drawing matter, 2022
It started from a rather liberating decision to omit thicknesses. Gradually, all the information that wasn’t central to our thinking was removed, avoiding any celebration of detailing, because our details were never meant to be celebrated. Our construction is rather primitive and chunky. Our skylights leak, thermal bridges are frequent. The walls and slabs we build are usually made of the most affordable and/or straightforward stuff available. Their constructive truth is nothing to be celebrated either. Understanding them means understanding the use and experience value of their surface. Notable details normally come out of mistakes that need to be solved, or of small moments where logics conflict.
So window frames and door handles disappear, layers of cinder blocks, insulation and plaster are erased, each wall becomes a line. It doesn’t matter if it is brick, stone or gypsum, if it is 30 or 15 centimetres thick. No hierarchy, no distinction, each partition becomes a 100% black line of 0,5pt. Each wall is understood as a light, paper thin surface, detached from functional purpose. Doors and windows occur as subtle interruptions within these lines marked with two short ticks. Only columns and beams maintain a presence that refers to their actual dimensions. Plans are acted out with lines and points. Rooms and relationship between spaces remain clear. Such plans can stay abstract or be properly furnished.
Single-line drawings are less precise and more accurate at the same time. Their truth relates to the project’s inherent logic. Its composition and geometry are prioritised over specific numbers and dimensions—a square room remains a square even when it might be a few centimetres off in the built object. Grids define divisions, pavements match, lines meet at one point. Ideas and intentions in such a drawing become clear. It is almost schematic, yet we don’t want to call it a diagram. It is an abstraction of a plan.
Single-line plans can be traced back very far in history, but for us a certain array of Japanese iterations meant a bit more: Ito’s drawings of so-called morphemes, Hasegawa’s axonometric drawings, Kitagawara’s crowds of elements, etc. Within our work the single-line drawings also generated many other experiments. They became a starting point of the wireframe studies for instance and played an important part in the development of the comprehensive drawings. But their closest relative would be the drawings of rules and exceptions that aimed at making compositional systems more readable. In these, the plans are broken into layers that have different value within the system: existing perimeters, backdrop grids, elements following defined alignments, and elements that refuse the given order. Black, yellow, blue and pink distinguish these layers. The single-line drawing can become didactic.
Single-lines find different purposes at different stages. They often appear as first incursions in a projects. They are then used to communicate with clients. They even become handy throughout the project’s execution. Finally, a set of single-line drawings is always used as a sort of ultimate definition of the project, when it is finished. Publishers tend to be irritated by them, and most often see them as incomplete, or «non-architectural» drawings. Perhaps they’re right, but we prefer them with a bit less weight, and with a touch of idealism.
Low resolution images are humble and straightforward. The textures are blunt, the colors are strong. Ambient occlusion is mostly off. Light, shadows and reflections are rarely under control (not to mention the vulgar blue sky and acid grass texture). These images could be elaborate screenshots of old computer games. Another way to put it—we are bad at rendering. But then again, being good at it was never the goal.
Each render takes 5 seconds. Each folder contains dozens of images with subtle variations. The ceilings go from white, to concrete, to different tones of blue, pink and green. Terrazzo, tiles, marble and wood floors are interchangeable. Elevations are populated by different kinds of readymade patterns. Doors are open, closed, half open and half closed. Each space is studied through a number of points of views and perspectives. Cameras zoom in and out. Twenty combinations of colors and textures times ten perspectives add up to a couple of hundred images every day.
These images provide a version of reality that becomes quite necessary at some point. They accompany execution drawings. They help navigating through the concept phase. They rarely facilitate convincing our clients due to their lack of glamour. Yet we find exactly what we are looking for browsing quickly through the abundance of seemingly same perspectives. Besides understanding the geometry of the space or its relationship to an immediate context, 3d renders give clues about plugs, skirtings, joints, door handles.
These images were never meant to be final or even presentable. One can’t (or shouldn’t) submit such renders for a competition proposal. Nonetheless, when looking at them as a totality, they constitute a peculiar collection of trials and errors. They are marked and sketched on. They are corrected and refined. Most of them end up not ever being built. Some become records of older iterations of projects that we actually might have preferred. Fragments of spaces of one project are relentlessly tested and put together until it is complete. Then fragments of different projects compose a crude fala universe of built projects and possible buildings that never were.
