Monday, February 04, 2013

28 in 28 #4: Le Corbusier Redrawn

February is Book Month on A Daily Dose of Architecture. The "28 in 28" series features a different book every day of the month.

Le Corbusier Redrawn: the Houses by Steven Park
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages

The value of precedents in architectural education is undeniable. Even as innovation in form-making is still championed by the press and many architects, most of what is designed today is based on what has been done in the past. It could even be argued that it is impossible to create something new, that everything is only a synthesis of past buildings. Whatever the case, one of the mainstays of architectural education is the precedent study, often involving the redrawing of a design through orthogonal drawings (plan, elevation, section) and three-dimensional representations (perspective, axonometrics). Teaching a first-year drawing class about a year ago reminded me of the importance of redrawing a building by hand, an action that allows the design to be more readily understood by the student drawing it. As walls, doors, windows, patterns, and other lines are traced, their meaning should follow.

Or at least such learning by drawing is the ideal. But my teaching experience made me realize that it is increasingly difficult to  maintain a student's interest in hand drawing today. This is not a universal statement, but the impact of technology on architectural production and education (and student's brains) is hard to deny. Drawing by hand is still important for being a good architect (see Juhani Pallasmaa's The Thinking Hand for a good argument of such), but it is not the only way to understand buildings; it is not the only way to redraw a precedent.

The first of what I'm guessing is a series of books of Le Corbusier buildings "redrawn" by Steven Park (the Houses subtitle implies as much) raises this question, for the plans, sections, elevations, perspectives, and so forth look like they are generated by 3-D models instead of being drafted, by hand or CAD. Park does not indicate exactly how he has done the drawings, but the book nevertheless makes me wonder if modeling buildings as precedents instills the same (or more) understanding as drawing by hand. Students would be forced to construct and experience the building as a three-dimensional entity, rather than as 2-D projections and 3-D representations, and that seems valuable as a means of learning computer modeling while absorbing architectural precedents.

Park's book focuses on sectional perspectives as a means of aiding the understanding of Le Corbusier's residential commissions. As Park describes it, "By depicting in a single view multiple spaces within the building envelope, sectional perspectives create a sense of movement through a sequence of spaces and reveal their interrelationships within the overall spatial hierarchy." This is especially true of Corbu's designs, where the promendade architecturale was paramount. The sectional perspective through Villa Savoye's ramp, which graces the cover, is a great example, as it shows the ribbon windows, curving glass wall on the ground floor, and the way the enclosure shapes the rooftop space. These and other aspects of the design can be grasped with a 2-D building section, just not as readily as in a sectional perspective.

Beyond the notions of what the drawings may point to relative to architectural education, or their value as tools for understanding Corbusier's buildings, Park's book is extremely valuable for collecting 26 of the architect's houses in one place, with orthographic drawings all to the same scale. The sectional perspectives are extremely well done, but they would be incomplete without these 2-D drawings, especially the floor plans. Of course, as Park points out in his preface, the drawings cannot be a substitute for "walking through a building, measuring its dimensions with hands and arms ... [grasping] the relationship between the representation and reality." Yes, such is the case with all architecture, but even for moments after one has been able to visit one of Corbusier's houses, this book is a great collection of his great houses.