THE POETIC POTENTIAL OF COMPUTERS A class that takes up the principles

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THE POETIC POTENTIAL
OF COMPUTERS
by Bennet Neiman and Ellen Yi-Luen Do
A class that takes up the principles
of Bauhaus
Digital media are transforming the practice and teaching of design. Information technologies offer not only better production and
rendering tools but also the ability to model, manipulate, and to understand designing in new ways. The Poetic Potential of Computers elective design seminar teaches students how to see, think, and form space using both digital and physical media. The
course uses a systematic approach that follows the tradition of the Bauhaus principles of craftsmanship and visual perception.
Precedents are drawn from the use of light, color and texture in the visual arts such as the glass collage assemblages of Josef
Albers and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy’s camera-less photogram. References are also drawn from Wassily Kandinsky’s diagrammatic
analysis of still life drawings and Gyorgy Kepes’s idea of the language of vision.
The focus of the course is how digital media and physical material
The design exercises represented offer a set of techniques for thin-
can be used interchangeably as instruments in a design environ-
king and creating through the computer that don’t exclude traditio-
ment. The investigation centers on developing methods for seeing,
nal, analog methodologies of making.
thinking and making of spatial design. A sequence of experimental
Relative differences and distinctions between types and means of
exercises stimulates students’ intuition and powers of analytical ob-
working, whether they be digital/analog or model and drawing, are
servation. This systematic approach helps students explore how
broken down by focusing on all design as an act of "playing", "..the
space can be perceived and informed by using types of media that
willful suspension of disbelief". When one learns how to "play" with
are significantly different in their nature.
the computer, to act as what Walter Benjamin would have called the
A common current in this work is the technique variously known as:
"Magician", we develop in the student an ability to take the compu-
defamiliarization, juxtaposition, the chance meeting of an umbrella
ter beyond the role of an illustration tool and into new potentials for
and sewing machine on the operating table, collage, sampling, & dé-
digital generation of architectural form. We believe that the compu-
tournement. The Situationists summed up "détournement" as com-
ter used only as a representational tool is not used to its fullest ca-
bining disparate elements to create a third new and unthought of
pacity. The computer should be used as a generative and active de-
condition. In some of these projects the computer acts as a pixeling
sign tool.
filter that transforms the project at hand, in others it is a canvas on
which work is created, in a few we find that the computer becomes
A previous work, "Between Digital & Analog Civilizations: The Spa-
a vehicle or mechanism actively generating formal and programma-
tial Manipulation Media Workshop" (Neiman and Bermudez 1997),
tic conditions.
described a three-day design workshop that employed both analog
and digital media. We use "analog" to refer to physical artifacts and
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Diseño Digital
graph, a painting, or a pencil sketch, can represent the manipulation of objects in space. The play of transparency, superimposition,
lines, colors, and light all contribute to a specific sense of space.
Kepes further argued that one could derive visual awareness through the process of examining and making spatial configurations
of objects. He also stressed the value of experimenting with artificial light sources to model the experience of an environment or a
space.
Ejercicios prácticos realizados en la cátedra de Neiman
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Exercise 01 - Analog Space Capture: In the first exercise, student teams in-
Exercise 03 - Analog Performance: This exercise employs an analog me-
vestigate and photograph the spatial nature of two distinct kinds of places
dium (a video camera) to dynamically document the models in various posi-
(the subject matter varies) that illustrate the ideas of "space within a space."
tions. Students are encouraged to search for unexpected spatial viewpoints,
Students are instructed to pay special attention to spaces that have a con-
challenging and provoking their spatial perception abilities. While some stu-
trasting quality of foreground and background (or inside and outside) sepa-
dents move and compose configurations of the acrylic and acetate films, ot-
rated by a partially or totally opened threshold such as a window or a door.
her students explore positioning the video camera in various viewpoints and
This exercise requires students to use a traditional 35mm camera and their
lighting conditions to record the sequence, transitions and spatial manipula-
eyes. A person’s perception of a physical space comes from experience. As-
tions. The physical choreography of the analog model compositions reap-
king students to capture images of space in their everyday life forces them
pears in a flattened analog medium (videotape). The camera lens acts as a
to examine their experience closely. They learn to use the camera as a de-
filter for the observers’ intentions and evaluations of the spatial quality in the
vice to flatten a representation of spatial qualities. In this exercise, design is
physical model. In this exercise, design is the documentation of change and
the transcription of a spatial experience by selective framing and interpreta-
movement of different viewpoints in space.
tion.
Exercise 02 - Analog Spatial Manipulation Device: This exercise engages students in material management and photographic craftsmanship. Equipped
with the analog space captures, each group creates a "spatial manipulation
device" using transparent materials. The photographs (five from each space
for a total of ten) are transferred to clear acetate films. Each group fabricates
five, one-half inch thick acrylic panels that serve as armatures for the acetate
images. They place acetate films on two sides of the acrylic panels, experimenting with the spatial concepts extracted from the photographs. The thickness of the acrylic creates a spatial quality that allows students to see images
with overlapping planes. Images with spatial qualities are translated from photographic to transparent surfaces creating a conceptual space for media experimentation. In this exercise, design is the transformation and construction of
instruments prepared for their roles in an analog performance.
