|As a minimal outcome of this course, you should be able to compare a contemporary architectural image with an early modern image, and discuss the appearance of convention, media and content in both. More capable students should also be able to trace a single motif across multiple case studies, and thereby identify anachronic elements that persist not only in contemporary architecture, but are embedded in the tools of contemporary architectural design. The best students should be able to relate this analysis to broader historical questions regarding the autonomy of architecture, and the relationship between technique and knowledge.
|This is not a course that approaches architecture via media, nor by material, but rather by something that is between the two. The shadow is as inevitable a part of architecture as light, but it is rarely, if ever, a subject of sustained inquiry. The shadow silently slips through the net of almost all the serious discourses of architectural history. All the same, it is a motif through which the entire history of architectural representation can be retold, from the development of drawing techniques to the definitions of shelter. From Hugh Ferriss’ tenebrous charcoals of New York skyscrapers to contemporary overshadow laws (visible in the form of Zurich’s Prime Tower), shadows shape the legal limits of buildings just as they delimit them on paper. Akin to the latent image in photography, the heightened role of the shadow in architecture is the logical consequence of the constant pursuit of light.
What is a shadow? Contrary to the tale of the maid of Corinth, who was said to have traced the shadow of her departing lover, in order to possess at least an outline, natual shadows are neither still, nor do they present sharp silhouettes. All natural shadows move, because all natural light sources are mobile. Before the invention of electric light, the only shadows that were fixed in place were those that had been drawn or painted. Furthermore, shadows are never completely sharp, because of the wave-like behaviour of light. It is only now that computer graphics specialists are developing techniques to simulate penumbra, the soft edges of cast shadows.
The study of shadows has a prominent role in classical architecture, from the panoply of horizontal shadows—Σκοτία—in columns and entablatures, to the the metaphysical importance da Vinci attributed to sfumato. In other traditions, the shadow plays even more obscure roles, connecting to questions of nostalgia, the distant past, and to the dead. As architectural drafting evolved, the depiction of shadows was used to demonstrate technical skill, as much as to indicate three-dimensional depth. Today, the shadow is an active protagonist in architectural legislation, and by extension, architectural design. Shadow casting is a standard feature of CAAD design packages, and serves both pragmatic and aesthetic functions. But can we use them to navigate through the history of architectural representation?