These spaces are not romanticised. They are not inhabited by people, furniture or any kind of objects. They are raw versions of themselves, as if the building has just been finished and no one has moved in yet. These images are dry facts. They are as precise as they can be according to our skillset. In a way, they are somewhere between caring and not caring at all. The not caring perhaps applies to its lousy technical side that we ignore on purpose (otherwise it takes one hour instead of five seconds). Practicality is favoured over its visual quality. The caring comes in our rigorous attention to details, utmost precision that goes as far as placing plugs and lights, and insane amounts of tests until we find the one. The one that doesn’t necessarily get to be built but remains firmly in our archives.
Wireframes are snapshots of three-dimensional models built solely from lines. Single line plans and sections are extruded forming a light envelope. Its colours dismantle the logic of a project, pointing out perimeters, repetitions, and hierarchies. Wireframes follow the principle of drawings of rules and exceptions. The frail, yet precise skeleton is then populated by doors, columns, windows, curved surfaces, colours, and patterns. White, blue, and pink lines are densely overlaid. Transparent figures occur on an uncharacteristic black background that seemed improbable before.
These drawings allow to see through walls and slabs, to merge fluid interiors with stiff elevations, to read at once all the elements that constitute its spaces. They depict the project in its entirety, underlining its tensions, simultaneities, and fragilities. They are meant to be perplexing and puzzling. The chosen viewpoints are often extreme and exaggerated in order to capture spaces in a way that can never be photographed. And they are always perspectives. They even allow for verticals to not be vertical. In a way, wireframes enabled a break from many personal limitations—superfluous perspectives levitating in black vacuum.
Wireframes take clues from experiments done by Kazuo Shinohara and Itsuko Hasegawa in the 1980s. They adapted fluorescent colours, the see-through strategy, and bizarre viewpoints. Their architecture was moulded by this tool, and the tool explored the capacity to explain their architecture. Perhaps, wireframes are still a work in progress. Its possibilities are discovered as we go. The skeleton of the project is sometimes separated from its perimeter. Certain elements are highlighted, others are fully omitted. There are tests on other background colours. There is a continuous search for fitting views and angles.
Wireframes zoom in and zoom out. They look from above and below. They allow perspective plans and sections. Wireframes produce transparent elevations with the entire project being visible behind them. Front and back facades can be seen overlaid. Interiors become exaggerated juxtapositions of many elements framed by two masks of elevations. Or a proud column might be placed at the centre of it, and the rest revolves around it.
Wireframes are fairly far from a built reality. Yet, it is a representation that, in a different way from comprehensive drawings, can unfold the project all at once. Within a multitude of tools and instruments it produces another image of a project—an uncomplicated three-dimensional model with its own peculiar logic. Thin elements float in black space. Transparent hatches point out main actors of a project. Fragments of spaces are put together until a complete figure is assembled.
Normally, a project would be depicted through a series of plans, sections, elevations, some axonometric perhaps—every aspect of it is explained and documented. We thought of a drawing that would combine it all, a drawing that would say it all at once. At the time, we were looking at some complex unfolded projections done by advvt, and we were quite intrigued by how everything was brought together in one single figure. We may have started from there.
A comprehensive drawing is a summary of a project. Yet it is never complete in a sense of incorporating all the projections. It is fragmented and selective. The comprehensive drawing brings together only the key elements of a project we choose. Usually unfolds from the plan and works with lines and hatches from there. It is both flat and volumetric. It follows different logics of dismantling the building depending on a project. Some are laid out in layers—consecutive surfaces of floors and ceilings, bends of intricate walls in between and roofs. Some become fireworks of elements spread throughout a white canvas. Some suggest a complete volume, others are disassembled into conflicting surfaces. Columns are often exaggerated to highlight connections between levels, becoming important anchors. Some facades are ignored, others are continued as an endless pattern. Some are unfolded, some are exploded, others remain intact. We would love to have clear rules and a defined system that applies to all, but different kinds of projects demand different approaches.
Parts of these drawings find precise points of connections—it doesn’t fall apart into unrelated chunks and fragments. Subtle relationships between pieces help to locate parts of broken spaces. Projects’ materiality is taken into account. Elevations, pavements, and accentuated elements coexist with thin black lines. And it can sometimes include the smallest elements—doors and door handles, kitchens and kitchen hoods, lamps, mirrors, and so on.
