stefan a. schumer architects

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analog vs digital articulation

To me, expressivity in architecture is a coded message in a poetic sense, which, by its complexity, outreaches a purely material and instrumental purpose. Technicality in architecture is precise and logical, consistent, correct, while the poetic in architecture conveys a search for a wholeness and architectural expression. I think that there isn’t a true kind of architecture, but there certainly is a kind of constructing that is void of poetry. Here I would like to speak of drawing in particular, of analogue drawing, of the process of drafting, which has shaped me personally as an architect primarily by way of the sketch – of the true adventures of the mind and of the impact of my perhaps in a digital sense imprecise, but in an intuitive sense nevertheless precise structure of the drawings of my drafting process. In the back you can see some images from one of my projects that have accompanied me for a while in my mind and in my drawings. I’d like to speak of the origin of my method, speak of the interplay between analogue and digital conceptual method, stress the exploitation of the digital means available to me – tools which, to some extent, are on my table, tools, then, which should serve my drawing’s realization. Earth Crown / Atomos: At the moment I am refining this projects and am constantly moving in an interplay between analogue and digital methods and conceptual processes. To me a drawing is a spiritual anchor, the shortest and most precise path when devising, one that is almost always problematic as soon as one glides from the precise drawing into the digital draft. This sentence was not intended as a provocation aimed at the advocates of parametric conceptual methods; rather, I believe that sketching does not yet permit distraction from one’s own spiritual intentions. How does analogue or digital conceptualization work? Is analogue conceptualization defined by openness and vision whereas digital conceptualization is defined by binary mathematical precision? What is our concept of precision in general, especially in architecture? Is there such a thing as imprecision in poetry. According to Rilke, language is more poetic the vaguer and less precise it becomes. Does precision even exist? If yes, how can it be defined in a spatial sense? Is precision in architecture a well calculated planning of the work itself or the evocation of clear, distinctive and memorable spaces. Or is precision in architecture the clearest possible language for the encompassing of spatial connections? I try to sketch as much as possible; and when I prefer sketching, I do so because sketching allows me to correct my thoughts as often as necessary, in order to be satisfied with my spaces – or to at least understand the reasons for my dissatisfaction in order to have the possibility of correcting them. Does this mean that I still move imprecisely within the conceptualization – or don’t I? Of all of mankind’s instruments in the fine arts, architecture being the mother of all arts, the architectural sketch must be the most immediate, most autonomous, peculiar and remarkable method for stepping onto the path into the not-yet-captured space. The fact that, while drawing, we see our own thoughts developing before our own eyes, letting them glide out of our hand and onto a still-familiar surface – the paper – with nothing in between – this very fact lets us focus on the essential creative process, our inspiration, without distracting us. I have the feeling that in architecture we are presently distracted by a countless number of images; that architecture is beset with a kind of image world, one that has been especially shaped by its lack of inner necessity. The architectures of such image worlds are fleeting, leaving hardly a trace in ones mind; nevertheless this doesn’t stop them from creating a sense of emptiness in our environment. I fear for a loss of our visions. I can only stress the value of the drawing, which I am defending today. A vague, left open, free sketch can only be the origin of an unforeseen precision, a precision that contains and captures the very finest sensations of our architectural visions. The search for the still indefinite suddenly becomes a kind of observation of the manifold - of an extremely complex and not yet captured space. The architectural vision of a sketch can become the creator of a complex composition. Other instruments for realization follow, such as the computer or the CNC-cutter. If the language of architecture is the drawing, then the sketch might be a kind of Symphony. Although, when sketching, we find ourselves attracted to the unknown with an unforeseen power and are yet to step into closed systems of space, we are still constantly grappling with the proportion between an idea and the ideal, absolute space and our empirical abundance of insight Sometimes the very element of the sketch that is to be examined is precision itself. When singled out and left to evolve, this can be seen as a thinking process and as an element of development. If one leaves these elements in their exemplary power, affecting all architectural questions, one is led to a solution, as a paradox connection of precision and uncertainty takes place. The sketch possesses an incorruptible consequence that clearly expresses the essential. Everything else surpassing this quality is defined in the conceptual method and conceptual strategy. The subsequent tools, whether of analogue or digital nature, decide upon the precision of the task’s realization. Every constructed solution can only be as good as the qualitative sketch, as a standard of all surrounding conditions for the architectural expression, for aesthetics and poetics, allows. When sketching we move within a frame of accurateness as well as indefiniteness. If one really were to Measure the World and Daniel Kehlmann’s book title gave us a hyper-task assignment – beyond the intentions of the scientist Friedrich Gauß – of actually digitally capturing our world, then perhaps the entire complexity of space, in which, for instance, two people make love or a trial takes place, might actually be programmable with all its parameters and be representable. At the same time I find the philosopher Vilem Flusser’s statement coherent and consistent when he says, “our lives are indescribable, but not countable.” He surely is describing our doomed attempt to capture our existence digitally – to eventually digitalize our habitats and our space sequences. When Sketching I try to approach my sketch strategically, to due justice to my vision or inspiration. Sketching is adventurous reflection. By drawing, inventive