Thinkables – task 03

by Annie Locke Scherer

Response to “Everything is an Image” by John May

In this essay May catalogues the differences between the drawing, the photograph, and the image. Having gone to a traditional architectural school for my undergraduate education and now instructing a studio titled “Architectural Notations”, I resonated with these concepts. I’ve never come across the articulation that drawing, photography, and image were so “distinct and utterly incompatible forms of memory and storage” (p. 14).  

Drawing: regular, controlled, predictable, synchronized

Rem Koolhaas recently noted a Sumerian architect of 2000BC and his counterpart of only 30 years back would both share the use of the same compasses and rulers, strings, pins or plumb-lines to produce and replicate congruent figures on the ground, stone or paper. But making marks on physical surfaces has recently given way to the fundamentally different sequential operations of computers as the material basis of architectural inscriptions. To explore the difference computers make requires to interrogate how architecture’s goals, values and assumptions, the norms regulating its production and reception, are linked to its media and technologies.

Photograph: chemical mechanical storage, “Whereas the constructed perspective drawing was a thoroughly mathematical depiction ( drawings were geometric arrangements of geometric quantities), the mathematics of a photograph always remains locked deep within its chemical composition” (p. 12)

Image: inherently dynamic, statistical electrical-storage, “all imaging today is a process of detecting energy emitted by an environment and chopping it into discrete, measurable electrical charges called signals, which are stored, calculated, managed, and manipulated through various statistical methods.”

“In signalization – understood broadly as the ongoing project of converting all of lived experience into discrete, measurable, calculable electrical charges (signals) …Unlike machines, signalized apparatuses know only the logic of discretization, whose translation of force relies on an electrical communication among their parts” (p. 22). This section reminded me of what we teach in our studio; how the nineteenth century’s obsessive interest in systems, languages and notations lie at the hart of today’s digitalisation: besides the formal logic and semiotics fundamental to computers and programming languages, chemistry saw the appearance of a grammar of atoms and molecules, and crystallography, a systematisation of its spatial structures into lattice notations. Architecture experienced also the influences of this structural bias: the plans of Ledoux, Durand’s “Précis des leçons” for the École Polytechnique or Guadet’s theory of elementary composition, operated under a similar cartesian mindset. In order to understand the formal principles underlying computer languages or data structures and by extension any CAD or modelling software and its results, looking at physical assemblies made of discrete elements: crystalline arrangements, networks, cellular close-packings and lattices, and the porosities, dendrites, gastrulations and other formations they give rise to. Digital forms of notation such as programming and parametric descriptions that help describe these processes. The concept of the part and the whole. The substructure and the structure. An endless fractal when examined under a microscope.