As always, it gets quite complex and baffling. One must struggle a bit to get through the confusing labyrinth of lines and hatches. Yet, it creates a stimulating opposition—a project can live as a thick brochure of execution drawings, or as one page. Both are valid. Perhaps, it is the oneness, or all-at-once quality that fascinates us. Comprehensive drawings are rarely done midway through a project. They are always a conclusion of sorts. They allow for a final account of the community of elements, taking it apart and putting it back together, one last time.
Fala started with collages. An abundance of images populated the internet at some point, an online presence was decidedly claimed. Collages were the closest we could get to actual spaces and tangible volumes. We didn’t know how to render properly, photoshop was our way to solve that. A fascination for Office, Dogma, Point Supreme and Baukuh defined a certain starting point. In a few attempts we mastered the tool in our way. Overnight fala and collages became synonymous. All the questions and publications were hinting in that direction, while we were just getting excited about our first built work. Collages slowly became the “enemy” we created ourselves, a quixotic windmill of sorts. Its possibilities were exhausted. The method had to be questioned and reinvented.
Today, a collage begins as a precise bi-dimensional drawing. It is no longer a central perspective that comes from a 3d model; it almost doesn’t care about the real reality, focusing on its own reality. The composition of the image is defined within a fixed frame. The process of arranging those lines and building such an image includes a lot of trial and error. Alignments, 45-degree lines and precise geometries matter. All the elements of the space are considered, yet its dimensions might get a bit distorted. It goes away from being a correct perspective drawing, it is not an axonometric either. A collage turns into a miscellaneous combination of frontal and angular projections. It establishes its own rules and proportions. It stops being heavily populated with objects and furniture. It carries on rather plain and unoccupied. It stays open and equivocal—functions and dimensions are not assigned. A house can be an office, an office can be a garage, a garage can be a gallery.
Collages are an exercise in systems and sequences of spaces. A set of rooms or elevations within one project is carefully elaborated into an exact number of relatable images. The frame is fixed, the viewpoint is settled, corresponding walls, columns and beams remain in place, textures, patterns, and pavements repeat throughout the series. Materials become textures and are precisely juxtaposed and related. The project is narrated through a set of images highlighting its structure, consistency, and occasional exceptions.
The relationship with the frame is at times challenged. Backgrounds and contexts are left out, projects’ elevations occupy the entire shot. Surroundings tend to be minimised or much less detailed, photographic precision is of no interest. Collages continuously move towards abstraction. Again, like in going from conventional drawings to single lines, unnecessary noise and clutter are removed. It aims at bringing out main ideas of the project. It focuses on the fundamental gestures to build up the flattened space. It’s never didactic. These collages rather require a bit of deciphering and guessing. Ambiguous images prompt various interpretations.
Construction documents include an array of scales. General drawings, partials, maps, details, and indexes are loaded with intentions and manic descriptions. They are meant to be practical and exist to allow for someone who builds to understand what and how to build. There are dozens of them for each project. These drawings are obsessively ordered and systematic. They are packed with information. They make a fragile single line projection thick, real and, hopefully, buildable. They entail concessions, possible mistakes and misalignments, but also the solutions for all of those.
Where most spend months, we spend minutes. These drawings are systematised and are produced at a fast pace. The real decisions were made before being construction just as a means to prove them. Moving away from the standard black and white line hatches and their seriousness, our construction documents have colours both in section and projection. They are didactic to the point of painting bricks in brick colour. They show every marble piece in every elevation in its real colour. They have codes and annotations but could live without them.
When we started building, the execution phase unlocked a thinking space that was not there before. We began vigorous discussions on how to make things work. Concept phase was put to test in real dimensions. Today, ideas find their way through concrete skeletons, brick walls of 11 and 15 centimetres, pivot doors, tiles, and directions of wooden pavements. An abundance of mirrors, patterns, colours, and objects populate the spaces, often hiding unsolvable corners. Execution drawings give them the attention they deserve. These drawings offer utmost clarity and readability.
