Movement in Architecture: Disciplining the Digital Diagram

Movement in Architecture: Disciplining the Digital Diagram

Gavin Perin (University of Technology Sydney, Broadway, Australia) and Christopher Bowman (University of Technology Sydney, Broadway, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/IJCICG.2016070103
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The digital processing of three-dimensional movement data often leads to instrumental design methods. This problem-solution design paradigm limits spatial design practices because they do more than solve singular problems. The question is whether spatial design practice can exploit the mediating effects of hardware and software. Robin Evans' essay ‘Translations from Drawing to Building' argues that architecture needs to embrace the mediating effects of the drawing. To this end digital motion capture systems open numerous new mapping and diagramming techniques. The unique condition sponsored by movement data is that architecture must find new ways of drawing the relationship between drawing, data and experience. These new drawings also open numerous issues around the representational and formal opportunities raised by movement capture technologies. Accordingly, the architectural exploration of movement data needs to assess the basis by which all design disciplines can approach movement data through generative rather than instrumental design acts.
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The precision of motion capture technology offers spatial designers a vital new tool to map space according to “what the body knows” (ABC, 2014). This technology promises to furnish hard data by which to record and analyze the ‘affect’ of space on the body. Moreover, the interpolation and extrapolation of this data provides valuable information to design for the body. Therefore, the capacity to collect, represent and project hard data recasts ' ‘embodied knowledge’ as a quantifiable, performance-based experiential epistemology.

Experience-based architectural design paradigms aim to counter the perceived formal limitations of semiotic-based design practices. The criticism of semiotics is that it undertakes an intellectual mediation of experience that pre-determines how the body 'speaks' to space. However, contemporary experiential ontologies confront the same problems the replication of knowledge posed for phenomenology. Replication formalizes knowledge, and this process of formalization uses modes of communication. After McLuhan (1995) communication always problematizes experiential thinking because it is always mediated. Communication makes experience inseparable from the medium. Replication also problematic for experiential spatial practices because design is projective. Design initiates procedural mechanisms and forms that communicate through three moments of representational mediation. Design not only demands a description of knowledge, but it also requires knowledge to be gathered, recorded and processed. Therefore, the projective logics of production open an array of translational slippages in the procedural movement from ideation to form.

Robin Evans’ (1997) essay ‘Translations from Drawing to Building’ examines architectural drawing practice to tackle the issues around projective representation. Architecture is uniquely placed to interrogate this matter because the mediation of objects occurs through scaled modes of representation (Evans, 1997). This scalar intercession in the form-making process makes architecture, of all design disciplines, more susceptible to its representational mediums. The motion capture suite would appear to solve the problem of scalar mediation because the data operates at a one-to-one scale. To this end, the architectural application of this data promotes strategies of multiplication and aggregation over amplification, given that the latter magnifies and shifts the scale of the data. However, the mediation of data and ontological formalization of knowledge suggests that motion capture data cannot escape the problems of communication. Any experiential account of architecture, obtained via the motion capture suite, cannot avoid the translational moments in the capture, mapping and formal translation of the data. The technological limits of communication return to thwart the notion that the motion capture technologies enable an ‘authentic’ response to embodied experience. The medium continues to question the data’s provenance, meaning the system cannot present the body as an ‘authentic’ site of experiential knowledge.

In the 1990’s, architect, Greg Lynn, developed a new type of architectural diagram. Using animation software, Lynn began to generate form through the quantitative translation of contextual data. Like the map, the issue of scale was directly addressed by the medium because of the axiomatic processing of form. The retention of the data’s scalar integrity did more than collapse the previous disciplinary distinctions made between maps from diagrams. It also provided a new type of architectural drawing that could process contextual data to scale. The legitimization of architectural objects now occurs through performative logics. In effect, the validation of objects occurs by measuring them against the data sponsoring their development.

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