Models Are Drawings That Believed In Miracles

Fig 01  Object 03 From Models Are Drawings That Believed In Miracles Exhibition

Fig 01_OBJECT 03. Image courtesy of Viola Ago.

Models Are Drawings That Believed In Miracles is an ongoing project that explores conventions of orthographic projection as they relate to the practice of architectural drawing. This research was undertaken as part of the William Muschenheim Design and Teaching fellowship at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan; Object 3 and Object 7 (Fig 01) are two out of nine artifacts that were exhibited at the Taubman College Gallery in March 2017. The work exposes and interrogates latent visual and material structures in known architectural drawing procedures; what might be called a tectonic understanding of line drawings. On a fundamental level, this conflation of drawings and models, test issues related to the translation of information from digital to material. The objects, produced in series, challenges the linear process of design; a mindset that privileges a one-way movement between conception (immaterial) and production (material). The work advocates serial methods of making that are embedded in a dynamic design process with no fixed endpoint.

The ‘no fixed endpoint’ paradigm, or work produced in search of new ideas rather than finalized projects, has become a working condition for emerging architectural firms. Architects working in this vein are increasingly engaging in the practice of producing a seemingly endless amount of artifacts, things, drawings, models, and objects, in an attempt to not only question disciplinary ideas, but to also materialize them. This accumulation of design experiments, or stuff, has become a model of architectural thinking and production. Models Are Drawings That Believed In Miracles is an attempt to understand how digital technologies continue to influence conventions of architectural drawings and models. The work, or rather the stuff that makes up the collection includes design exercises that deal with line drawings, material interpretations, internal structure methodologies, and drawing/model conflations.


Fig 02_Drawing Study. Image courtesy of Viola Ago.

Fig 03 Drawing Study Of Object 03 From Models Are Drawings That Believed In Miracles Exhibition

Fig 03_Drawing Study Of Object 03. Image courtesy of Viola Ago.


The line drawing maintains a strong position in this series of works. Beyond typical projection types used in everyday practice - plan, section, elevation - this project is interested in drawings that use linework to generate new possibilities for illustrating conceptual thinking. To be clear, this area of research is less about expressionistic, gestural modes of working -- Zaha Hadid’s and Frank Gehry’s drawing experiments --  and more about procedural, geometrically-inclined series that favour transformational logics, processes, and repetition (such as Daniel Libeskind’s Chamberworks, Thom Mayne and Andrew Zago’s 6th Street House, and Preston Scott Cohen’s Stereotomic Permutations Drawings). What particularly significant in these projects are instances where two-dimensional, planar projections inform three dimensional thinking and vice versa.

Drawing Studies (Fig 2-3), offer networks of internal spaces, and representations of architectonic volumes and atmospheric zones. The lines in these works -- their continuity, the way they jump, bend, end, or turn --  suggest architectural conditions that are contingent and change according to shifts in the viewer’s physical relationship to the picture plane in the space of the installation.

Fig 04 Wall Study

Fig 04_Wall Study. Image courtesy of Viola Ago.


Contemporary drawing practices are approaching a condition where they have to account for materiality, complex layering structures and digital processes. Tectonics have entered drafting culture in order to mediate between digital file systems and material artifacts. In other words, how does one consider materializing an infinitely thin digital line?

Wall Studies (Fig 4), are 5-axis Computer Numerical Control (CNC) generated forms. This hyper-focused series tests line-behaviors against simple, one-step CNC fabrication processes. These studies use cropped and magnified areas of drawings to explore relationships between digital information, linear tool paths and material stock. Two-dimensional information begins to activate three-dimensional space. These pieces are not meant to be seen as stand-alone works. The Wall Studies are produced in service of the overall project; the relationship between line drawings and physical models.

Fig 05  Object 03 From Models Are Drawings That Believed In Miracles Exhibition

Fig 05_Object 03. Image courtesy of Viola Ago.

Fig 06 Diagram For Object 03 From Models Are Drawings That Believed In Miracles Exhibition

Fig 06_Diagram For Object 03. Image courtesy of Viola Ago.