What makes them ours? Perhaps, rules that are applied on every level, even if no one can see them. Rooms are systematically unfolded, as if they are projects of their own. Doors’ details are crude and repeated frantically. Joints, plugs and switches are rigorously aligned. Curves and diagonals produce acute angles which have to find a state of challenging viability. Ideas and practicalities are in a constant battle, and the former often wins. What was just a square becomes an opening with a code that refers a reference of a brand combined with twelve lines of descriptions and perks. Later, all those drawings become numbers in excel sheets. They are measured, tendered, paid for. They are quoted in emails. They serve as proof for warranty.
Execution drawings are also not the “final goal”, a necessity almost. From butterflies to single lines, collages, then to execution drawings, and back to single lines, wireframes, and comprehensives. Many times, they happen on site, over gypsum walls and soon to be painted surfaces. Often, such drawings live fragile lives. They are not meant to be presented or framed; they find their place on messy construction site tables. Often, they die in drawers and glove compartments.
Every discussion ends in a few lines since words don’t do the job as well. A project is usually sketched between such lines that define its principal gestures. We sketch as we talk. We are bad at sketching. We don’t pay attention to details at that moment. Outlines are gradually filled with lines. Perimeters are separated from the inner skeletons. First curves and diagonals suggest main and secondary spaces.
Butterflies are quite close to single lines, but their aim is to exist outside of the usual understanding of a project. They are not drawings of the project but drawings from the project, done through a process of selection of lines and figures. The result is a set of purposefully laconic provocations, meant to generate misreadings and seductive ambiguities. Facades become grids of columns, plans look like fish bones, kitchen elevations look like gigantic buildings, overlaid sections produce perplexing figures. To put it simply, plans occasionally become facades, and facades generate even better plans.
Butterflies require different kind of decoding than single line drawings. Each project ends up having a few of these, depicting fragments of plans, facades, doors, patterns, and kitchens. One almost must imagine the rest of the project, assemble it out of given bits and pieces. It is radically open in that sense; it allows for many interpretations and possibilities. Butterflies respect no hierarchies, being selective of the tensions they want to show from project to project.
Butterflies celebrate fragments of spaces. They point out moments of elaborate geometries. They turn patterns into nonsensical structures. Windows transform into columns, slabs appear to be walls. Some have two lines; others are a line and a dot. Some are dense confetti of curves and figures. They are unpractical. Yet butterflies add a postface to the overall narrative of a project bringing out particular ideas. In a way, butterflies are the first and the last drawing—an uncertain preliminary sketch and the shortest summary.
We photograph the construction site a few times. Maybe to keep a certain moment for later. When construction ends, we photograph it again, intensely. Not just by ourselves, since it is a necessarily collaborative process. With a plurality of different photographers and their critical perspectives, with different lenses of diverse cameras. Through endless discussions about light, the height of the camera and the exact angle. If not with a flash, we prefer not to have hard shadows in our photos. We don’t like the drama.
Properly framed and carefully edited, the photos become narratives we share with the world. We learn from the “carefully choreographed fictions” Kazuo Shinohara discussed with Koji Taki. In the impossibility of sending the building anywhere, those images must do the trick. We prefer it like this.
Past the politically correct phase every young practice withstands, today we look for less fixed compositions, less obsessions, less control. Verticals should be vertical, except when they shouldn’t be. We don’t feel the need to occupy those spaces anymore. No furniture, no references, no coordinates. Sometimes those photos should not be about the architecture per se. They should almost be «non-architectural». Some are complete perspectives and others just refer to fragments. Accidental and carefully staged perspectives. Pictures built out of bits and elements of spaces. Figurative versus abstract. In and out of context. Some are hard to tell what they are.
We build to communicate our work, to prove it. Yet, those images overcome the building, living beyond it. Maybe because the construction perishes, or just because very few have the chance to visit it. Therefore, those images matter more than the building itself. They are closer to the essence of the project. They are more truthful to our intentions than the building can be. They can be exaggerated in our advantage. They can be choreographed and fictionalised. After, the space those images talk about vanishes quickly. The occupant moves in and (legitimately) distorts what we left behind. Like in Calvino’s Thekla, although we live quite intensely the construction phase, we don’t return to our buildings after we photograph them. Those photographs remain ours and alive long after the building disappears to us and to the world.
We understand today that the building doesn't really matter to us. It is just a necessary 1:1 model to be photographed and forgotten. It allows for a few images to exist and illustrate a discourse we care about even if no one asked for it. Buildings are built, photographed, life takes over, we move on.