Aug 31, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

The METROPOLIS Blog

Q&A: Edwin Chan

(page 6 of 7)

IA: So once you arrive to that moment when the configuration of the massing blocks works, you begin wrapping them with surfaces. The massing blocks are essentially rigid rectilinear wood blocks while the paper surfaces wrapping them are formative and fluid. So, what happens to the space in between the surface and the block? Are they poche spaces? Do they ever become program themselves?

EC: The arranging of the boxes is essentially a process of rational thinking for a lack of a better word. So in some ways the developments of the blocks take the project into the point where you can escape reason into intuition. This is when the boxes are replaced by three-dimensional volumes.

IA: So are you suggesting that the interior surfaces are also following the exterior expression of the building?

EC: Well, that would be the goal. 

IA: We talked about the unique process, and the inclusion of technology which Frank's practice pioneered. But that also changed the way architecture was made: from a practice that traditionally began with drawings and diagrams and then moved to physical models, here we begin with sculpting the physical model, and then the object is scanned and translated to a three-dimensional digital model, which drawings are produced from. It is a reversal of the traditional process of architectural production, and because of that the expression of the three-dimensional form and the spatial composition of the model supersede the precision and geometric relationship of two-dimensional drawings. You are no longer designing the plan or section, but the three-dimensional object (model) as a whole. You also spoke about your own interest in drawing as a student, so in your view what is the implication of this shift in architectural production and representation today? And with advancement and integration of technology, what is the role of drawing in this new practice?

EC: I think drawing here in some ways is about sketching in 3D. So when you are talking about the models, the way I see it and I experience it, is that I have learned how to sketch in 3D as opposed to 2D. And a lot of the stuff that you were referring to as the paper models was a way of freeing yourself in the sketch model, more so than the distinction between the wood massing blocks and the curved surfaces. It is a shorthand, and it is not really literally per se, but it is a gesture. So in an ideal world if the technology was evolved and was sophisticated enough you would be able to sketch in a hologram or some kind of device like that. But since we don't have that luxury, you would have to just live by messing around with the paper models.

IA: But drawing hasn’t only been a representational tool, but also an analytical tool for exploring and communicating ideas. Do you think that the analytical aspect of drawing in architecture is beginning to diminish in the digital era? And how can we re-conceptualize the role of drawings in today's practice of architecture? 

EC: I agree with that and today when I look at computer renderings I think they would fit in a category of drawing as representation and I think throughout the history of architecture you have always resisted that because representation is always lower than analytical drawings that are about exploration. So in that sense, I would be interested in the computer technology in the sense that they are explorations of geometry rather than being its representation. If you use the computer right, you could achieve the same kind of analysis or analytical knowledge as, say Peter Eisenman's axonometric drawings had done back then, using the computer as an analytical tool. 

IA: You talked about the paper model being a shorthand for a 3D sketch drawing. But the quality and characteristics of paper, as a material, remains present in the architecture. At the end, the stainless steel or titanium panels of Frank’s buildings mimic the behavior of an enlarged paper model quite literally and precisely. And in fact, the whole technological advancement of the practice was focused around translating that paper model most accurately into something build-able.

EC: Exactly. 

IA: So where is the "real architecture" here: in the building or in the paper model? It seems to me that the “real architecture” lies in the paper model. The building is merely a large-scale representation, a titanium built-model, of a “real” idea that is embedded in the paper object. 

EC: I think Frank would disagree with that. For Frank the real architecture is in the building and he very much sees himself and his practice as the master-builder. And it is very much about being in the spaces. When you visit the buildings, it is very much about the pleasure of being in the building and the kind of sensuality and the experience of being in the spaces. And there is no question that the building is the important one here. In that sense everything and every step you take is a way towards getting to the end result, which is the building. I think he believes in it. So the model, as much as it is "architectural," it is not "architecture" as an end product. And definitely a representation, as in drawing of the building, is irrelevant to the process.

IA: We talked about the binoculars earlier in the Chiat/Day/Mojo project. Similar to other sculptures of Claes Oldenburg, the binoculars were interesting in that they were large-scale representation of the idea of the real pair of binoculars, which are of a much smaller scale and with different material characteristics. But unlike other sculptures of Claes, the binoculars here were forced to become "architecture" by punching windows through them and impregnating them with program. So in that sense we could look at all the other buildings of Frank Gehry as paper models built out of scale and cladded with aluminum or titanium. How does Frank Gehry’s architecture differ from Claes Oldenburg’s artworks? How is it different from the binoculars?

EC: I think with Frank, it is very much about being in the spaces. And the model and the different scales, whether they are computer models or other mediums, they are only steps that allow you to finally achieve the result of being in the spaces. And in that sense I would say that for Frank, the idea of human activities, and the architecture as a sort of backdrop or a way to activate the spaces is absolutely paramount and essential to what he is trying to create. In some ways there is an idea that a sculptural iconic architecture lends itself to stimulating a kind of interaction of urban activity and life. So in that sense it is still quite urbanistically driven. 

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