On architectural representations 1/3
It is a difficult moment for architectural representation. On one hand, we suffer the rule of the extreme verisimilitude, as we wrote in our Little Pink Book:
In this passage towards hyper-realism induced by the instruments we use – and by the language that dominates architecture’s homogenized thinking – something subtle but fundamental gets lost, something that it was virtually impossible to lose when the instruments and techniques we used – even skillfully – implied an economy of signs. This is the lightness of the indefinite, of the unsaid, of the evoked. It is the space for indeterminacy that saves us from describing things that we probably are still unsure about, respects that gap between project and reality, and provides the viewer with a subtle power for interpretation and appropriation.
Finally, what gets lost in this pornographic passage to perfect dissimulation, is the imperfection and variety of the real that no tree we may borrow from 3d models libraries will ever be able to reproduce.
Architectural representations, once truly narrative and able to leave room for interpretation and imagination, are nowadays more and more boring – despite and because of their spectacularity – as the last Marvel franchise is.
On the other hand, we witnessed a strong reaction to this rule, an opposition through resistance and the widespread diffusion of different representational techniques aimed to bring back in architectural design images ambiguity, narratives, ideas – but very often removing, with verisimilitude, also some of the most important values of space – light, depth of space and so on. Not to mention that this reaction has in the blink of an eye produced another wave of representational homogenization, symmetrically boring and meaningless as the rule of the rendering.
The extreme paradox of this crisis are all those architects known for their amazing production of digital collages and illustrations, that, when delivering a project for a competition, ask visualisation professionals to prepare the same photorealistic renderings that they have been criticizing through their work – embodying in their practice this split between standardized spectacularization and a representation consistent with specific architectonic values.
Since the beginning of our practice we have been using collages in search of a different kind of realism, because we are fond of what the Situationnist’s called detournement of existing elements, of what we call, detourning a definition from electronics, augmented reality. Again, as stated in our pink bible:
In an architecture that should value the performance offered to its users more than its own form, poetics feeds on the reality one wants to be part of. (…) It collects elements and details that belong more in a hardware shop than in an architectural magazine, and relocates them into a sort of low-tech augmented reality.
As we know, collage is the most powerful and quick tool to take something interesting that belongs to our reality, and build upon it an augmented value – different but not alien.
Every collage of ours is not the project, but rather the result of a process of relocation of something that is existing and belongs to our practices and memories, deploying and empowering its potentialities.
Some of these collages can be seen just as found situations, such as the pile of trunks that we transformed in a playground by placing over it two jumping kids – and was the starting point for a park design all based on different interpretations of this stack. Others operate a transformation – slicing, displacement, scaling, repetition – to reveal the potentiality of existing spatial conditions, or to create something new from what is part of our culture. The splitting of nave of a cathedral can thus suggest a building that embraces and celebrate public space in Switzerland, while the gathering of fragments from the mediterranean tell of a building that wants to be a cluster of diverse and identifiable public programs.
The culture we play with using collages includes references from different disciplines- photography and movies being a constant source of inspiration. Like the hide-and-seek sequence in Una giornata particolare, where Marcello Mastroianni and Sofia Loren play with one of the most beautiful spatial conditions, an open space lightly separated by the white linen on the drying racks. A spatial condition that has been returning frequently as an aspiration of many projects – and mostly exhibition designs and installations, such as Touch Screen, Borderlines, Cross the Streets.
Some other collages are just explorations without an end, just fictions that maybe one day will become projects…
These collages are mostly for internal use, except for those produced and shown in the context of an exhibition. They probably shouldn’t be considered architectural representations but rather architectural explorations that gather in a very immediate and simple act a multiplicity of meanings and references, the mundane and the extraordinary, the formal and the political, reality and utopia.