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Pencils are still in the game

Anthony Hoete sees gaming as the future for design visuals – but the pencil will always have a crucial role

At architecture school in the late eighties, even wild, deconstructivist visualisations were hand drawn. AutoCad was in its infancy.

Recent research by our practice posits that if the 20th century was the age of information, the 21st is the age of gaming – where games are played in the process rather than the project itself. Our recent ‘Action Replay No.5.4.17’ was a study played out in planning real-time; one where NPPF Para 128 states: ‘LPAs require an applicant to describe the significance of heritage assets affected… to understand the potential impact of the proposal on their significance’. 

This is typically a visual impact assessment, requiring the planner to be a fluent reader of the architectural drawing and to talk the language of ‘architecture’. I sat on a design review panel recently where suspicions were raised that a CGI had been manipulated to reduce the proposal’s height. Given that a verified view CGI is paid for by applicants, it’s a form of self-certification. Luckily a hand-drawn perspective (with eye level lines, vanishing points, picture plane) allowed an on-the-spot assessment –  the CGI ­appeared to have squeezed in an extra floor.

Did we need to adjust the visual language according to the observer?

On the flip-side, our recent application for 24 flats adjoining a heritage asset (the Spotted Dog) required consent by committee. Now if a planner has trouble reading the architectural drawing, how is it for the lay panel member? One councillor said our rigorously researched gabled proposal looked ‘aggressive... the gabled roof looks inhumane, like the teeth of a dog’. In an instant, simple visual language debunked design research. The dumbed-down concern was whether such an important design conversation at a strategic level would lead the Spotted Dog, or architecture, towards Venturi’s hotdog-shaped hotdog stand. Did we need to adjust the visual language according to the observer? Some weeks later, we re-presented the proposal, changing only the means of representation. We hand drew it in the ‘clear line’ style of Hergé – a graphic technique so seductive that the city’s identity was subjugated to the style. Context disappeared. Consent granted.

A hand drawn line can render visible something of the action that gives rise to it, so human qualities can be attributed to them; CGIs are outsourced so the architect no longer creates or controls the image. Further, creating a unique digital drawing identity is increasingly difficult, given generic libraries, elements and texture maps. So, if architects forsake the highly accessible hyperrealism of the digital render, what new forms of drawing techniques could come into play? Structural engineers, for example, still use the sketch for fast, lucid communications. Since modernism, brand identity in architecture has been established through drawing so perhaps it’s time to trade pixel resolution for a greater conceptual revolution! That is, continue to embrace and experiment with drawing tools that allow you to develop a proposal beyond mere ‘hyperrealism’. To that end, our Spotted Dog project was further developed using kids’ game Minecraft. 

Anthony Hoete is founder of WHAT_architecture

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