Sunday, October 28, 2012

Building anatomy

Thanks to Sergio for bringing up the comparison of anatomical drawing and MRI scan. Traditionally in medical sciences, we rendered organs and biological systems as components of the human body. Our perception of them was based on the three-dimensional shapes and volumes (morphology) of individual parts we saw when examining cadavers. With technological developments in the 20th century, we can now actually draw “plans” and “sections” of the body with the help of X-ray, ultrasound, and MRI.
Anatomical Chart from Cyclopaedia, vol.1, 1728
The Visible Human Project, 1989-1994
MRI slices of the head

The two modes of representation remind me of OMA’s competition entry to the National Library in France. There was a negative model that showed the voids like organs in a cube. Then a series of plans sliced the cube horizontally like MRI scans.
OMA: Très Grande Bibliothèque, Paris, 1989. Model
OMA: Très Grande Bibliothèque, Paris, 1989. Selected plans

Compared to the developments in medical sciences, I feel that the two modes of representation in architecture, at least in Western traditions, went the other way around. Plans and sections have long been the standard ways to describe a building, while accurate scale model as a professional tool was only getting popular in the 20th century. Many “old-school” architects still conceive their buildings through plans and sections. OMA’s way of designing the National Library was quite a groundbreaking milestone in this regard.
Rembrandt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632
Mies at IIT, 1938

Now we have computer applications. The powerful 3D programs and rendering engines have completely changed our expectations of representation in the design stage. And for better or worse, they have also changed the way we design. Perhaps the future lies in the up-and-coming Revit program, which offers a bridge that brings together the technical 2D drawings and conceptual 3D thinking of architecture.

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