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and latent redefinition of the construction process itself. 4 Today, with digital production and continuous datasets comprising a practical approach rather than an idealised aim, the production of geometrically complex buildings and building systems from differentiated components appears a tangible, as well as feasible, proposition. Overall, the most relevant consideration for now is the relation between existing skills tools and emerging techniques and by: and Hizkia Irwanto Gouw (378785) technologies. The work of the leading manufacturing Contemporary Digital Practice companies suggests that the transfer and integration of CAM in field ofABPL 90149 the construction requires the development of new production approaches Bharat in parallelDave with an understanding of Lecturer:

This article is based on an indepth research into the current possibilities and future perspectives of fully integrated computer-aided design and manufacturing. As part of this exploration, Achim Menges and Michael Hensel visited specialist manufacturing companies and their facilities in Germany to investigate and discuss the latest computer-controlled fabrication processes. Following this field trip, the Emergence and Design Group organised the symposium entitled ‘Manufacturing Diversity’, with representatives of the key companies at the Architectural Association in February 2005. The article reports on the work and projects presented by Dirk Emmer (Skyspan, Germany), Benoit Fauchon (Covertex, Germany), Michael Keller (Finnforest Merk, Germany), Thomas Spitzer (Seele, Germany) and Dr Karel Vollers representing Professor Mick Eekhout (Octatube, the Netherlands).

The Role of Digital Representation in Architecture

Figure view 1. One of Serpentine the example of digital representation. Interior of the Pavilion designed by Ă lvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura together with Cecil Balmond of Arup and Partners, London, 2005.


Introduction Representation is one of the significant aspects in the field of architecture. Representation will help the architect or designer visualize their thoughts and imagination. There are numerous examples of when a good design fails for the reason that the architect does not represent it successfully. In the past, architects used traditional methods of drawing (hand drawing, watercolor, and similar others) in order to represent their ideas. However, the emergence of architectural software such as AutoCAD in the mid-eighties started to change the methodology of design representation. It not only revolutionized the way architects design and visualize, but also incorporated itself into the final outcome of architecture itself, which is the building. Nowadays, digital software becomes a necessity in every architectural project.

This essay will investigate the role of digital representation in architecture. It will focus on three main points: the metamorphosis of design representation, the benefits of digital representation in architecture, and the roles of the architect in the digital architecture.


The Metamorphosis of Design Representation

In order to analyze the role of digital representation, it is worthwhile to first understand the metamor-

phosis of design representation. In 1961, Ivan Sutherland invented the first computer graphic interface called Sketchpad. The aim of Sketchpad was to develop a visual interface between computers and human, which could communicate the architect’s imagination using machine language (As & Schodek 2008, p. 135). Then, it was followed by the creation of AutoCAD in 1984. Both of these inventions were made to help architects produce their work. They could produce repetitive drawings, or make small adjustments and changes when they need it, which otherwise would be a painful task to do it directly in a drafting board.

Figure 2 (left). Ivan Sutherland invented Sketchpad in 1961. Figure 3 (right). The first AutoCad program, released in 1984.

Then, maybe there will be a question: if the software was already developed in 60’s, why did it is only

spread rapidly in the last two decades? Malcolm McCullough, in his book Abstracting Craft: the Practiced Digital Hand, answered these question in three points. First, the price of computer technologies has decreased, and has become much more affordable (McCullough 1996, p. 28). In the past only architectural companies can afford them due to its size and complexity. Nowadays, individuals or even architecture students can afford them. The second reason is because the improvement of human computer interfaces technology (McCullough 1996, p. 28). There is more flexibility in the current architectural software, from a 2D static movement to more excessive 3D form of exploration. The last one is a “growing appreciation of new abstraction” (McCullough 1996, p. 28). The transformation from a drafting board to a computer screen is not an instant change. In the past, people see the digital representation as an abstract or conceptual idea that is not workable. However, nowadays, by looking at Frank Gehry’s or Zaha Hadid’s works, people can understand that an abstraction in digital media could be realized in a real project. “Representations of reality are abstraction.” -Jennifer Whyte- (2002, p. 29)

In terms of historical aspect, design representation has been showed in different techniques and ap-

proaches. At first, there was a Beaux-Arts tradition that worshipped beautiful drawings; they extensively presented the value of colour, texture, light and shadow in their drawings. Then, it was followed by modernism that diminished all those values and focused more on pure geometry such as clean and straight lines (As & Schodek, p. 88). In the modern era, when architects use digital media to represent their projects, the outcome is closer to the one in Beaux-Arts drawing. By using digital models, the architects could play with texture and colour, and they also demonstrated the use of light and shadow in the building. Modern architects have returned to the obsession of creating beautiful perspective images.


Figure 4. The metamorphosis of design representation, from Beaux Arts (left), Modernism (center), to current digital representation (right).

The Benefits of Digital Representation in Architecture

The aim of design representation is not about producing a stunning drawing, but more about the quali-

ties of three-dimensional space. In the past, architects used hand drawing, water or pencil colour to represent their designs. However most of them failed to achieve the spatial qualities of architecture, as their drawings were flat two-dimensional images like a painting. Nowadays, computer software facilitates the architects to reach those qualities. By using a 3D modeling software (such as Rhino or 3D Studio Max), architects can explore their ideas in three-dimensional form. Although still considered as an abstract model, a 3D computer model can conceptually visualize its image rendering closely similar to its real form by using real volumes, textures, and materials (Belibani & Gadola 1997).