While it might be clear at this moment in the disciplinary history that, as the transition from hand drawing to computer generated drawing comes to a close, new potentialities have entered the production of architectural representation. The influence that these tools have on more experimental, procedural drawing practices is --still, and productively-- ambivalent. One example is the merging of representation (drawing) and fabrication (model) into one distinct work.

In his essay ‘Shape as Form: Frank Stella’s New Paintings’, art critic/theorist Michael Fried famously offers an analysis of the contested relationship between content (graphic matter) and support (material surface and frame) in the abstract painting of the 1960s and 70sFried, Michael. "Shape as form: Frank Stella's new paintings." Artforum 5, no. 3 (1966): 18-27..He argues that in Frank Stella’s Irregular Polygon series, the boundary of the painting’s graphic matter, and the boundary of its support (frame) occupy the same space. There is a productive confusion of the graphic-optical, and the material support. Fried goes on to argue that in Kenneth Noland’s work, on the other hand, the images intentionally ignore the shape of the painting’s support (its frame). In Noland’s case, the graphic content is unambiguous, and subordinate to the shape of the painting.

The formal structure of Object Studies (Fig 05) enacts a similar tension between graphic matter and support. The structural logic of the drawings take cues from the shape of its support. Within the conventional limits of the drawing-area however, the images operate according to the logic of layering and superimposition. In each image, various printed layers create a series of internal frames. These frames act as mediators between the implied boundary of the drawing and its ‘canvas’ (Fig 06).

Fig 07  Object 03 Close Up View From Models Are Drawings That Believed In Miracles Exhibition

Fig 07_Object 03 Close Up View. Image courtesy of Viola Ago.

Fig 08  Object 03 Close Up View From Models Are Drawings That Believed In Miracles Exhibition

Fig 08_Object 03 Close Up View. Image courtesy of Viola Ago.


Another concept borrowed from the theoretical discourse surrounding the abstract painting of the 1960s and 70s, is the idea of a horizontal picture plane.Steinberg, Leo. "The Flatbed Picture Plane." Other Criteria(1972): 61-98. Up until the 1950s, the orientation of the picture plane had almost always corresponded to the verticality of its viewer. Painterly conventions favoured an orientation that correlated to the observer's posture; the top of the painting addressed the level of the head, and the sides drew attention downwards towards the feet. However, In the 1960s advanced painting started to break away from this model. Jackson Pollock - an extreme interpretation of this idea - exploited the literal, gravitational pull of the horizontal plane with his paint dripping technique. Although Pollock’s finished work is experienced as a vertical figure, it is conceived on a horizontal plane.

The reorientation of the picture plane is an important element in the Models Are Drawings That Believed In Miracles exhibition.  In early stages of the design process, the drawing component of the piece was always thought of as something that belonged to its support (what could be referred to as the ‘pedestal’ component of the piece). Similarly, the object-drawings (Fig 07) activate the space they occupy through an unconventional orientation, and challenge the traditional practice of pinned-up architectural drawings, and horizontally-pedestalled models. The drawings are designed on a vertical plane and embody gravitational pulls. The long linear stretches that wrap around the objects are indexical of this pull (Fig 08). However, their final placements occupy the horizontal planes. This perceptual back and forth encourages a method of feedback--graphic matter moves fluidly between media and orientation--that challenges fixed, linear processes. In this installation-format, the picture plane is cast as a symbol of process and material intelligence. 

Fig 09 Graphic Form Study

Fig 09_Graphic Form Study. Image courtesy of Viola Ago.

Fig 10 Graphic Form Study

Fig 10_Graphic Form Study. Image courtesy of Viola Ago.

More Stuff

As the project began to assume more resolute form, new iterations and evolution of the initial concept emerged. A new series of experiments born out of this work operates on the material and conceptual space between the line drawing as a graphic plane, and volumetric arrangements (Fig 09). The new phase of this project is interested in the material knowledge of the intimate relationship between surface and volume, or in this case, graphics and form (Fig 10). This ongoing endeavor will continue to produce more stuff (models, drawings, videos and other hybrids) in order to challenge and observe the ever-expanding disciplinary understanding of architectural drawings and models as a practice and as a way of thinking.