thoughts and philosophies are captured and later transferred to digital systems. To concentrate on a draft means to hold onto my fondness for geometry, onto the obviously fateful passion for symmetry, onto combinations of numbers, proportions of numbers, and the idea of a whole. What’s interesting about a sketch must certainly be not what one has drafted but what one has not yet found a solution to. Isn’t the excitement of a sketch the possibility of not directly finding a solution, or perhaps not immediately knowing where one is being led, or no longer knowing whether to find solutions for certain questions. Suddenly one realizes that, while sketching, something completely different seems to come into being. What interests me in a sketch often isn’t anything particular, rather, it is what develops out of the sketch, which begins to grow and ripen. There are no details yet where the construction is concerned, but there are already some precise elements of a human process of creation. Is this, then, architectural composition or just a compact creative will? One can lose oneself in the passion for detail and in detail itself, loose oneself in the smallest “something”, the same way one has lost oneself before, in the endless worlds of the sketch. The visionary drawing might soon become architectural composition, whether in order or disarray. Some elements already strive for form and content in which one soon will recognize a plan or new perspectives in the sense of new compositional adventures. We will then reside in a tension between geometric rationality and a network of our own creative power. I believe that the will to create in architectural composition has to do with the fact that only privileged points in the sketch manifest themselves in numbers, rows of proportion and later spaces. When searching and exploring through the sketch, the first thing that comes to mind, or moves me, is a sequence which for some reason seems significant to me, even when I can’t yet formulate this significance in a discourse. In other words, allowing the potential within the drawing to unfold so that this potential might already speak of spaces - in the sense of a later realized (digital and edificial) construction. I always reserve a certain space in analogue drawings for possible alterations. Simultaneously, the expressiveness of the drawing becomes more and more important to me. As soon as I begin to draw, the language of the drawing – which is what counts – becomes singular and irrevocable. In short, analogue drawing aims at the union of the spontaneous conception of not-yet crystallized images with discursive thought. Within the imagination of the sketch I have always sought out a path for individual insight. Perhaps the sketch conveys ideal images to us, which are either shaped according to the inner logic of the imaginary world or according to our creative will. Visions might develop, separated from our objective reality. The process or visual contemplation when sketching almost seems like a kind of meditation. In this In-Between, numerous possibilities arise for the use of our imagination to ask new questions. In the 16th century, drawing was equal to invention, with the development of an idea, indeed, with the idea itself. Paul Klee described drawing as a “thought process.” For Matisse it meant: “a possibility to describe the finest vibrations and thoughts of the soul, feeling one’s way forward stroke by stroke, obeying the pulse emitted by the line and to experience how it separates a surface, outlines an object or hints at the third dimension.” Corbusier emphasized again and again on how important the drawing of shapes was to him. In the early thirties, he began to obsessively draw the rough surfaces of seashells and stones he had gathered along the beaches of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, calling them objets à reàction poetique. Years later, the time of the icy smooth surface of the outer shell in his architecture passes. The rough cement shells, which look like cliffs and the exposed concrete of the pilgrimage church of Ronchamp evoke the hull of a ship, remind of water and a kind of oversized seashell. Young Corbusier roughly fires lines onto paper, as though his hand ought to be as swift as the very thought the drawing wants to grab. Corbusier once noted contently “I draw like a pig!” while describing the swiftness of the drawing that appeared like a quick frozen idea. Do we regard the architectural sketch as a means for awareness? For Vilem Flusser, conscious awareness was the irreconcilability of opposite poles. One pole he calls precision, math, or pure intellect – the other is soul, irrationality, humaneness, and chaos. “Perhaps imagination is a kind of electronic machine, examining all kinds of possible combinations and chooses those that correspond to a certain function or simply stand for the most interesting or beautiful variables.” What sort of future will our individual imagination have? Will it embed itself in our development or human processes? Our visual logic is being filled up with super-image worlds, like a ditch where it becomes more and more difficult to discern a single form amongst the many. Will a fantastical or visionary architecture even be possible in the upcoming millennia, faced with a growing inflation of pre-fabricated images and structural systems? Will there be a recycling of exhausted architecture in new contexts? Or will there be a total renaissance? Might we then recapture our subconscious wisdom that we have always transported throughout the history of the sketch and the drawing? Or will we have withered away, having been outdone by our own systems? Aren’t we all hunting for something hidden or just barely possible or hypothetical? I believe that our elementary spiritual mechanisms repeat themselves throughout history. Does the sketch conceal everything we wish for, a kind of spiritual order, precision, poetry and the whole of our culture? I’d like to conclude my thoughts with a statement by the gifted draftsman Alvaro Siza Viera „For the architect, drawing is a work tool, a form of learning, assimilation, communication and transformation: it’s a method used in the design process. The architect also has other tools available but nothing can take the place of drawing without leading to negative consequences. Every gesture that we make – including drawing – is charged with history, unconscious memory, and incommensurable and unknown wisdom. Drawing should be practiced so that our every gesture, and everything else, does not become atrophied”. For me, non-digital space is the space of ideas, the space of empathy. Digital space is the space of limited numbers in a binary system of signals. stefan a. schumer