as not of

sam jacob

butterflies / farfalle, 2022

A perennially raw question that haunts the discipline down its ages, that terrible doubt that punctures its otherwise over inflated confidence: What, or where, is architecture? In all of the efforts to land a job, get something built, draw something coherent, or even be able to speak about any of the above the actual idea of architecture remains elusive. Perhaps that’s because, despite one of its outputs being massive and unmissable, architecture itself is a weak discipline. Its appearance is emboldened only when your gaze oscillates between its many poles (say from book to building to screen to model to drawing and all around again). When we fix our gaze and look at it head on, things that we assumed to be certain and fixed begin to dissolve.

We see it, for example, in the way that we draw it. Like water, architectural representation derives its motion from other gravities, from energies outside of its own body. Architectural drawings are freighted with responsibility. We know, of course (how could we forget) of their legal and contractual status. That a line in the wrong place (or the wrong kind of line) might drag the cultural practice of architecture into a legal mire. We know their role as instructions, that architectural drawings order the act of construction and direct the labour involved in the making of a building. Drawings have an intent in the world that exceeds their own limits. They are documents performing within the mechanics of construction and real estate. Information expressed within circumscribed protocols. They address concerns of boundary, demise, material, dimension, assembly and so on. Their ‘content’ then, is always issues of ownership and responsibility. Their ‘motivation’, to borrow a ​​Stanislavskian phrase, is external, residing with the lawyer and the project manager. As ideas about drawing, they are hollow. As sites of thinking about architecture, they remain blank.

At least these kinds of drawing have the excuse that they are following orders. More pernicious are architectural drawings without those practical responsibilities. The ones that take on the role of representation: Views, perspectives and renders, drawings that claim to be of things.

These are drawings busy with directing our attention elsewhere. Representing something else, somewhere else. The act of drawing is harnessed to create an appearance of reality while the drawing itself appears to recede from the scene.

These drawings exhaust themselves with maintaining the fiction of their representational technique - the illusions of depth, light and shade for example. This is the page as Alberti’s ‘finestra aperta’ - the open window he describes in De Pictura (1435). In this mode of representation, the drawing itself disappears. The surface of the page evaporates, the lines and marks made on it vanish. We no longer see what is really in front of us, but the fictional world beyond the window/page.

There’s a reason that architectural drawings - both technical and visual - rely on external armatures. They need to be propped up by these conventions because their subject needs so much careful coaxing into existence. If architectural drawings have one characteristic that distinguishes them from others, it's their agency in describing a world, a space, an object, or something that doesn't yet exist. Their claim on reality is only provisional at the time they are (usually) made. Architecture needs law, professional standards, and magic in order to manifest its far-fetched imaginary. It needs those external conventions to stiffen its gossamer texture, to precipitate ‘architecture’ in solid form.

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story they say. An attitude that prioritises the mechanism of communication over the thing being communicated. The effort of telling the story obliterates its content. In our case, the effort of constructing a believable graphic space on the page precludes the possibility of anything else being depicted. In most cases the act of storytelling, the construction of narrative, the ‘believability’ of graphic space is simply the recital of the norm. It relies on the rules of representational engagement to be shared and understood in order for the willing suspension of disbelief, for it to become believable. But in the recital of say perspectival or elevational rules, does architectural representation again lose its own original agency? Does the medium (perspective, elevation, axonometric etc) become the message? Why bother making a drawing that illustrates a rule when, to borrow a phrase from Alain Robbe-Grillet “the statement of the rule would suffice”.

Could, in other words, a drawing express its own idea of architecture rather than restate those embedded within pre-existing representational modes? Can a drawing express itself instead of reciting the laws of drawing? If an architectural drawing requires so much ‘statement of the rule’ just to make itself believable, is there any space to state anything else? And what happens when a drawing is freed from these responsibilities? What idea of architecture could emerge from drawings that could speak other languages? What could architecture become if it were free to experiment with its own concerns?

This series of drawings by fala seem to do exactly this. Drawings made after the (usual) fact. Post constructions, they are freed from external responsibility to convince or instruct. They have no responsibility to coax anything into existence beyond themselves. A reversal of the traditional linear process of sketch > drawings > building. Here, the building acts as the preliminary sketch for the drawing.

For fala, whose notoriety grew through a different kind of drawing, there is something else too in the rejection of so much familiar external representational armature.

fala-vision as we know it promotes elevational / perspectival space. It collages together moments of lives as if a still from a film. In the frame, a plant, a cat, a sock act like domesticated versions of Checkov’s gun. They are details suggesting the presence of a bigger, unseen narrative. These drawings invest heavily in narrative and mood. They charm us into believing them through qualities of slightly-wrongness, and painterly sketchupness.

These drawings operate with rules we recognise. Maybe multiple overlapping sets of rules: instagram-appeal, architectural perspective, cartoonist, film director and so on. These rules structure the internal logic of the drawing itself and our reaction to it simultaneously. We recognise colour pallets, the relationship between blankness and detail, the frames from a cartoon, fragments of a storyboard, pages from a children's book. Their visual field floods us with dopamine. These are drawings that give themselves up - and the architecture they depict - as stages for the playing out of narrative. Drawings whose presence is so saturated with hooks to pull us into its own reality, that seduces us to participate in its own imaginary space, we project ourselves into each self-contained stage.

These drawings however exist outside of those rules of engagement. Ground and sky, for example, so important before, are no longer relevant. Are we in plan space, sectional space, or something else without orientation?

What is the drawing when so much has been evacuated? What do these lines mean? How should they be read now that reference has been rejected? When the rules only emerge from the drawings themselves, not from traditions or protocol?

They feel more like choreographic (literal translation "dance-writing") notations. But it's the graphic markings themselves that are the performance. These are codes with no cypher - or rather the marks are the cypher and the code at the same time. There are no legends on these kinds of maps.

Instead, we have to read them directly: Feel the way they create relationships across the page; Experience the tensions and forces oscillating in space between ‘things’; Understand the drawings viscerally. Instead of projecting ourselves into the imagery reality of a drawing, we sit with them, both of us real. 

They may appear as analytical drawings, perhaps extracting principles of a project. They might be describing the principles of composition, or the specifics of spatial arrangement, drawing out the presence of something lurking just below the surface of built architectural form. Expressions of ideas interred within walls, stairs, windows, floors, rails, or any of the other familiar components of construction. The dryness of these drawings, their representational factuality and analytical nature however ushers in the presence of architectural ideas, set free from their physical form elsewhere.

This kind of drawing has no meaning outside of itself. Its site is nowhere else but itself. It's impossible for it to express anything but itself. The drawing’s agency is not drawn from or directed elsewhere but exists on its page and at its own scale. It no longer depicts architecture but is architecture. Freed from the yoke or representation, architectural ideas of space and composition appear directly. Appearing as they are rather than at one remove. Not as drawings of those things but drawing as the thing.