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Exercise 04 - Digital Performance: In a simultaneous imaging exercise,
Exercise 07 - Radical Reconstruction: In this exercise, students use ima-
two or more of the acetate films are directly overlaid into different combina-
ge manipulation software to explore and enhance the spatial qualities of the
tions. Students juxtapose, move, rotate and superimpose their image trans-
analog-digital vocabulary. They explore different parameters of color hues,
parencies until they discover interesting and suggestive spatial qualities.
opacity, and a limited set of graphic filters such as blur, pinch, and sharpen.
This exercise requires students to use a digital scanner to document ten ex-
They edit and transform these spatial elements. Digital media is used to en-
perimental combinations. With conceptual reference to the original spaces,
hance the inherent spatial qualities already conveyed. The capability of ima-
new spaces are created by physical simulation, documented into digital me-
ge manipulation in digital media enables a designer to explore endless pos-
dia. These images become layers of information that interpret the situations
sibilities. Simple operations such as repetitions, distortions, rotations and in-
of the photographed physical space. One can access and evaluate a space
versions help transform the analog-digital material into a new, alternate spa-
by a combination of careful observations and playful discoveries. In this exer-
tial reality. In this exercise, design is the creation of new space by extracting
cise, design is the perceptual manipulation of image composition to create
spatial qualities from a variety of hybrid materials.
transparency and spatial ambiguity.
Exercise 08 - Analog Schemas: In this exercise students create a series of
Exercise 05 - Digital Space Capture: With a digital frame grabber, students
critical and analytical diagrams from a selected "Radical Reconstruction"
examine the interpretive potential of the video image as a dynamic design
image. Pen and paper is the medium for diagrammatic thinking and analysis.
tool. Students perform a frame by frame analysis of the videotaped analog
They overlay tracing paper on top of their source image to study the geo-
model performance. They evaluate and select several spatially provocative
metry, tension, interpretive representation, and underlying schema, emplo-
still frames and capture them into digital media, saved as image files. They
ying varying line weights (thin or thick), line types (solid, dashed, dotted), li-
present their selections of images in class and discuss their discoveries.
ne forms (curved, angled or straight), and object types (line vs. colored zo-
Space is now represented in a series of digital, experiential still frames. In
nes). These diagrams are digitally scanned and combined with the source
this exercise, each captured image is a new interpretation of spatial meaning
radical reconstruction. The seeing and making of schematic diagrams facili-
from the model.
tates the understanding and interpretation of the spatial construct embedded
in the radical reconstruction. In this exercise, the process of diagramming
Exercise 06 - Analog-Digital Vocabulary: Starting with this exercise, each
brings the essence of spatial quality into the foreground of representation.
student generates an analog-digital vocabulary by isolating, selecting, and
cataloguing a series of significant fragments or parts from the analog space
Exercise 09 - Digital Tracings: After the exercise of hand tracing with ana-
photos, the digital performance scans, and the digital space captures. Stu-
log material (paper), students experiment with digital tracings in modeling
dents distill and extract a variety of elements, shapes, textures, and colors
software. Radical reconstruction and schematic diagrams are imported as
by following the existing contours found in the image. Image processing soft-
underlays in the "draft mode" of formoZ. Closed shapes are created by se-
ware is required for this exercise. In this exercise, design is a hybrid analy-
lectively tracing elements from the underlays. Students draw different dia-
sis and synthesis of previously generated visual material.
grams in different layers and line colors to represent different systems. They
explore composites of these layers to create an interpretive spatial analysis.
The editing processes create formal ambiguities. In this exercise, design is
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Diseño Digital Arquitectura Digital
the selective line reinterpretation of the composite image.
space they created using digital media. With materiality, students invent new
spaces by varying the projection, extension or expansion of the image into a
Exercise 10 - Digital Templates: By copying and pasting between layers,
physical construct. From the views generated by the digital spatial manipu-
and employing different editing operations, students create a series of varia-
lation device, an analog relief model is constructed. Space is interpreted from
tions on the previous studies. They use digital modeling (formoZ) to genera-
a digital representation and manifested into physical space. In this exercise,
te a unique set of template diagrams. A template diagram is a collection of
design is the hybrid of both analog and digital media re-integrated and re-
two-dimensional vector shapes created with Boolean operations such as
presented back to the physical world.
union, difference, and intersection. In this exercise, design is the selective
expansion of formal possibilities, through additive and subtractive processes.
