Tuesday, May 7, 2013



The boy, (I am reminded of Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats when I use this word in this manner), was given the new camera, a compact waterproof digital camera that he could use when fishing and swimming. It was a replacement camera. The first waterproof camera failed on its first immersion, even though it was a quality brand - Nikon. So, after this disappointment, it was with some renewed excitement that the second camera was received. It was a different make this time - Olympus: fingers crossed! Why give any product a second chance to leak? No one knew just what might happen with the return of the failed equipment to the place of purchase, but the payment was gracefully refunded and the new camera was ordered. Hopefully it is a better and more reliable performer than the first one, or else it will have the same fate.

The box was opened as the advice was given: “Make sure you read the instructions carefully before doing anything else.” Still, the eager hands threw the paperwork aside in favour of the bright metallic blue camera: like a moth to a light. The wrist strap was assembled, the battery opened and installed, and the camera was plugged into the charger and switched it on. Then the instructions were read.

“How long will it take to charge?” was the first question.

“Have a look. It should tell you.”

So he continued reading.

“It doesn’t say.”

After a delay that seemed too long, the instructions were checked.

“You have the wrong section. This part is only telling you how to properly maintain the camera. This other sheet has the general instructions.”

“Where’s the English?”

The attention passed back to the charging camera.

“How do I know when the camera is charged?”

“There is usually a light that comes on. It changes when the battery has charged. Have a look.”

“There’s no light.”

“There has to be something. Read the instructions.”

As the page was perused, the camera was checked. There was indeed no light.

“Umm. Show me the page. Here, it tells you that there is a light.”

So the camera and charger were taken to another power outlet to test things. Still no light. The connections were checked. All OK. The camera was opened and the battery inspected.

“You’ve put the battery in backwards.”

After reversing the battery and reconnecting the camera, the light came on. Two hours later it went out.

“Is it charged now?”


So the camera was taken to the lounge, switched on and buttons started being pressed.

“What is the date?”

“What is the time?”

It all seemed to be going well.

The failure with the battery installation had not dampened any enthusiasm or raised any questions about competence, confidence or cleverness. Young folk today are extremely self-assured in spite of everything and anything. Is this the outcome of easy access to information and social technology? Is it the instant feedback of two thousand ‘friends’ that reinforces MY perceptions about ME; that buries doubt and conceals skepticism? The flash went off. The camera was working.

“You will need an SD card.”

“No the camera has some internal memory. I will get the card later.”

It seemed that the boy knew something about the camera. He kept pressing the buttons.

“Oh!” was the sister’s squeal. “Get rid of that one.”

I went to see what was happening.

The boy was snapping images and deleting them with an equal enthusiasm. It made me ponder. The interest seemed to centre on the process only. The end result - the outcome, the image - appeared incidental, an accidental part of the game. One just got rid of it and started again. There was really no need for an SD card for storage. The situation reminded me of the games that I had seen the boy and his sister play on their tablets: see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/architecture-and-games.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/mystifying-gorilla-chases-architecture.html

These are games without any end. One just restarted once the process had come to its indeterminate conclusion, a hiatus, be this a stumble, the catch or ‘death.’ The whole process began again with the press of a button. It was a fuzzy, yet intense activity with a certain frenzy that seemed to lack something substantial: click; look; laugh; scream; remove; click; etc. There was no obvious rigour or structure, no aim or ambition. It was an event. The involvement was with the programming of the equipment, its framework and internal relationships, not with any desire for a planned or pleasing, or permanent outcome: click . . The subjects being recorded meant nothing in particular; they were mere asides.

The interest concentrated on the parameters of the instrument and its possibilities - what it allowed; its framework of activities: the exploration of its inner structure - in the same way as a game entertained. That the result might be a squabble or a laugh was as secondary as any recorded image. It was neither expected nor unexpected. It was certainly not a surprise, just part of the occasion. There was no importance given to any archive. Just click to remove, whatever, and on to the next photograph; squeal, laugh, bickering: all nonstop until something better arose or one became bored. The structure was amorphous, blurry. Experience had more relevance than anything else; not experience in the sense of learning, reverie and reflection - the feedback loop of scholarship - but the act of being there then, as though one might be on a fair ride, spinning mindlessly.

I thought about technology in the office: CAD and its processes. There seemed to be something similar going on with computer-aided drawing. The process sometimes seemed more important than any outcome.

“What line are you using?”

“How do I do . . .?”

“Have you tried this?”

“Where is the . . .?“

The questions and their responses constantly fly around the workstations. What real effort and thought was being given to the work, to the definition of its outcome? The parameters of the programme seem to have a direct impact on both the process and the result. The mirroring, the copying, and the pasting processes, (these are the basic ones), were all involved to make things simpler: click; paste; remove; in the same way as the camera buttons were handled. The library of parts, objects, details, etc. were similarly all there to be utilized, adapted, and were, whenever the chance arose. The tasks seem centred on finding these opportunities, looking for the chance to use these features. Ironically, time was frequently spent planning how one might save time. The mind seemed more concentrated on how the programme could be manipulated to achieve a documented CAD outcome - the drawing - rather than on assessing the drawing and just what it might be communicating to another, in this case, the contractor. The whole idea that a drawing had to communicate seemed lost in the haze and maze of the game - the CAD programme and ME: amazing; and I did it! What can I use now? How might I manipulate the system to give me a result with least effort? Which path should I choose? I wonder if there is another way?

