Friday, July 13, 2012

MESSAGE AND MEDIUM



The process of designing an object, be this a chair, church, chime or a carriage, eventually reaches the stage where the various parts, their materials, sizes, relationships and fixings need to be documented in order to allow the concept to be communicated to others who are to be involved in the making of the object. In architecture, this process is carried out in the preparation of the working drawings. What is critical is that the message is clear and certain. Any ambiguity merely casues dealys and complications as further information is requested of the designer or the team involved in the documentation.

Just how the information is communicated is critical. It needs to be accurate and complete. The method used to record this data can have an impact on the efficacy of the communication. CAD systems are used in architecture. These have their own formal logic and rigour, just as tradition has too. Techniques for documenting information have been established over time - plans, sections, elevations, details, etc. Yet there is a host of information, thoughts and understandings that never get recorded. These often lie latent behind the formal presentation of the information without ever really being exposed until a problem arises.

There is frequently a story to construction that formal techniques of documentation cannot record. While the drawing might show items aligning, dimensions and tolerances could give other results, even though this alignment might be critical. Here a simple note telling of this important relationship would overcome the problem and highlight the deisgner's intention for the builder. Just too often it is found that the formal technique cannot accommodate the story as an informal note, clarification or an aside. It just does not fit the format being used. A frreehand sketch can include all kinds of information because it is less inhibited, more casual, than a CAD document, but it is seen as too informal - sloppy - therefore unreliable. Appearance - aesthetics - takes control of what is being recorded and how, irrespective of what is known and shown.

In this regard, the drawings for the construction of the plastic toy in the V&A Museum of Childhood, (see above), are worth looking at more closely. The drawings are to scale and show everything as it is intended in exquisite clarity, but freehand details and notes have been added to the formal sections and elevations to further highlight critical issues. Precise intentions at various joints have been detailed in 3D sketches around the main scaled diagrams. A schedule of particular problems has been added in one corner as notes to myself:'July 13 PROBLEMS: 1. Joining wheels; Joints snap off; Jingle ball. 2. Elastic fixing. 3. Legs fixing. 4. Arm pivots. 5. How to fix elastic during assembly.'  Other notes have been added as a warning: 'TAKE CARE that these ribs do not jam under the feet!' Other notes ask questions: 'Surely ends should be covered? How to fix. Maybe elastic can be fiixed to covers? Remember they will be "small parts".' There is a rich depth of communication here that lies between enquiry and seeking.

These informal notes raise issues that seek to overcome surprises. The sectional details are all beautifully drawn, complete with screw fixings, sleeve connections, plastic profiles, fine edge radius dimensions, and the location of seams, but more information has been added. This is the story of the parts that tells more than the main formal images can illustrate, even though they seem adequately complete. That 'This centre section can have a diagonal extension to hold down the weight,' is infromation that is not in the shop detailing. It is clear that the designer not only knows the object in all of its intimate piecing, but he is also thinking of its making and its' use, and is communicating his thoughts on all aspects of the object, including performance matters.

Even though the traditional sections and elevations are illustrated with an explicit clarity, there is much more information that needs recording. It is a little like DIY directions that make everything appear so simple until the first step is taken and the first question of many arises.The freehand details and notes add this thinking, raising issues, highlighting intentions, and seeking the assistance of the fabricator who inevitably does have a role in the making and the assembly of the parts.The designer spells out the rationale of the design and its working in case the fabricator has to make some adjustments. Parameters are set.  It is an interesting study to see such issues exposed so clearly.

 


Making is an inherent part of any design. Just drawing an end result without considering the process of its making can create conflict when there need be none. It can 'force' an outcome too, by demanding selfconscious distortions in logic and process. The lead soldiers are a surprise and have their own beauty in the concept of their casting.



 So too does the making of the wooden animals. The idea for their fabrication is more amazing than the simplicity of the object itself. Here a doughnut form is profiled into the sectional shape of the required animal. This doughnut is cut radially to give the animal as an object that can then be worked in more detail as required. It is a clever piece of shaping and cutting that shows how the process of making can be just as significant as the 'design' itself.



Architecture can learn from these toys - their documentation and their making. Design is never merely just a pretty shaping of images and colours for others to battle with. It holds its own integral rigour and necessity that has just as important a role in the concept as the original idea has. There is a nexus here where one is informed by the other. Once one becomes more important than the other, there is stress and conflict. Once the rigour of the documentation becomes more important than the message, there is a problem, just as there is if the design becomes isolated from its making.

These are not rules, just matters that ask for each others' recognition and respect, for once the conjunction has become explicit - when message and medium meet - there is a double, integral delight. True creativity is never blind, unique or arrogant.
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