Exercise 11 - Digital Reliefs: Based on the digital templates, students make three-dimensional objects from the two-dimensional shapes. This exercise teaches students to construct a digital relief model by systematically applying thickness and height to different shapes in the flat templates. A digital
projection of the templates transforms the exercise into a beginning three-dimensional study. The extrusion of linear forms provides a transitional study
between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds.In this exercise
design is the creation of three-dimensional objects derived from analytical
diagrammatic templates.
Exercise 12 - Digital Spatial Manipulation Device: Once digital objects are
created, their locations can be reconsidered. In this exercise, students use
the modeling software as a "digital manipulation device" to explore variable
locations of the digital reliefs in space. Space is accessed and re-evaluated
through the intentional screen of a computer. Three unique model configurations are created as an interpretive transformation of the relief studies. For
each model configuration, students generate a single one-point perspective
view as a compressed series of spaces within spaces. The spatial program
is in the following sequence: a foreground space; a middle ground as singular or multiple framings (open or partially open; transparent or translucent); a
For the past several years Bennett Neiman, Associate Professor of
background as space(s) with an aperture (full or partial) to another view be-
Architecture at the University of Colorado and at Roger Williams
yond (to an inside or an outside). Students refine their final views, experi-
University, has developed innovative ways of combining digital tech-
menting with solid, void, color, lighting, shade, shadow, transparency, trans-
nology and traditional media in design. In a series of workshops, se-
lucency, and reflectivity. The images exude a sense of not only the "radical
minars, and studios, Neiman employs a systematic sequence of
reconstruction," but also the spirit of the original "analog space captures"
exercises that exploit the strengths of both traditional 'hard' design
(photographs), the "digital performance" scans (acetate overlays) and the
materials, and digital media in teaching students to see and make
"digital space captures" (video). In this exercise, design is the interpretive
architectural space.
arrangement and composition of objects in digital space.
He has won two AIA Education Honor Awards for this work (1994 &
1998), and his students have won or placed in the annual competi-
Exercise 13 - Analog Extrapolation: The final exercise brings students
tion for digital architectural modeling conducted by autoodesosys,
back to the physical world. Students make physical models to reconstruct the
the maker of the popular 3D software, form-Z
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Digital Design
Arquitectura Digital
dimensional study. The extrusion of linear forms provides a transitional study
For the past several years Bennett Neiman, Associate Professor of
between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds.In this exercise
Architecture at the University of Colorado and at Roger Williams
design is the creation of three-dimensional objects derived from analytical
University, has developed innovative ways of combining digital tech-
diagrammatic templates.
nology and traditional media in design. In a series of workshops,
Exercise 12 - Digital Spatial Manipulation Device: Once digital objects are
seminars, and studios, Neiman employs a systematic sequence of
created, their locations can be reconsidered. In this exercise, students use
exercises that exploit the strengths of both traditional 'hard' design
the modeling software as a "digital manipulation device" to explore variable
materials, and digital media in teaching students to see and make
locations of the digital reliefs in space. Space is accessed and re-evaluated
architectural space.
through the intentional screen of a computer. Three unique model configura-
He has won two AIA Education Honor Awards for this work (1994 &
tions are created as an interpretive transformation of the relief studies. For
1998), and his students have won or placed in the annual competi-
each model configuration, students generate a single one-point perspective
tion for digital architectural modeling conducted by autoodesosys,
view as a compressed series of spaces within spaces. The spatial program
the maker of the popular 3D software, form•Z.
is in the following sequence: a foreground space; a middle ground as singu-
[email protected]
lar or multiple framings (open or partially open; transparent or translucent); a
background as space(s) with an aperture (full or partial) to another view
beyond (to an inside or an outside). Students refine their final views, experimenting with solid, void, color, lighting, shade, shadow, transparency, translucency, and reflectivity. The images exude a sense of not only the "radical
Ellen Yi-Luen Do is an Assistant Professor in the University of
reconstruction," but also the spirit of the original "analog space captures"
Washington's Department of Architecture. Do currently co-directs a
(photographs), the "digital performance" scans (acetate overlays) and the
research lab called the Design Machine Group at UW. She has con-
"digital space captures" (video). In this exercise, design is the interpretive
ducted empirical studies of design drawing and constructed com-
arrangement and composition of objects in digital space.
puter software to integrate knowledge based applications and visual analysis tools with freehand drawing. She has worked with
Exercise 13 - Analog Extrapolation: The final exercise brings students
Neiman on analysis of design process and design transformation
back to the physical world. Students make physical models to reconstruct the
when in Boulder, Colorado.
space they created using digital media. With materiality, students invent new
[email protected]
spaces by varying the projection, extension or expansion of the image into a
physical construct. From the views generated by the digital spatial manipulation device, an analog relief model is constructed. Space is interpreted from
a digital representation and manifested into physical space. In this exercise,
design is the hybrid of both analog and digital media re-integrated and re-presented back to the physical world.
Exercise Nº
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