Drawing are dead

Drawings are the bye-product of an easily understandable deficiency that a designer has. Ideally, a designer should command the modulation of spaces at will just as the design is being fleshed out in the real world (i.e. constructed). However, that is not so in most cases. We are deficient in that respect: Most designers do not have that super-human God-like strength or power to do that.

Whenever a designer did have that super-human power thrust upon him by the government, a lot could be achieved. For example, in ancient Eygpt; Imhotep, the architect who designed the Pyramids was regarded as a God. Because of that it is likely that he could command workers to move huge blocks around till the designs and modulation of spaces were exactly as per his diktats. Even today, projects of grandeur which has the backing of those in power seldom go wrong.

Unfortunately, that is not the case with the projects of us mortal designers. We need to take the design in the head (lets call that M1) and put it out into the world (lets all that M3) with as accurate a representation system as possible in-between (lets call that intermediate stage, M2)

Designing and execution is filled with lots of errors if the designer did not adopt an error-free M2 system. For it is that intermediate stage where the design has to pass through from the mind of the architect to be realized out in the real world.

Architecture; as everyone knows, is actually the oldest profession (even if the term oldest profession is usually an euphemism for something else) The ancient architects (even before Imhotep et al) had no choice but to blunder along at the actual construction site making design decisions and executing decisions more or less simultaneously with the construction. There was no real clear cut M2 stage.

So how did architects those days go about identifying and solving their design problems? They used some form of crude representation systems. One can see those representations in a few ancient structures. For e.g. in some temples of Gujarat at India, one can observe the markings made by the architect on half-finished plinths -- they used to scratch out in a 1:1 scale the reflected ceiling plan of temples onto the plinth. A few of these plinths were discarded (for unknown reasons... maybe the roof collapsed during construction or there were some religious reasons) and the final temple was made next to such plinths. Hence we know today that architects did use some kind of representation of the spaces they wanted to modulate.

The revolution (if one can call it that) of drawings came about during the Renaissance period in the 15 th century. That period saw the intermixing of a lot of ideas and fields (Hence the term Renaissance -- which means rebirth) A lot of very intelligent and creative individuals came up with stupendous work. Many of them had multiple-facets: Michaelangelo, Da-Vinci, Albrecht Durer, Brunelleschi, etc. were all multi-talented people who influenced even architecture. What is lesser known is that they were very curious about mathematics too, and came up with important concepts in maths and geometry. The one relevant to architects is iconography (or drawings) where they discovered ways and means to put buildings as plans, elevations, sections, axonometrics and perspectives. Prior to that, buildings were represented using big wooden models (which were often cutaway models ... some of them so large that they were the size of rooms.)

There is this famous letter that the then architect of St. Peter's at Florence (Brunelleschi) wrote to the Pope. The cathedral was taking a long time to build. In that letter, the architect was found to be requesting the Pope to agree to accept orthographic drawings instead of forcing the architect to be standing at the site everyday to solve architectural and structural problems.

That was a momentous step. Finally a clear cut M2 stage had arrived in an architect's life: The architect now can think about his/her design separately (M1) then take a step back and put it out as drawings (M2) and finally get to see it out in the real world (M3)

So far so good.

So where is the problem?

The problem is a management one. Whenever intermediate stages are introduced in any process; the more the number of intermediate stages; more would be the errors that come about simply due the introduction of that extra stage. For e.g. if one needs to go from A to B and if he goes there in one stage, then that has lesser probability of errors than say, when he does that in 2 stages.

So let me seemingly contradict what I said sometime back. That "blundering" architect who was standing on the site and taking decisions by carving out 1:1 sketches on plinth was actually in a better position to do better job than the post-rennaisance architect who used an intermediate stage -- that of drawings and other iconographic representation (like perspectives, etc.) However if we go back to that primitive form, each architect can only produce architecture as per the limits of his/her capabilities. In today's complicated world team work has become mandatory.We therefore had no choice but to use drawings as a medium for this collaboration but even they have stopped making sense. And we have been doing this for the last 600 years.

Drawings are only a snapshot of a continuously flowing "river of design". An architectural design is continuously changing (even if sometimes the changes are ever so slight) and if all the architect made was just some pictorial representation of it is to try to freeze one interpretation of the design river.

Of course, that would be error prone. Now, you may be wondering why did we then adopt drawings?

The main reason was already stated at the beginning: Architects do not have super-human strength to be at the site and take design decisions. There are other reasons too: Sometimes it is easier to manage a project when one is a bit disconnected from it, even if one is aware that some errors can be generated due to the round-about process.

So why change?

Drawings are not relevant anymore. The last century has seen a movement from an emphasis on the analytical to the shift towards the holistic. Many people have to pore over the problem and look at the same thing from multiple angles. It has become a lot more critical for everyone to respect the dynamics of design rather than get stuck to frozen viewpoints of the design. A little change in one place can result in disasters (that is also the conclusion of Chaos Theory) and an architect cannot ignore this any more.

Hence we need to go back to a situation where we can get from M1 to M3 with as error free M2 as possible.

But isn't M2 always going to be drawings?

No. Because each designer tend to make his/her drawings in his/her own idiosyncratic ways. There are alternatives available today. The current trend to use BIM (Building Information Modelers) is one route that is exploring the method of skipping drawings completely. However popular BIM software is still construction oriented, and does not cover the entire gamut of issues -- right from early stage of design all the way to facilities management. They also do not capture design intent, or is flexible to handle unknown information.

It seems reasonable that with the advent of computing that architects should strive to go back to search for the ideal situation where one goes from M1 to M3 using as few steps as possible.