Kelly Wilson Considers the Image

1/24/2010 Uncategorized


Kelly Wilson, Instructor at the Harvard GSD and other schools, very recently wrote to my with this thoughtful set of questions:

All these years and no one, in any context I have participated in, has ever, once, directly asked the question, “why does your building ‘look’ this way”.  I mean why does your building look like a sugar cube, or octopus.  No matter how many other issues that may exist in design, and no matter how much or what type of criteria we stack up for it or outline for a design, or for what George is always calling its performance criteria, that criteria remains abstract and illusive until the moment, in design, that we decide that it will look ‘like this!’, in part or in whole.  There is no truly critical assessment of the role imagery/iconography plays in design, and yet, you CANT DESIGN WITHOUT IT.  If I say ‘Gaudi’ and then say ‘anthropomorphic’, I am certain you will know what I am saying.  We also know that the imagery of architecture shifts about every 6-7 years, kinda at the rate of hiring cycles in academia.  Who gets to bust the new move?  And where does it come from?  Why would we use one set of images over that of another.  What is the meaning of using anthropomorphism, can it be mixed with, say, abstraction, and if so, why?  And where is the place of its invention, how does one come by that invention.  Needless to say I, and you, can supply answer to this (hell, I don’t know anything that you wouldn’t be able to supply a thought for), and this certainly feeds my interest that image invention is well explored within the art of drawing.

In any case, this is now what I have begun to critically focus upon, what is to me the 800 lb gorilla in the room of architecture.  It has been a game, for me, to listen to someone like Scott C. on a student review and imagine a Victorian building satisfying his critical demands by forgetting his imagistic preferences, just to prove how loose the fit is between critical statements about design and the imagery used by designers to help ‘solve’ their problems.  I have been fond of saying that an architectural design is essentially composed of three parts; Idea, organization, and image.  I know that most of us use, for imagery, other buildings that precede our design – but it is true that imagery initially foreign to architecture has been imported with success.  The question still remains, why do we use this, not that?  And, how does one invent, contemplate and distinguish the associations and meanings inherent in the images we use, where to make them accord with what is our conscientiousness as artists, as architects.

I show one of my new drawings that is a product of the inquiry.