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Presentation: The Lexicon of the Architectural Artifact

  • American University of Sharjah United Arab Emirates (map)

Margaret Fletcher and Danielle Willkens

As designers, our ability to communicate and represent what we can imagine is crucial to the expression, understanding, and, ultimately, the success of our work. We are responsible for not only designing the inputs (ideas) but also designing the outputs (representational artifacts) and means of communication for these artifacts.

The visual communication of architectural ideas is multifarious since these representations are not only required to explain the conceptual framework of a project but also to convey the reality of the artifact (building). These representations become artifacts themselves while still representing the ultimate full-scale version of the modeled object.
Architecture students tend to focus on the architectural design of project artifacts without understanding that these representational artifacts also must be designed to be compelling communication tools. The effective design of the architectural diagram, for example, is as important as the design of the actual architectural artifact and in fact the two are symbiotically tied to ensure the communication of the design ideas.

The First Year Architecture Program at the authors’ university focuses on the practice of the visual communication of architectural ideas or the art of defining, describing, presenting, representing, and re-representing. Met through the implementation of a year-long Visual Communications course sequence embedded within the architectural design studio, these objectives recognize that foundation level design students need to not only understand the principles of architectural design but also must fundamentally understand how to communicate those ideas. The objectives of the Visual Communications sequence concentrate on both habits of mind and habits of work—how to assimilate, describe, and effectively communicate work. The faculty fosters this pedagogical approach to teaching representation by moving between analog and digital processes, by exploring the history and evolution of drawing convention, and by encouraging drawing invention through even the most fundamental, skill-building exercises that simultaneously introduce students to the specific language, visually and lexically, of architectural drawing. Conventions of orthographic, paraline, perspective, and anamorphic projection are exercised through a variety of assignments to firmly embed representational ideas in students’ processes through the inherent complexities of drawing discovery.

This paper seeks to discuss a pedagogy predicated on the understanding that effective communication of architectural ideas is intrinsically connected to the design of the representational artifact. The primary goal of this teaching method is to foster a learning process where both strains of design (representation and artifact) are intertwined, constantly and consistently evolving.

This paper will present an educational process as a palimpsest of architectural knowledge, developed and tested over the past several years. It is not a model, but an evolving framework informed by both debate and the continuous challenges to the emergent communication literacy of students that can be found within foundation architectural design education.

In particular, the Visual Communications sequence tests a new method for teaching the conventions of architectural drawing through a combination of manual and digital tools where the picture plane becomes not just an abstract idea in the architectural lexicon but, instead, an essential way for seeing and exploring space.

Earlier Event: November 6
Portfolio Design Workshop
Later Event: March 21