LKE Ozolins Studentship

Doreen Bernath

On Architecture of Building the Picture: China and Pictorial Introjection 
Doreen Bernath

Doreen BernathArchitectural Association London
First Supervisor: Mark Cousins
Second Supervisor: Teresa Stoppani


There have been many claims about the nature of China's recent
urban growth and architectural production. These claims tend to
oscillate between amazement at China's capacity to generate
such urban spectacles, and regarding it as a market-driven
phenomenon unworthy of being considered as truly architectural.
The thesis is not concerned with these accounts; rather, it is
based on a personal observation of one largely overlooked aspect
of the new Chinese architectural phenomenon. The thesis attempts
to show how it has been changing the very nature and logic of
architectural design in a fundamental way.

Projects in contemporary Chinese practices are very often being
visualised and even realised on the basis of highly effective
computer renderings, known as effect drawings, while
representations in plans, sections and elevations become a posterior exercises of 'fitting into the picture'. This phenomenon is of far
greater theoretical significance than has been recognised in current discussions. The amalgamation of the architectural and the pictorial
in digitised mechanisms - 3D modelling, model rendering and photoshopping - is undermining a tradition of the radical separation
between the two within the discipline of architecture developed
in the West over centuries. At the core of this separation is the
dominant preconception in the West of architecture as a
projective process. Architectural historian Robin Evans' book
The Projective Cast which proposes the 'projective' as the
underlying mediation between architectural imagination,
representation, materialisation and experience in the Western
intellectual tradition is critically reviewed in the light of the new
Chinese experience. By tracing this separation historically, it
reveals the architectural prejudice against the rendering and
artist's impression, that is pictorial drawings adopting conventional
imageries, as an impurity which must be kept outside of the formal language of projective design embodied in a system of specialised architectural representations.

The case of China demonstrates a change: a widespread pattern of
pictorial thinking in the Chinese architectural production is radically subverting the character of architecture as a projective process.
This subversion is assisted by a certain historical condition in China.
Given the relatively recent emergence of the professional architect
in China at the turn of the C20th, the mechanism and language
of pictorial portrayals of building design is as much integral to the architectural practice, as in the mutual dependency with the
expanding industry of digital imaging companies. Liang Sicheng
and the team at 'The Institute for Research in Chinese
Architecture' across 1930s and 40s were the first in to make
surveys and drawings of historical buildings, which effectively
became the first pictorial reference book of Chinese architecture.
Picture-making as the locus of design decisions, justifications and persuasions is demonstrated through detailed case studies of
building design in contemporary Chinese practices.

Furthermore, the thesis traces the link between the employment of
pictorial strategies in design process and a long tradition in Chinese
visual arts and theatre of an aesthetic preference for an idealised
frontal configuration. The imposition of the pictorial upon architectural production in China supersedes the dominant projective basis of architecture, which instead, asserts architectural design as what
we might call a form of introjection.

The thesis examines the capacity to use new forms of digital
software, which has furthered architectural design as an introjective process, to be significant beyond a Chinese context. An
inter-communicable digital platform opens up a domain whereby
modifications in the form of pictures can result in direct and precise changes in design, and vice versa. The potent mechanism of picture-making has material consequences, enabling conventional, non-architectural imageries being introjected and transformed into the discipline of built forms.

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