can only be sustained by this intensity of inscription, because presentness is an aura that is outside the aura of the instrumental, outside the aura of the conceptual.

And so we are talking about an architecture transformed as we see it through the digital environment. This environment is helping us register changing impressions by entering the shell of architecture and stamping it, making it appear different at different times. So that there can be a kind of being – that is an interiority which is only a condition of between, that is, between the thing itself and the trace of that thing. And that this condition is neither the thing nor the thing that is being impressed, but rather the condition between the two. It is this contingent condition – the interstitial condition which marks the possibility of an other space of architecture – that is between a presence, a wall, a column, a surface, a facade and a void that is the negative of that solid. We have always read architecture as a dialectical condition of positive or negative, figure or ground. But we have never measured architecture as this contingent space, this possible interstitiality between solid and void, between interiority and exteriority, between facade and space.

Haus Immendorff: Traditional architecture is modeled on closed systems (Cartesian systems, harmonic proportions), while open systems are understood as non-linear, self-aggregating, or emergent systems. Architectural systems tend to repress such investigations because architecture assumes its discourse to be both natural and known. The Immendorff project allowed the opportunity to look at possible analogies that can be brought to architecture from other more dynamic systems, unpredictable systems of organizations, to look at opportunities that can provide to architecture similar dynamic social and political conditions of the late 20th century.

There were two aspects that eluded traditional architectural thought. First,the modeling of voids instead of solids, not as figure/ground but maybe as figure/figure. The second was that this modeling created contingent interstitial spatial relationships that were seen neither as poche nor as residual functions. What was needed here was a spatial system that from its inception was doubled. One example of such a dynamic system is the soliton wave, which involves complexities, and the possibility of which can be seen to border on chaos.

Solitary waves are physical phenomena that occur in seemingly random ways, but actually are caused by physical data that can be measured, such as abrupt changes in depth or subterranean seismic patterns in water. When there is a specific doubling of the solitary wave to form a soliton, then these form complex, non-linear interactions. Solitons are pulses of energy moving through solids, liquids, or gasses, which form non-linear interactions binding individual sine waves together. These non-linear interactions at critical moments do not lead to chaos, but instead produce spontaneous self-organizing or emergent systems. The activity of a soliton is similar to that of water molecules as they aggregate into a liquid form. No single molecule models liquidity. Thus liquidity is an emergent property in that it is absent in any single autonomous molecule, and nothing in any pre-existent formulation of the molecule predicts the event of its change to a liquid state.

The second aspect of the project concerns the role of the author and the reader. Now for the idea of emergence to be considered, new strategies of reading had to occur to allow for such analogies to be operative. These strategies cannot begin from the consequences of externally imposed rules of formal organization such as composition. Here the possibility of a reading of blurred figures, disrupted figures and figure/ figure (as opposed to figure/ground) relationships, all of which are possibilities resulting from self-aggregating systems, initially depends on the notion of destabilizing the notion of the traditional state of the architectural integer such as enclosures, structural elements, openings, spaces etc. Architectural integers, in their unique instrumentality, refuse to lose their presence. This presence involves the delineation or profile of the figure as a dominant aspect of reading. To displace profile would perhaps begin to destabilize reading.

The issue of architectural profile has been responsible for the maintenance of architecture as a phallocentric discourse. To attack the being of profile would be to attack a central tenet to the thought-to-be natural discourse of classical architecture. The idea of using the soliton model as an analogy had several interesting consequences and the interesting thing is that when we started using the soliton model as analogy we did not know we were studying the issue of profile. And so it is not necessary to know from the beginning where one is going.

A blurred external profile began to emerge from an unauthored process – one which, from any static point of view, could be seen as twisting and changing. Second, a condition which produced the main functional spaces as contingent spaces, a profile that was not reliant on a single, linear, hierarchical geometry, but rather which was the product of two interacting geometries, i.e. the two solitary waves. Thus, the soliton provided a useful analog, for when two solitary waves cross one another there is no separation of one wave from the other, yet the two waves re-emerge intact. This has produced an inner and outer volume whose surfaces intersect each other as they twist vertically, forming a vortex-like cone of space, which rises through the top of the building. The outer layer becomes a transparent glass skin, stepped at regular intervals to allow the formation of individual panels of glass that are all the same size. The interior surface of the second volume is opaque, providing an intricate surface for the integration of a floor-to-ceiling painted mural continuous over the entire height of the building.

Emory University Center for the Arts.

This is the Emory University Center for the Arts; the project is scheduled for completion in 1996 and will participate in the events of the Cultural Olympics. I would like to address the contextual condition in this project in light of what I have represented before. What is usually considered at first is the physical and the programmatic context. The first deals with the topography of the existing ravine and the surrounding historical context, namely the old campus. The second deals with the nature of a school for the performing arts and music where we considered the notion of the event, as it is frozen into the constructed environment.

But we want to go beyond this to accept another context, a non-material context that deals with the philosophical and the cultural environment manifested in the electronic information age of collapsing time and space, and writings of Deleuze's notion of the fold, where in a fold everything is continuous and holds a multiplicity of layers. And so what is supposed to be reality might be only a surface layer and that there are many layers happening under the surface. Even if reality seems continuous the fold allows itself to appear and reappear and continue beneath the skin.