Moreover, according to Antoine Picon, in his book Digital Culture of Architecture, “the most immediate

consequence of the use of the computer is without doubt the possibilities to manipulate complex geometries” (2010, p. 10). The computer software can assist architects to exploit complex geometries, rather than simplify them. There will be no more limitations in terms of form or shape. Folding, bending, or twisting forms, which may be too difficult and complicated to be drawn using traditional hand drawing, could be made easily in the digital software. The curve in Gehry’s Bilbao Museum perhaps may not, or even were impossible to, be represented using traditional methods of plan or elevation drawing. This advantage will give more opportunity to architects to take their designs into a higher level.

Figure 5. Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

Digital media also gives architects a more powerful visual language for communicating their design

concepts or proposals to third parties (clients), which may not be familiar with architecture. The visualization of digital media overcomes the barrier of customary visual codes of traditional architectural drafting or drawing (As & Schodek 2008, p. 133). While people still need a basic knowledge of architecture to understand the orthographic drawing of a building, the digital representation uses a universal graphic language that is easy to understand. Another reason is the emerging of computing technology in the popular realm, where digital media


has become a common language in general public (Bermudez & Klinger 2003). Thus architects may find it useful to use digital mediums or techniques in representing their projects to the public.

Figure 6. Diagram illustrate the properties of software tools

The Roles of Architects in the Digital Architecture

There is a common question regarding the emergence of digital architecture: Are architects in danger

of losing their job? If the program can automatically generate a complete project, do we still need architects? Makoto Sei Watanabe explained the reason why architects are still important in an architectural project. He said that architectural software cannot generate design or logic without human intervention; the final outcome of a project is produced through a series of decisions made by the architects or designers (Watanabe 2002, p. 69). Without deep thinking by architects, a digital project is merely an interesting project. They will remain as an exercise in architectural software and will never give a meaning to the viewer.

In the present, there are no architectural practices without digital technology. There is a fear that digital

technology will lead to the danger of narrow technological determinism (Picon 2010, p. 9). The architects will rely so much in digital software to produce their work. The best solution to solve this dilemma is to perceive software as a tool for architects. McCullough makes a good analogy between architectural softwares and a set of pencils (1996, p. 59). There are range of pencils with different thickness and colour. The users have to know how each pencil works so they know when they need to use it. The same principle applies to software: the architects just have to use them appropriately. Just like a pencil that will never give the user a drawing idea, the computer will also never directly provide architects a design concept; it will only help architects to inhabit their task. So the best approach is to strategically use the software, and never let them interfere the architectural intent. “A tool does only what you tell it to do; it is never out of control� -Malcom McCullough- (1996, p. 78). Conclusion

Digital media offers access for architects to explore the spatial qualities of architecture. By using digital

media, design representation is pushed to a new boundary. There will be no more projects that are too complex or difficult to be represented. However, architects must not rely the whole thing on digital technologies, because the purpose of digital representation is about communicating the idea, not making a bad design looks


fancy. Architects have to understand that people is and will always be more interesting and talented than technology. Architectural software cannot generate their design automatically without a human creativity. At the end of the day, computer software is only one of the many tools that architects could use to represent their project. Architects just have to choose correct software for different purposes in order to assist their job. “What actually constitutes architectural experience and presence- architecture or media?” -Hani Rashid(Flachbart 2005, p. 245)

Bibliography Books

As, I & Schodek D 2008, Dynamic Digital Representations in Architecture: Visions in Motion, Taylor &

Francis, New York.

Bertol, D 1997, Designing Digital Space : an Architect’s Guide to Virtual Reality, Wiley, New York.

Flachbart, G 2005, Dissapearing Architecture: From Real to Virtual Quantum, Birkhauser, Basel.

McCullough, M 1996, Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hands, MIT Press, Mass.

Picon, A 2010, Digital Culture in Architecture: an Introduction for the Design Professions, Birkhauser,


Watanabe MS 2001, Induction Design: a Method for Evolutionary Design, Birkhauser Verlag, Boston.

Whyte, J 2002, Virtual Reality and the Built Environment, Architectural, Oxford.

Journal Articles

Brian, M & Gardner, J 2008, ‘Cinemetrics: Embodying architectural representation in the digital age’,

Architectural theory review: journal of the Department of Architecture, the University of Sydney, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 29-51.

McCullough, M 2006, ’20 Years of Scripted Space’, Architectural Design, vol. 76, no. 4, pp. 12-15.

Perez-Gomez, A 2005, ‘Questions of representation: the poetic of origin architecture’, Arq: Architec-

tural Research Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 3-4, pp. 217-225.

Thompson, H 2008, ‘In Perspective’, Design Week, vol. 23, no.3, pp. 14-15.

Electronic Resources

Belibani, R & Gadola A , On Digital Architecture, Università di Roma “La Sapienza”, viewed 5 May

2011, <>.

Bermudez, J & Klinger, K (ed.) 2003, Digital Technology & Architecture, ACADIA, viewed 6 May 2011,

<>. Images

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McCullough, M 1996, Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hands, MIT Press, Mass, p. 81


The Role of Digital Representation in Architecture  

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