Conveying meaning through digital representation...

Quite recently I had a conversation with a classmate of mine about representation. This past semester I decided to spend my ‘extra time’ on studying representation. I also decided to work on my skills in representation. (See previous posts for further details.)

Anyway, our conversation centered briefly around computer graphics as a means for representation. We both felt uneasy about the misrepresentation of certain elements in an image. For instance, when composing a representation in photoshop leaving out elements that would, in reality, exist.

I don’t believe our discomfort with this exists because we believe that some basic and unbreakable rule has been broken, or that some deeply rooted truth has been violated.

We recollected a variety of styles which are popular today. Montage is very popular and performed very artistically by some. One could say too artistically. I don’t however. I enjoy seeing these works. Valerie Friedman created some very simple images for her recent thesis at the University of Tennessee’s Graduate Landscape Architecture Program (by simple I mean a minimal amount of extraneous detail and an excellent use of transparencies).

I find that these montages are very suggestive in the few elements that they use. Moods are implied and shape, form, scale, and perspective are all perceivable. It really is great.

My friend and I also considered some of the digital examples from some European Design firms. The colors are out of place and in disagreement and objects are out of scale. There seems to be a poor attempt at using a newly learned skill. I would at least question publishing an image for which one is not fully skilled at producing. I don’t mean to be too harsh though because I too lack the skill of craft in many of my areas of development. Digital and traditional representations are two of these areas.

CLOG is an on-line publication which publishes four times a year.  The most recent issue was about ‘rendering’. One example they discussed was the tendency of some Asian production studios to use American skylines behind local designs. “…much of why renderings take on a different role in China as compared to…many Western countries. Unlike the built reality of China’s growing cities, renderings serve as fantasies of urbanization rather than true reflections of the urban condition.” (p. 31) My favorite distasteful piece was a panda taking a picture of a couple who was running through wildflower fields while wearing wedding outfits. Come on.

Apparently, not everyone is using digital representation to achieve a similar goal. Some look to address the mood, some the desirable future (however unrealistic) while some are required to represent in  a fashion that places in view every inconvenient tree lamppost, and weed which blocks a view to a design.

Laurie Olin (on sketching), “once they are drawn they have properties that can be considered, measured, and evaluated, if we are adequately critical. Once drawn, an idea can be rejected or improved. Conversely, if one can’t draw something, it is highly questionable whether it really has merit or can be coaxed into existence. Making ideas visible gives them standing.” (p. 7, Transforming The Common Place: Selections from Laurie Olin’s Sketchbooks)

From a very practical view Olin expresses the importance of working out design through sketching. The testing of reality perhaps one could say. So, is there a place for unrealistic representation? I prefer photo realism myself but I am starting to see the importance of other types.

Perhaps these ‘unrealistic’ representations continue a sense of dialogue that would otherwise be diminished or stopped by a ‘final print’. Yes we definitely need those who can produce construction documents and buildable landscapes and structures, but maybe that misses the point of architecture.

After all, aren’t we in the business of imbedding design with meaning?