“Wow! Have you tried this?”

“How did you do that?”

It seemed that the drafter might only rarely, if at all, pause to see how another might read the information that was being recorded. There appeared to be little concern about how the document might match the instructions given, or the design and detail intended. The critical question that has to be asked when documenting a building is not only is it what has been sketched, but also is it accurate and possible, feasible: can it be built; will it perform; and does the drawing give the story clearly and unambiguously so that the planned outcome can be achieved without confusion and complication? It seemed that CAD was being handled just like the other games and the camera - as an amusement that has no end: just clicks and processes where the results appear almost as an insignificant, irrelevant conclusion of the involvement that knew of no time or place but its own. The concentration seemed to be only on the engagement with the technology.

I have seen details where the ‘copy, paste and mirror’ commands have been used irrespective of their relevance: close enough. I have seen grids selected just because of the neat figure and the ease of repetition - click, click, click - when something more like the tartan grid would have made everything far more explicit. How long will it take for technology to become less of a distraction? The learning process is interesting. Take for instance learning to play the piano: there is the first stage where everything is alien. Slowly with practice the very self-conscious steps played as scales are assimilated into other skills, like playing a tune, still in a self-conscious manner. Then, as time progresses and familiarity increases with dexterity and confidence, these stages are gathered into the unselfconscious - it is called ‘feedback’ - until the stage is reached where the player can attend to the far more subtle matters involved in playing and expression. This cycle continues to enrich and be enriched as the instrument becomes ‘at one’ with the player, and vice versa. Learning to ride a bicycle has much the same sequence of experiences. The unknown becomes known in an ever-spinning circle of learning. Matters to be confronted become more subtle, rich and sophisticated. It is analogous to movement on the Möbius strip where seamless continuity maps the concept as a diagram for achievement. The path to wisdom and understanding has no ending. As the saying goes: If you find the Buddha on the way, kill him.

When will CAD reach the stage when it will no longer be a self-conscious process? At present, the involvement is somewhat like a draughtsman standing at a drawing board asking questions about how to use the tee square or a pencil; the eraser: what density of pencil to choose; how to sharpen the pencil; how to draw a line; what stencil for letters; what style; what thickness; etc. etc.? - all questions that would have been ludicrous in this circumstance, but are entertained without embarrassment with the computer. Imagine asking about which sheet of paper one had to draw on! How it can be printed, copied. What colour pen one had to use; how to trace the drawing. The thought arises: I wonder if there is a better feeling for line, form and space with the tee square and the set square that involves the body more intimately and actively than the keyboard?

The boy with the camera was learning too but he jumped right into the system, bringing all of his button skills to the game without listening, looking or feeling for feedback or watching for or caring about failure. Is this what draughtsmen bring to their CAD efforts too? Architects? I have seen the wonders of the computer turn a five minute scribble into a dozen three dimensional images that appear to hold some sense when the whole has no basis in thought or any simple sense. Lines have appeared from the brash movements of the hand on a mouse guided by intuition or just the body movement itself; and then the computer takes over: “Wow!”

What are the issues here? It all appears to linger in the field of belief and self-confidence. Can one be over-confident? Can belief be blind? If one is unable to isolate the lack of substance in the machine-induced imagery that is the outcome of a careless and thoughtless randomness, from that which is not, then there is a problem. The recognition and acknowledgement of the problem of admiring any 'skill' in an outcome when it has all been processed otherwise - blindly, irrationally - remains a core and essential ability in the scope of any performance. Cynicism is essential because matters have become so fuzzy, so mixed and confused. Only too often has one seen the architect admire the computed result that he has supposedly directed, as if it were the work of another.

Fuzzy in itself has qualities that can be admired, e.g. inclusiveness: incorporating things vague, ambiguous, imprecise - chance itself. But remaining happy with things inconclusive and unclear when they can be otherwise, and in certain circumstances must be, as if they might pleasantly surprise by their difference, and believing they have inherent value because they have just appeared in this manner, is a serious issue. Chance has its place in discovery; so has necessity too. Seeing chance alone as ‘creativity’ is a problem. Bacon promoted immediacy, but his words and actions show otherwise: see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/bacons-sacrambled-studio-francis.html

The world can be seen as a game, but it is more than this. We need to learn about our technologies and become confident with them rather than just with ourselves, so that they can be assimilated into our lives creatively, allowing our attention to address far more critical matters than proficiency with gadgets. Ignoring the way a battery needs to go into any equipment only highlights how weak the game can make us when its only interest is to beckon infinity with an unfulfilled tease. We need to face facts if the wonder of work is to become manifest. Tradition always understood that nothing could be beautiful if it ignored the cosmic rules and the facts of functions.

It was Louis Kahn who pointed out that:

"A great building must begin with the unmeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable."


On assimilation: see On Bridges - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/on-bridges.html Buckminster Fuller envisaged a future where tensegrity would become incorporated into our world without exclamation or declaration:

 ‘the process . . . whereby doing more for less can lead to an implosion of functions, one into another, until only a gossamer thin but steely strong multifunctional envelope takes the place of separate ‘cultures’ of architecture, building and aesthetics.’

NOTE: 29 October 2014
see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/drawing-belfast-command-character.html

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