The main aim of Figuration courses is to make students proficient in using the tools that will enable them to define in material terms an idea for architecture and transmit it. The teaching lays down the theoretical bases and goes on to introduce the working techniques. In other words, students gain a scientific knowledge of the history of art and at the same time, indissociably, the habit of continual practice in using the tools of expressive image-making.
A fundamental element of the teaching of representation in architecture is Gestaltung, which is the discipline that studies the definition of ‘form’, the ‘depiction’ of an idea or a concept. The principle basis of Gestaltung is that ‘the whole is other than the sum of its parts’. This axiom, which expresses an anti-mathematical concept, defines a dimension at the edge of the scientific and objective fields, a dimension in which the most important thing is that which is perceived, not that which is real. Perception is the overall idea of an object and not the object as a physical entity. It is the emotional and cultural dimension that permeates the physical material of an architectural object. This dimension is conveyed, in the field of representation, through the artist’s expressive capacity to employ means of depiction. The artist is capable of transferring a larger amount of information, not necessarily linked to the dimensions or the features of and object, than direct observation of the object itself can achieve.
Gestaltung, in more general terms, is concerned with perception and reasoning, and studies the fundamentals of behaviour, as well as theories of learning, memory and thought. It studies the progression of Form > Model > Representation, and the relationships between them. It defines the principle rules with which the information collected can be organised.
Teaching the practical techniques of the digital and manual fine arts is only a small part of teaching figuration in architecture. The artist’s technique has many secrets that are hidden deep in the soul and are difficult to communicate and teach. A style of writing or drawing springs from ideas and passions and is refined by personal experience. It gradually settles, comes together and becomes, especially in architecture, a shared tradition of communication. The prime objective of any architect has always been to find an expressive mode to communicate ideas efficiently and coherently. It is, in fact, the ability to establish a strong coherence between the idea and its material expression, the figure and the image, which becomes a quality and a source of deep satisfaction for the architect. It is the satisfaction of self-expression and making oneself understood. By looking at how others have communicated their ideas, one learns to communicate one’s own, and to construct a personal expressive language.
The principle objective of our teaching is to train students in reading architectural depictions, whether these be illustrations or models, written texts or photographs. Learning to read means seeking to understand how architects have tried to communicate the very idea of architecture. By looking at images of projects, we seek to find in them the genius of their creator, the essence of the time, the work’s guardian spirit. We search for the link between these entities and thus learn many stories and secrets that are within the images and behind the architectural constructions. The path towards building up one’s own expressive language, capable of writing and describing a personal idea of architecture, thus seems less solitary, accompanied as it is by the presence of our masters and phantoms.
The main objective of the teaching of architectural expression is not, however, that of sketching out a history of the architectural imagination. The objective is at one with the didactic method: to share a large iconographic heritage and to lay the foundations for this to be useful to others, in order for them to build up their own personal iconography. Only through the awareness of this rich iconographic heritage can progress be made towards the construction of one’s own individual, independent expression.
Representing ideas coherently and communicating the project’s aims effectively are key activities for every architect. Design, painting, photography, modelling and graphics are essential to the architectural project and become didactic instruments for the development of every individual talent. The personality of an architect is formed dialectically, through collective experimentation with the artistic techniques for interpreting reality and transmitting ideas.
Interaction with research and teaching in other disciplines needs to be based on the methodological potential of depiction within the general progression of the architectural project.
In architecture it is necessary to consider design, painting, photography, modelling and graphics not as accessories to the ‘presentation’ of the project, but as elements dedicated to the ‘representation’ of the architectural idea. Under these terms, the artistic disciplines assume roles within the process and method of the composition of the project, and contribute directly to the formation of the complete personality of the architect.
Representation is a complex process that takes place when an idea is conceived and continues throughout the phase of material production of a composition that defines its form. Eventually, representation defines the attribution of a symbolic significance to the idea. The symbolic significance is linked to the fact that representation is an allegory of the idea, and communicates a meaning that goes beyond the simple duplicated image on its stand. The depiction of an object or concept encourages reflection on the nature of things and compels the architect to test the effectiveness of their ideas. It fills the space between the realm of ideas and that of tangible substances. The current state of virtual technologies and the radical reassessment of expressive techniques in contemporary art make it impossible to maintain clear traditional divisions between disciplines in the expressive arts, and demand a reconsideration of their role within the architectural project.
An architect seeking to formulate a personal creative process need not look to the stimulation of instinctive gestures, but rather to the definition of a method of communicable depiction. The use of different disciplines and techniques must come about spontaneously and indiscriminately; the interaction of these disciplines encourages the prevalence of general expressive capacities over specific technical expertise. The aim is to work towards formulating a personal expressive technique that corresponds simultaneously with the specific object of representation and with the individual’s general vision. Teaching must undertake to guide the student towards to acquisition of basic knowledge, leaving room for ‘self-education’, that is, it must clear away received ideas from the training process and favour experimentation with individual expressive techniques. At the same time, teaching also has a duty to introduce students to the use of certain conventions so that an architectural idea may be communicated and shared. It is important to transmit the necessary tools to attain skill and flexibility in the use of widely used conventions of logic and graphics. The architect has the opportunity to transmit ideas ripened in a private, individual realm, without losing coherence with the project, but he or she must also communicate objective information in such a way that it can be understood. Teaching architectural representation must adapt techniques to expressive processes, and employ these techniques to develop such expression.
Architectural depiction aims to concretise thoughts, dreams and imaginary visions. It represents the first passage from the world of ideas, which from a technical point of view are unreal entities, to the world of things, which become verifiable entities. The field of training in architectural representation remains a half-way house between the real and the imaginary, in the realm of ‘verisimilitude’. Teaching students to represent architecture means encouraging the use of manual and digital instruments through engagement with the extreme edge of the play between reality and fiction. The more the subject of the representation is ‘absurd’, the more the technique must depict the objects as though there were real. Working with this paradox emphasises the dialectic and rhetorical power of architecture. The design thus becomes a way of ‘narrating’ not only the project in question, but above all the atmosphere of the time and place, of dreams and of memories.