Architecture becomes the different layers of these contextual conditions incorporated into one project. Architecture becomes the possibility to put all these things together and to see how they interfere with each other, for that is a process of architecture.

The Historical Context: Hornbostel's gridded master plan gave us the straight lines, thought in plan to extend into nature like the Jeffersonian grid. This ideal grid is deflected by the topography of a steep ravine on the site. The deflection is an impulse of energy that can be registered and approximated as sine and cosine curves similar to a sound wave. A sound wave is built into multiple waves, and in the theory of representation of music it constitutes a system of harmonics. Here you have one layer producing many waves and making one sound.

This is similar to the notion of the event, of the fold that in turn has many lives at one time. Each of these waves is a product of the depth and the width of the ravine and is musically approximated in such a way that depth represents amplitude and width represents frequency. Each section of the ravine brought in a different set of sound waves that is inscribed on the topography. Those waves of energy affect basic programmatic typological boxes sitting on top of a parking deck on the site. The width and height of these bars were determined by the nature of the different performance spaces they housed.

The set of harmonics is made of the fundamental, first, second and third and the straight bar which for us represents the Hornbostel grid. And so we have five intersection points that transformed and modified the straight bar in a three dimensional way.

The first deformation is what we call the small-scale fold, and it is contained entirely in a defined field of energy of harmonic lines. The second deformation is the large-scale fold, which spans two sets of harmonic lines. The bar is affected by these fold lines in a three dimensional way, and the two systems are treated independently. The resultant building is the intersection of those two modified volumes and the resulting form is a product of always keeping the most exterior envelope. It is as if two solids had intersected and the final product was the unification of the two. This unification has been calculated in the nature of the computer software. We had to depend entirely on the computer because none of the results that we achieved were known or predetermined. We just couldn't find them without the help of the computer. We simply couldn't design these intersections. Although now we can read the most exterior volume, each fold has a life of its own and is continuous beneath the skin. There we have a dialogue between the two as they affect each other.

The lobby spans three bars as it traces the small-scale fold in length and spans between the first and the third transverse planes of this fold in its width. The lobby services the building; to one side you have the performance spaces and to the other you have the academic spaces that are to be built on top of the parking deck.

As the deformation happens, each point receives a set of values and traces a vector of a three dimensional quality. These vectors acquire a spatial positioning of being non-concurrent and non-parallel. And so if we take a section of the fold separated by transverse planes, the four points that are thought to constitute a plane are not lying in the same plane. This results in a surface similar to a hyperbolic paraboloid. But since it could be difficult to build, a triangulation was devised to create surfaces each with three points. As we followed this method to the inside we found out that there exists a hidden tetrahedron, which we call the pyramid. The skin is imprinted into the inside and acquired the qualities of this pyramid and transformed what we knew as a material thickness into another interpretation of it. And so this insidedness is a result of a rigorous investigation of the geometrical properties of a point in space as it was recorded through the pyramid system, something that is a result of the movement of these points in space and was discovered during the process of the project. And so, as we have attempted in writing and representing architecture in this new digital environment, we knew a recording of this nature would not have been possible to us before.

And so in the case of the 3-D model, the shell of the architecture and its parameters are analyzed from the inside to the outside. What occurs on the outside surface of the shell is transformed through a mathematical and geometrical condition to the inside. This condition was, as we saw it, an inherent condition of the shell or the "architectural form" which in turn has allowed us to look for something more than just a mere transformation of wall thickness that follows the rules of instrumentality of the aesthetic and the functional. The shell has undergone an analysis that revealed certain qualities otherwise unknown to the surface of the 2-D drawing.

The design process illustrates a very rigorous and systematic investigation from its onset and until the final drafting of the construction documents. What does it mean in terms of the real world of building? Once it is built, the concept is externalized; it becomes a wall that resides in the physical world. The computer's work has a life of its own that transformed an idea and receded to let architecture take over.

In the transformation of drawing, the computer is a tool that is allowing us to do these inscriptions and get a better understanding and try to loosen the instrumentality of architecture. And so today we are using a different tool to read and write a different kind of architecture allowing for enormous possibilities.

I would like to intrude on what I was saying before to say that Peter Eisenman takes theory as a material and molds it. There is a misreading here. In other words, if Eisenman understood Deleuze then his work would merely represent the fold. Instead, the way in which his architecture is produced is that the concept itself is very Deleuzian. It is inside that concept rather than a physical representation of the fold.

In other words, what is Deleuzian here is how the concept is misread. The concept is used as a material to produce a form and not as a material to represent the form. It is as if the more you know about it the less Deleuzian it is going to be in the final representation of the form.

The mathematical investigations used here as conceptual tools become literally folded into the material itself. The relationship between the production of form and the form itself is literally folded together.

This is not a simple representation of the fold, but it is the misreading of the concept that gives us more interesting possibilities. In a similar way, my presentation here today could be considered a mere representation of Eisenman Architects and their works on the computer, and it could also be that the way in which I am presenting the work is in itself the very concept that we at Eisenman Architects have been trying to pursue.