The course examines how architects have historically used means of representation, not only as allographic tools, but as design tools that visually organize buildings and spaces. In that sense design becomes the means by which habits of seeing are shaped and expressed. We will refer to these models of representation/design/experience as \”visual constructs.\”
The course proposes that a diversity of such \”visual constructs\” has been developed throughout the history of designing buildings, landscapes, and cities. These constructs utilize perspective and other means of representation in composite ways. They also confound the components of perspective with those of the object being designed producing specific types of spaces and types of seeing. Such visual constructs as the picturesque, the panoramic, the prospective, the field, the cognitive, and the oblique, will be studied at their origins and will then be observed as they travel and develop from one setting to another and across time.
The semester will be dedicated to:
1) Discerning different visual constructs and their affinities with prevalent modes of representation in the visual arts, with spatial paradigms, and with cultural contexts in general.
2) Examining the optical and representational operations in each construct and their impact on the production of form.
3) Studying the relationship between everyday experience and aesthetic experience.
4) Extending these constructs to contemporary practice.
Examples of Constructs:
Six such constructs will be examined in depth.
1. The panoramic (exemplified in the architecture and urbanism of Schinkel and Mies van der Rohe and other contemporary designers like Enric Miralles and Tagliabau)
2. The picturesque (exemplified in the English landscape tradition, primarily Humphrey Repton, and more recently in the work of architects like Steven Holl, Michael Maltzan and artists like Richard Serra)
3. The prospective (in the works of Sullivan and then in the work of architects like Peter Eisenmann, Finn Geipel and conceptual artists like Sol Le Witt)
4. The field (in the work of Le Corbusier and more recent designers like Walter Netsch, and Philippe Rahm)
5. The cognitive (as exemplified in the urban theories of Kevin Lynch and then in the work of more contemporary mixed-media artists and the architecture of Diller/Scofidio)
6. The oblique (as exemplified in the works of Paul Virilio and Claude Parent as well as MVRDV and UN Studio)
The course builds on two legacies in order to define and develop the notion of visual constructs.
The first legacy is that of philosopher Nelson Goodman, and his \”constructivist\” view of art. According to this position, \”the way the world is\” is not predetermined. It is constructed. Perspectival representation is not derived from a more correct view of the world. It is not even useful to draw an exact distinction between what is given (out there) and what is represented (mental or visual).
The second, perhaps more familiar, legacy is that of Robin Evans. During the last ten years of his life, Evans studied the relationship between architecture and its representation through the notion of projection. He distinguished between different types of projection but concentrated on projection from drawings to buildings. In that sense, the course extends Evans\’ project in directions that he did not have time to explore and to articulate visual constructs as a way of describing the network of projections.
These two legacies are important because in some ways they have helped shape our discussions here at Harvard on the problems of vision in art and architecture.