The New York Times has a fascinating article on how media and architecture– as exemplified in the World Trade Center memorials– work together. The connection is more complex than you might imagine:

[T]he techniques by which architects render their buildings, which you might imagine to be an afterthought to the actual process of design, have in fact had a powerful effect on the buildings themselves. Presentation doesn’t just reveal the prevailing urban and architectural values of an era surprisingly often, it helps to shape them.

Architects have always drawn, of course. But it long ago became obvious that the technical drawings by which architect and builder communicate with each other are little use in dealing with the third (and perhaps most crucial) partner in any construction project: the client. Terse, arcane and dry, construction drawings are difficult for most people to understand and a poor way, in any case, to get someone excited about committing vast sums of money.

It goes on to talk about Beaux Arts “projet rendu, a series of immense, exquisitely made watercolor drawings of a project’s plans, elevations, sections and details;” Hugh Ferriss’ 1920s drawings of New York city skyscrapers; Gordon Cullen’s serial views of urban landscapes; and now computer-generated animations, VR walkthroughs, QuickTime animations, etc. It’s really smart.

It also reminds me of Philip Gilbert Hamerton’s argument (quoted in this article of mine) that

In the Graphic Arts you cannot get rid of matter. Every drawing is in a substance and on a substance. Every substance used in drawing has its own special and peculiar relations both to nature and to the human mind…. In literature, such a connection can scarcely be said to exist. A writer of books may use pen or pencil, and whatever quality of paper he chooses. There is even no advantage in reading the original manuscript, for the mechanical work of the printer adds clearness to the text without injuring the most delicate shades of literary expression.

I came across Hamerton when working on the history of scientific representation, and was trying to work out how changes in instruments, observing practices, engraving and printing technology all worked to affect the ways Victorian astronomers worked and communicated. Perhaps a similar argument can be made for architecture: that one can look at a cityscape– Vienna’s Ringstrasse, or Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, for example– and see not just economics and the obvious elements of architectural style at play, but the distinctiveness of a watercolor projet rendu or a CAD-generated flythrough.

[via cityofsound]