Order & the orthogonal

In document Diagramming_the_Big_Idea_Methods_for_Architectural_Composition.pdf (Page 55-58)

Figure 20: Four squares placed at the corners of a square – a positive shape – also create a cruciform negative space.

Our last observations measure horizontal and vertical distances between pairs of stones (·). These comprise the proximity of elements within the whole arrangement.

Positive & negative space

In the next chapter, we explore fundamental figure-ground relationships that utilize these observations as part of the purpose of ordered visual design. The groundwork for order is a fundamental visual concept that grows from figure-ground – the perception of  and  .

When observing any black and white image, we identify figure and ground as separate entities. In the beginning of this chapter, we showed figure-ground images (–) that demonstrate visual ambiguity. In the diagrams, there is less ambiguity, but clear or otherwise, we identify two classes of shapes. The object in the field we call positive shape or space. The field itself we refer to as negative space. As part of the analytic process, we observe the form of negative space and ask ourselves whether that form is coherent or merely resultant. In the case of four squares placed in a corner arrangement, we read the squares as positive but we also observe the presence of the cruci-form as a negative space of equal value and clarity ().

In diagramming as well as in design itself, the observation of negative space is essential to the analytic process. This is more than a pretty coincidence;

the resultant space should be part of the intent and part of what we observe as the order of architectural form. Just as with our cruciform, a courtyard scheme rendered as figure-ground can help explore the proportional relation-ship between the positive and negative space of an architectural composition ().

In , Giambattista Nolli published the results of his ten-year mapping project of the city of Rome. In addition to its unprecedented accuracy – Pope Benedict  granted him access to every building and apartment in the city – the map is significant for its use of negative space (). Nolli made the fate-ful decision to distinguish between public and private spaces within the city.

In his mapping, he displayed private spaces as block forms without interiors –

 – while showing the interior forms of public buildings – churches and public offices – with plan elements of their interiors visible.

The comparison of context as mass with interior organization has since become a near-standard for architectural practice. This allows, among other things, the observation of relationships among interior plan elements, arrangements and proportions – parti – with the formal elements of the site.

We explore those kinds of formal relationships in the next chapter.

Order & the orthogonal

Early in their first semester, our students generally ask why their exercises occur within gridded space. This is a reasonable question. The easy answer is that we start from simple and move to complex. A more nuanced explanation centers on orientation and our innate sense of place. In the introduction, we defined architecture as how we make sense of the world by establishing our place within it. Until relatively recently, humanity occupied a world of largely undifferentiated wilderness. Given our propensity to experience the world according to the geometry of our own bodies – front, back, up, down, center – when we first emerged from caves to modify our environment, we employed fundamental attributes of our corporeal sensibilities. Horizontals and ver-ticals, axes and thresholds, pattern and proportion; these were the tools at Figure 21: Four corner forms

create the figure of a positive shape as well as defining the courtyard figure, a negative space.

Figure 22: Fragment of the Nolli plan, 1748. Note the use of poché to indi-cate and differentiate public from private space.

   

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remains essential. It may seem merely practical, but it is also philosophical. It is a sacred task that belongs to architecture.

As we observe an object, we draw a line of sight. Moving within the world, we draw thousands, perhaps millions, of these lines daily. Assimilating them, privileging some and ignoring others, is the fundamental mapping by which we construct and navigate a landscape from our own perspectives. Human beings share a propensity to organize toward the simply expressible. Recog-nizable figures, simple geometries and grids form part of that background pre-cisely because of our innate desire for order. Deviation from order increases complexity and creates powerful exceptions. From an individual’s perspective, exceptionalism is paramount. From a distance, exceptions disappear. Design-ers undDesign-erstand this – the fundamental context of everything particular is a harmony of all the particulars.

The emergence of pattern is a foregone conclusion. The question as to what pattern should emerge is the essential role of the designer. To excel, designers must grasp their discipline as well as they know their own efforts. Acknowl-edging history is not uncreative. We do not have to invent the pencil anew in order to draw. We do not have to program our own computers to work in a digital environment. Those contexts – pencils, computers, etc. – are the media of expression. They are the ground from which figures emerge. As we learn from gestalt theory, there is no object without a background. There is no it without a where and when. A single note requires silence to be heard and distinguished. Every work of architecture reduces to a single point at a great enough distance. It is a matter of scale.

The idea of scale suggests a hierarchy of composition. By both convention and in keeping with our perceptual mechanisms, we map the world to our pic-tures and sensations in an orderly fashion. It begins with acknowledgement of the limits of our perceptual field. The boundaries that we recognize form the scale of our actions. Both when we observe and when we design, we ref-erence our actions to the constraints of that field. Placing things within and sizing those same things is the first order of business. This is how figures enter the ground and how, at a different scale, the figures propose dependent, addi-tional elements. In this way, each field begets its figures, which in turn spon-sor additional figural elements. This process of organized hierarchy manifests order and reflects scale and proportion.

The conventions of drawing within design embody the sequence of develop-ing order. That is where we begin the next chapter.

Figure 23: Geometric analysis of Palladio’s Villa Rotanda showing underly-ing grid and spatial areas in overlay. Diagrammunderly-ing is the first step in the study of precedent.

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   

In describing contrast of objects and their context, we encounter several terms that overlap in meaning.

· The term - denotes the perception of an intelligible picture or pattern of organization by distinguishing objects from the background in an image. Architectural plans often borrow from map-ping convention the particular use of figure-ground to depict buildings within a setting.

· Designers refer to   to identify com-positional balance particularly when the space, not the object, presents itself as the more dominant shape. In that context,   distin-guishes the role of the object shape or form.



A larger fragment of the Nolli plan, . The poché creates a complex image of both positive and negative spaces.

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

: Arrangement along a straight line, or in visible relative positions.

: An abrupt shift in weight and/or intensity.

-: The perception of images via distinguishing objects from back-ground by contrast.

· Also refers to contexts wherein the distinction is ambiguous.

: In architectural convention, the reduction of buildings to the plan outline of the entire building without interior detail.

: The order of dominance, or priority, of the various elements within the composition

: A diagram that delineates the dominant organizational or formal concept governing an architectural scheme. From French, literally, the big idea.

: The filled-in areas of a plan or section drawing. The convention reveals the parts of a building cut by an imaginary section plane.

· Giambattista Nolli’s figure-ground drawing of Rome employed contrasting fields of black and white space to represent architectural objects and their context (below).

· Beaux-Arts drawings used black poché to distinguish walls and columns from (white) space.

 and  : Terms used in discussing overall organization of an image or form. Related to -.

: Nearness in space to another element.

: The recurring use of the same element or theme.

: The moving force, or flow, which connects elements within a composition.

: The representation of a plan or concept in the form of an outline or model. The plural form is .

: An element of art that refers to the lightness or darkness of a color or tone. Value is an especially important element in works of art when color is absent, as with grayscale images.

  

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DESCRIPTION 

In document Diagramming_the_Big_Idea_Methods_for_Architectural_Composition.pdf (Page 55-58)