‘An architectural drawing is an assemblage of spatial and material notations that can be decoded, according to a series of shared conventions, in order to effect a transformation of reality at a distance from the author. The drawing as artifact is unimportant. It is rather a set of instructions for realizing another artifact’ (Allen 2000, 32)

What is the role of visual architectural representation today?

If manufacturing robots only need to receive information in the shape of coordinates distributed in space, or in the case of images as pixels and numbers, all the visual information models are meant to support human communication in the process of design. These models are increasingly complex and loaded with an enormous amount of information, which still causes difficulties. The displacement of the manufacturing role to machines, might be a possibility to develop a new language of information transmission.

Nowadays the regulation bureaucracy demands an amount of documentation that can exceed the documentation necessary for the building process. Like architect Lluis Ortega points in the interview made by the author, in the 20th century the amount of information needed to build a project was much less than the amount of information demanded by rules, regulation and industry among others, today.

‘The demand for documentation for current production in architecture, in different contexts, for legal reasons above all else, is absolutely exorbitant and disproportionate to what it was before. (Now) we are in a more legal bureaucratic context than of real development, to establish the platforms for control of the budget, responsibilities, etc. This has an impact on the architecture because in the end there is an enormous amount of energy invested in it, which closes other windows of exchange or development of the project’. (Ortega. 2021)

The traditional practice of architecture implies a lot of information contained in physical and digital documents. As an example of how this information is transmitted through time, a workflow, dated more than two decades ago, is far from being obsolete.

 ‘Large scale printed drawings were frequently used to support  discussions about  the  design  of  the  parts.  For  example, …a discussion took place over the drawing, with both participants  pointing to parts and writing on it simultaneously. Pencilled and coloured annotations were added to the document (at times, simultaneously by both), and comments and sketches were made in whitespaces. The large size of these drawings should be emphasised (A1 format; ‘zoom-ins’ and ‘zoom-outs’ were not required as on a computer screen). The designers frequently faxed drawings to suppliers in order to obtain part quotes. This frequently entailed the printing of a drawing on the plotter,  going to a photocopier in another room to shrink it, then going back to their room to fax it. The designers noted, however, that pertinent information available in the original colour document (on-screen or paper) was often lost when it was faxed, and that they sometimes had to ask the sender to re-send the original. Facsimiles received were stored in folders, or in ashared filing cabinet. …Design problems were principally identified from the architects’ drawings. Occasionally, the architectural designs had  to be modified, and this involved negotiation with the architect. As the designs developed, conflicts occurred with other areas of the design; to resolve these, the engineers had to be aware of the work of the other designers, and to integrate their own work with that of the others’.(Perry and Sanderson 1998, 279 – 278).

Architectural practices are used to dealing with a big amount of modifications along the design process, which generates a wear and tear in the communication and completion of the necessary documents to finalize a stage of a project and move on to construction.

‘In architectural practice there has been a combination of many media simultaneously and there are even writings about how the impact of technology has been changing the need to diversify these media in order to respond precisely to the opportunities or limitations of the technology. From the pre-printing era where it was necessary to make and use alphanumeric codes, as in the case of Alberti or Ptolomeo, due to the inability to reproduce drawings with a certain rigor, until now where the range of possibilities has been opened much more’.(Ortega. 2021)

This reminds us of the purpose of architectural representation as a means of communication, and how it shifts and transforms, from one type of notation to another, depending on the technology available or the interlocutor. Architects develop a specific representation based on communicational conventions and protocols according to the opportunities and limitations of the technological developments of their time. 

The architectural drawing is described as a powerful means to ‘communicate some spatial relationships more clearly than we can write them, different types of drawings can more effectively describe specific conditions. …drawings are used to communicate the design concept in a form that is usable for constructing a facility’. 

Developing this idea, Stan Allen presents what philosopher Nelson Goodman proposed as a theoretical context for two types of art forms around the question of notation: ‘he calls autographic those arts, like painting and sculpture, that depend for their authenticity upon the direct contact of the author. In music, poetry or theater, on the other hand, the concept of authenticity is described differently. These arts, where the work exists in many copies and can be produced without the direct intervention of the author, he calls allographic. Allographic arts are those capable of being reproduced at a distance from the author by means of notation’ (Allen 2000, 31 – 45).
Allen also describes that, ‘The work of architecture, as Goodman writes, is not always as surely disengaged from a particular building as is a work of music from a particular performance. The end product of architecture, unlike that of music, is not ephemeral; and the notational language was developed in response rather to the need for participation of many hands in construction … insofar as its notational language has not yet acquired full authority to divorce the identity of the work in all cases from particular production, architecture is a mixed and transitional case.’  (Allen 2000, 35).

Kieran and Timberlake, almost 20 years ago show how, with the new technologies of real time communication and collaborative software available, the stratification and segregation of the stakeholders involved in an architecture project would be modified by the cross communication between them. However this exchange of information still has problems of communication to be solved due to the complexity of the digital-based design information. In this regard, Dimitrie Stefannescu proposed the open source platform named Speckle, designed to share the data of the project as objects, instead of a stack of files that need to be dived to find the modifications that other actors did.

In the same line, related on how the complexity of the communication can shift to a system for digital fabrication and customization of design. One decade ago one of the first examples of adoption of cutting edge technologies was the Wikihouse, which presented a workflow that allowed one architect to design and produce the code for the construction of an entire house, limiting the number of stakeholders involved in a project as a different strategy for reducing communication complexity. The same shift had the potential to modify the whole process of designing a building.

Architectural Representation as Communication. Applied Theory I-II-II  is a project of IAAC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia
developed at the Master in Robotics and Advanced Construction in 2021 by:

Student: Juan E. Ojeda

Faculty: Mathilde Marengo