by Allen Keith Yee
ORO Editions, November 2020
Paperback | 10-1/2 x 8-1/2 inches | 224 pages | English | ISBN: 9781943532964 | $35.00
There are three standard methods to visually represent a building: the plan, elevation, and section. The section drawing is a vertical slice of a building, depicting the relationships between interior and exterior as well as any level changes. While the section can serve as merely a functional drawing for construction, it can also be an exciting, revelatory drawing that can artfully depict a building, landscape, or object.
Visual Discoveries: A Collection of Sections is an image-forward book that is devoted to showcasing notable section drawings throughout history and demonstrating that the section drawing, while having roots in architecture, has spread to many other professions and disciplines. These professions include medicine, transportation, product design, geology, and landscape architecture. Architects and designers featured in the book include Paul Rudolph, OMA, Zaha Hadid Architects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Foster + Partners, Weiss/Manfredi, and Mecanoo. The book also features cross sections created by Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, and Robert Fulton.
Allen Keith Yee is co-founder of cloudred, an award-winning digital design studio located in Brooklyn, New York. Allen graduated with a B.A. in Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley and graduated with a M.F.A in Design and Technology from Parsons School of Design. He currently lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
I am a sucker for a beautiful building section. I can easily spend hours poring over the "graphic anatomy" of Atelier Bow-Wow's buildings, or zooming into the intricate section of Kowloon Walled City made by students before it was demolished, or flipping through Manual of Section, or imbibing the shaded sections by the late Douglas Darden — there is something about sections that appeals to me. Maybe it's the way they fuse the technical and the immersive like no other two-dimensional drawing can do. Given that, Visual Discoveries feels almost like it was compiled and written for me, if not for the fact author Allen Keith Yee lets his own personal interests drive the selection of sections, which also include landscapes, geology, inventions, and the human body.
Even with Yee's diverse "discoveries," the longest chapter in the book is devoted to buildings, both "real and imagined." The building sections in this chapter start in the Renaissance, with many pulled from Andrea Palladio's The Four Books on Architecture, and extend to the present, with a section by Mecanoo showing the stacking of the recently renovated Mid-Manhattan Library. In between are drawings by Étienne-Louis Boullée, Paul Rudolph, Atelier Bow-Wow, Renzo Piano, and others one would expect in a book of sections. Although there aren't a lot of surprises in terms of authors, the selection reveals the diversity of goals with sections, from expressing the technical aspects of a design and illustrating its interior spaces, to diagramming functions and even depicting lighting qualities in hyper-realistic sections.
The "Landscape and Urban Design" chapter that follows the buildings is an interesting one. Various drawings from the mid-1800s to the 1970s illustrate layers of New York City, both real and imagined, those are followed by a few spreads with the now-famous Kowloon Walled City section, and then on to some contemporary landscape projects, including BIG's proposal for reworking the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The next chapter delves into "Geology and Mining," with most of its 46 pages, as in the cover chart by Levi Walter Yaggy, spent in the 19th century, when stratigraphy appears to have taken off. From that chapter's massive scale, things move in the opposite direction, first into the realm of transportation and inventions, and then finally to cuts through the human body. The movement across the pages — from buildings up to landscapes and geology, then back down to boats and bodies — gives the book a nice arc that should hold the interest of just about anyone, be they an architect, geologist, inventor, or medical student.