Architecture as an Instruction-Based Art

A multi-colored detailed construction plan

National Taichung Theater Location: Taichung, Taiwan R.O.C. Completion: September 2016 Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects

In Fall 2024, the Druker Design Gallery will host an exhibition of drawings which are used to coordinate the process of construction, that is, drawings which reflect the nature of architecture as an “instruction-based” art.
The architecture of a building is a product of assemblage, or the way a set of physical elements – forms, materials, textures, colors – are combined to create enclosed and open spaces which have a distinctive presence. In the process of combining these elements, the architect must also address a whole range of separate and often irreconcilable challenges and constraints such as security, rights of light, sustainability engineering, and fire, health and safety regulations. Such constraints are unavoidable, yet they are capable of generating unpredictable solutions for what is to become visible and not visible, or audible and inaudible, and what will be present or absent in people’s everyday experience of a building.

Construction coordination drawings are different from the sketches, perspectives, diagrams, moquettes and other images that architects use to convey their ideas for a particular building to its patrons and users. They are also different from straightforward construction drawings that, depending on the scale of the building, come in sets of tens or hundreds, with each drawing conveying a partial description of the building to a particular type of builder or tradesman.

Unlike the painter or the sculptor, the architect’s final act results not in a completed work of art but in a set of instructions which enable the work of art to be realized. In this sense an architect’s work is closer to that of a conceptual artist. The architect’s instructions, which incorporate the input of engineers and numerous other experts, are recorded by a team of collaborators. These instructions are then implemented on a site that is usually exposed to the elements and to the dynamics of often several years that it takes for the many specialist builders, roofers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and decorators to complete the building. Meanwhile, however, the architect remains both legally and morally accountable for all that follows from or is attached to his or her instructions.

The construction coordination drawing could therefore be described, not as an aid to presentation or representation, but rather as a tool – as a way of working things out. Architects develop their ideas, or instructions, through a synthesis of the elements involved, which may be aesthetic, as in space planning, practical, as in construction sequencing, or regulatory, as in rights to light. All of these elements appear as different layers in a complex computer-aided design which can be described as a construction coordination drawing. This type of drawing brings together the visual and non-visual, physical and non-physical elements of a building: pipes, studs, and conduits as well as doors, windows, and stairs or lighting, sound, and heating. These are the drawings that will enable the architect to make decisions regarding the part each element will play not only in the underlying anatomy of a building but in the way it is experienced.