Modern Media/ Modern Architecture Animation in Architecture : An Interdisciplinary Teaching Method by Linda and Mark Keane

Linda Keane is an architect, artist and partner in STUDIO 1032, an architectural firm in Milwaukee and Chicago. She currently teaches design, theory and digital animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago were she served as department chair from 1985-90. Mark Keans is an architect, filmmaker and partner in STUDIO 1032. He teaches design and Drawing at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee where he heads the Frank Lloyd Wright Initiative. Animated Architectural films by Mark and Linda Keane are published in Architecture on Screen (1994), which has been shown on PBS in Chicago and Europe. The two are currently completing a media book, ARCHITECTURE: An Animated Introduction, for CD ROM.

We seek to liberate the creative process in the undergraduate design studio. This program proposes an exercise to facilitate the beginning. It is a model based on several years of practical application at two schools of architecture. The following describes the methodology and subsequent findings.

The study of architecture as frozen music in lecture courses via static slide images limits the experiential information for the viewers. Introducing the study of historical references as subject matter to be analyzed, dissected, interpolated and developed into alternative design languages, opens the experience to exploratory invention as a process for design. Utilizing film and video to record the exploratory process unfreezes the music of the typical design studio and allows for the endless review and discussions of architectural issues.

In undergraduate architecture and interior architecture studios, individuals select a twentieth century painting, and/or a twentieth century piece of architecture. Preparing written research on the artist/architect and the work of Modern Art, the student studies issues from which the piece originated, its time period and its impact. The relationship of Fine Art to Architecture is discussed. The blank 8 1/2" x 11" page is used as the canvas: the site. From it, upon it, within it, through it, the studio is challenged to create space. 2-Dimensional design language transfers to 3-Dimensional space, which then transfers to a 4-Dimensional experience of architecture.

Each student conceptually analyses the piece and draws 5 - 10 minute reactionary sketches aimed at understanding the essence of the vocabulary. These initial drawings deal with form, color, texture, spatial definition, balance, composition, and any other influence projected from the original work of Art/Architecture. The sketches act as an interpolative guide through five tiers of design problems ranging in scale: a dinner plate, a table setting for the plate, furniture for the table setting, a pavilion for the furniture, and finally a garden for the pavilion. The actual designs for the plate or the pavilion are structured to generate interaction between scales of design vocabulary, small to large, large to small. Between each ascending scale, the complexities of design vocabulary are discussed.

2D to 3D influences are explored, 3D to 4D interactions are developed. On the first blank page the issue of idea origination is discussed. Where do ideas come from? How are they developed? Once drawing commences the design options expand and the students must continually choose to control the imaging or let it create itself. Rational versus intuitive design directives are introduced. As each two dimensional images is created the students are challenged to begin to choreograph the development of their ideas simultaneous to designing their ideas. This duality of production eliminates the separation of design and final presentation because in the animation process, the two phases occur simultaneously.

As two dimensional images accrue they are pinned up and critiqued for compositional development, content, and intent. It is in this overview of drawings that the notions of animated movement and sensory perception occur. In the traditional studio process each drawing is reviewed for individual strength. In this process, noting subtle differences between the generations of cels created to generate movements, the potential of the design is studied and restudied many times over culminating in a stronger commitment and design direction.

The animated evolution of the design idea frame by frame is a stop action analysis of movement which can be realized in the viewing of the finished celluloid presentation. The step by step creation of movement is the ultimate challenge of bringing life and volume to the two dimensional page. 2D composition becomes 3D form which is perceived in a spatially visual experience. The study of the transition from two dimensions to three dimensions opens up the endless possibilities which exist between plan generation and sectional development.

The actual animated build-up of the plan suggests structural, spatial, design vocabulary possibilities to the students. Unlike similar computer programs, the students control the movement and development of the volumetric process, further enhancing their understanding of spatial arrangements and exercising their manipulative skills. Once two dimensional markings have been evaluated and transformed into three dimensional spatial statements, the notion of scales of design is discussed.

What issues are translatable from the design of a detail to the design of an urban scale? The animated process is conducive to this study and overlapping of design vocabularies. How does the design of a door hinge inform the design of a floor pattern, a table, a wall elevation, a section, elevation, landscape plan, etc.? Where does design start and where does it stop? What additional information is necessary at each enlarging scale? How does the simultaneous consideration of several scales influence the overall design process? As the tiers of drawings are produced the students are considering the element of time. How long does it take us to understand the design of a small object? How long does it take us to experience space (as viewed on the screen)? This introduction to the notion of time and how it influences our perceptions of design language and experience is approachable in the studio setting through the method of animation.

This produces 150 to 300 drawings explored over a range of time, 3 days to 3 weeks. The studio as a whole is asked to suspend prior conceptions of what design language is, how it is generated, and how it permeates into a finished product. The suspension is critical to the exploratory nature of the process. This becomes evident as work is quickly produced in a constant battle: the right and left sides of the brain being transformed into drawn vocabulary on the page.

The individuals then interpolate the initial series of sketches creating a hybrid set of images. Each two original drawings are used to generate a third. The new hybrid is then interpolated with the two originals and so on until the tableau is complete. In-between sketches begin to assimilate the growth of a process, or a path to discovery. With each drawing complete in 7 - 10 minutes, the intent is to deal only with abstract vocabulary and the transformation of its expression from the paper to the public. As the drawings accrue, the work is laid out and discussed, much in the manner of the painter reflecting upon the canvas, the sculptor introspecting the sculpture. Each person's process unfolds differently with a variety of potential aesthetic premises. Only in the creation of work is the dialogue about work possible.

The final series of matrixed drawings are then animated on film at a relative rate per second. Students use a 16mm film camera and high speed color negative film to document the drawings at the rate of 2 - 3 frames per image with changes in speed to enhance certain areas and reveal nuances pertinent to the design language. The produced film is then transferred to video at 24 frames per second and at 18 frames per second. Video allows for color change and light density change from the original work. The video is the final resource for critique and discussion. Drawn images actualize into visual poetry.

This process is subject to on-going criticism both negative and positive. The blindspots to the project are the two dimensional study of historical graphics which are abstracted away from context. The interpolation process is often forced and mandates arbitrary solutions. We have found that the course taken by each student is initially confounding and requires blind adherence to the system. At times this trust between student and instructor has not been established to reach the potential of the project.

But to defend the process there have been various rewards which have instilled confidence in our pursuit of animation in architecture. First, the strength of final compositions and schemes in each of the design problems used to date have fostered positive evaluation from peer instructors. Secondly, the demand of generation of images at this scale drives the student to seek out the greatest extent of visual research in order to manipulate the base image. Third, although the product, the film, is not the intent and often results in crude cinematic endeavors, the celebration of the process in this media creates an enthusiasm in the student body that maintains direction and magnitude for whatever length is determined. This enthusiasm begets a certain pride in their work as an individual and as a studio that generates a 4 minute film. Fourth, the exercise expands on the graphic skills of the student and dexterity of the media by the sheer number of drawings required. Fifth, and perhaps most important, the impact of the project can be seen at the beginning of the next program when a film is not being made.