Three Urban Visions
Apologies to Jane Jacobs envisions the New York City gridiron reintroduced to the Penn South housing complex, with an additional overlay of a counter-grid of built and open space. Apologies uses collage as a tool to envision the spatial and programmatic qualities possible within this formal strategy. This project was completed for an advanced studio at NJIT in Fall 2015.
Homestead, anticipates the formal consequences of impending technological shifts including the autonomous vehicle and ubiquitous wireless internet access. Homestead imagines a territory within Kansas City, Missouri’s downtown in which the street grid is flattened to create a continuous surface on which pedestrians and vehicles can coexist. Over the ground surface is lofted a network of linear bar buildings which house individual cells that can be claimed in a model mirroring the Homestead Act of 1862. The project is represented with imprecise block-printed axonometrics and perspectives counterposed by extremely detailed and precise orthographic drawings. Homestead is a Master’s Thesis project completed for NJIT in Spring 2016.
Framework, can be seen as a postscript os both Apologies to Jane Jacobs and Homestead. A competition entry for a redevelopment of Montpelier, VT’s downtown, Framework proposes a continuous network of built space enclosing ground level courtyards on a continuously connected ground surface. The citizens of Montpelier could vote on what functions they want to be plugged in to this architectural framework. Framework was completed for the NetZero Vermont competition in September 2016.
Who influences you graphically?
I’m interested in drawings that use traditional architectural conventions in unfamiliar or unusual ways, either through unexpected content or extraordinary intensity. In that sense I’m influenced by Dogma’s orthographic drawings—their relentlessly detailed plan and oblique drawings use simple lines to not only depict architectural form but also the forms of life that take place within that form. The plans for With Apologies to Jane Jacobs and Homestead, and the plan oblique for Framework are obviously indebted to this strategy. On the other hand, I’m really interested in old or outdated drawing techniques and in contemporary work that appropriates these techniques. The etchings of Piranesi and Diderot were in my mind when I was working on the prints for Homestead. Piranesi famously drew this fantastic invented vision of ancient Rome, and Diderot used etchings to explore the new (at the time) forms of collective labor that were taking shape in the Industrial Revolution. The London-based artist Pablo Bronstein does these uncanny ink drawings that emulate centuries-old drawing styles but whose content always has some sort of tell that reveals it to be contemporary work, like the use of a bright color or an impossible-for-its-time composition.
What dictates the mean of representation through which you chose to reveal your proposal?
It varies for each project. For Apologies, my studio critic Tom Barry was extremely skeptical of the possibility that such a geometrically regular intervention could foster a vibrant condition of inhabitation, and so the photomontage was a sort of rapid prototype of diverse architectural and programmatic elements subsumed within a relentlessly repetitive geometrical organization.
With Homestead, part of the subtext of the project was a reaction against the uncritical acceptance of technology. The prints for that project were a way to slow down the pace of producing architectural drawings. They’re actually block-printed; I used a laser cutter to engrave the negative image into a block of plywood and then printed them by hand. This not only injected some slowness into the act of making the drawings, but also referred back to the prints of Piranesi and Diderot.
Framework was done for an urban planning competition. The typical urban planning drawing tends frustratingly to be just streets and sidewalks and blocks of color to represent the programmatic uses of new buildings. The core of my proposal was an architectural framework with no defined program—the citizens of Montpelier could choose what programmatic elements they wanted to plug in. So it was important to me to explicitly show the form that that framework would take architecturally, and the plan oblique was a way to accomplish that.
All of that aside, I try to use techniques that are new or fun or somehow therapeutic for me. The block prints for Homestead were really fun to do because they were a way to engage my body in the act of making the drawing—I didn’t have access to a printing press so I had to roll the ink onto the engraved blocks and burnish the image by hand, which is surprisingly difficult work. The Framework plan oblique was done by hand too, which is to say that I drew each line in AutoCAD rather than exporting them from a 3D model. The repetitiveness of this task was actually really therapeutic, I would just zone out and spend a few hours drawing every night.
What is your take on the art of collage?
Collage is a versatile tool. It can be used to earnestly project the spatial or material qualities of a proposal, or it can be used as a critical tool to subvert or put into question the intent of the work itself. I think collage is at its best when it manages to do both simultaneously, which is not easy to accomplish.
To what extent do you agree with the notion of the axonometric as the most complete form of drawing?
“Axonometric” is a fuzzy term; it’s often thrown around to refer to any parallel projection that simulates three-dimensionality. There are axonometric projections (isometric, dimetric, trimetric), which are foreshortened mathematically, and there are oblique projections, which are not foreshortened or are foreshortened arbitrarily. What I used to think of as a true “axonometric” is actually a “military oblique,” which is a type of plan oblique where the plan is rotated by 45 degrees and the elevational or sectional information is extrapolated from that. I like to use plan oblique because it allows for the depiction of space without a distortion of plan information. The block print of Homestead is an isometric projection, the site drawing of Framework is a zero-degree (i.e. not rotated) plan oblique, though because of the site’s rotation relative to north, the drawing looks more like a military oblique. All of that being said, I don’t think any one form of drawing can be considered the ‘most complete.’
You mention Framework as being a postscript to the previous projects, to what extent do you believe that ultimately we always reiterate our previous work and methodology and are such ultimately slaves of the continuum?
‘Slaves of the continuum’ may be a little strong. However, I think that when we feel strongly about an architectural proposition a single project is rarely enough to say everything that we want to say about it. Framework was a short project, so it was also somewhat a matter of expedience to pluck ideas from previous work. Being able to follow a line of thought from one project to the next can be productive in terms of testing the flexibility and resilience of our architectural ideas in the face of radically different conditions.
Andrew Bruno is a designer and recent graduate of the M.Arch program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. His current work focuses on the notion of historical form as an entry point for architects to engage with contemporary design challenges. He lives and works in New York City.