Drawing as Research

Anthropologist Anna Tsing states in her essay, On Nonscalability, “there is something disturbingly beautiful about precision, even when we know it fails us”. She argues that our current understanding of scale and “scalability” results from modern “precision-design”, such as industrialized processes and the computer. “Scalability” she writes, “by design, covers and attempts to block the transformative diversity of social relations. It is the ability to expand without distorting the framework”. 

Architectural design and architectural research are practices that often claim to engage in a multitude of social relations. We are prompted to think spatially in the context of economic, political, cultural, temporal and ecological forces, and we often summarize these conditions through a consistent framework and acts of precision: scaled architectural drawings. In this course you will be encouraged to reflect on and be critical in your precision; to challenge conventions, to embrace the complexities of your site of study as much as is appropriate and possible, and to see the work as an ongoing, open-ended process of making, learning and observation. As described by Laurent Stalder and Andreas Kalpakci in A Drawing Is Not a Plan, “a drawing is neither at the beginning nor the end of a process, but always in between”.

Despite their precision, architectural drawings are a flexible framework for understanding and communicating complex relationships, and architectural training undoubtedly enables us to develop a wide, often interdisciplinary understanding of space. This course will introduce students to a range of visual research methodologies and approaches to explore the role of drawing as a tool for research and spatial observation. We will look at the documentation and analysis of a range of conditions using the conventions of architectural representation and challenging them through experimental extensions of drawing types. This course will prepare students to develop methodologies and skills, but also question the lens through which we read and interpret visual information. We will unpack frameworks and perspectives from other disciplines, including anthropology, ecology, literature, visual arts and other mixed-media.

Central to our discussion will be how drawings have limited and served architects and designers in the past, and how we can expand our understanding and empathy through our methods. Drawings in architectural practice, particularly in Canada, have a long history of being instruments of colonization, oppression and erasure. As architecture students, educators and practitioners today, we are not detached from this context. The drawings of Feral Atlas, one of the key references in this course, uses different projections and conventions - the grid, the axonometric, the unfolding perspective- in ways that highlight the different types of power they are associated with. We will analyze different drawing techniques (plan, section, oblique, isometric, photography, collage, etc.) while addressing these questions. While maintaining awareness of the larger context of architectural drawings, we will discuss their ability to organize research, develop an argument, and communicate to different stakeholders. Through discussion and application, we will develop graphic tools and techniques for in-depth site and thesis investigations, in particular field work, participatory design, and ethnographic research.

Because drawing is often an interdisciplinary act that borrows from a variety of sources, it is necessary for us to evaluate the context of these sources, what knowledge systems they were produced in, and what it means to re-interpret that media into a drawing. 

It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knots knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories

-Donna Haraway, “Staying With the Trouble