This book explores computation, specifically the craft of writing computer code, as a medium for drawing. Exercises, essays, algorithms, diagrams, and drawings are woven together to offer instruction, insight, and theories that are valuable to practicing architects, artists, and scholars. The aim of this book is to offer a primer for those new to programming plus provocation, context, and discourse for those with experience.
Computational Drawing, From Foundational Exercises to Theories of Representation is published by Applied Research and Design Publishing, the editorial imprint of ORO Editions. Organized into five chapters, each containing exercises, algorithms, essays, images, and 1:1 representations of pen-plotter drawings, this book is simultaneously expository, pedagogical, and theoretical. It addresses the contemporary role of drawing in creative practice. Though architectural ideas—an interest in defining discrete space, for example—are latent throughout, this book deals with form and space in the abstract. The book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble or wherever you buy books.
Computing and drawing have intertwined histories. The first computer art was drawn. Limits on processing power and memory storage precluded pixels and images. Instead, computers were programmed to control machines that moved pens to make marks on paper. Soon thereafter, the trajectories of computing and drawing diverged. The aim of this book, and the work within it, is to explore the implications of bringing them back together. Besides what computing and drawing mean, this book will explore what computing and drawing can collectively do. In most cases, merging computing and drawing involves merging cultures and methods. The territory within which we compute and the territory within which we draw are—with a few exciting exceptions—largely distinct. For these reasons, deciding to “make a drawing with a computer” or “compute in the space of the drawing” are no simple tasks. But they are exciting, productive, and creative...
This is a book about the hybridity of computing and drawing. It would seem prudent, therefore, to begin by addressing, simply, “what is drawing?” and “what is computing?” However, both of those terms are associated with contested histories, multiple creative and scientific cultures, and various colloquial and literal definitions, which are often at odds with each other. Both computing and drawing are disciplines in their own right, and both terms define sub-cultures within the discipline of architecture. As a result, it is not possible to exhaustively explore both terms, though it is possible for the hybridity between computing and drawing to bring clarity to each in terms of method, meaning, and knowledge. This chapter proceeds by articulating a series of anti-definitions, that articulate some important limitations on computing and drawing. These include: a drawing cannot be edited; a computer cannot draw; and a drawing is not final. Some algorithms are presented for the articulation of primitive marks and the first two exercises—coding a mark and drawing from a function library—are articulated.
The opening essay of this chapter, "From Dirty Marks to Lines, Shapes & Representations" first confronts the difference between a mark and a line. A mark is literal, direct, and unambiguous in its creation. In the previous chapter, exercises prompted the codification of marks, but in some cases, the marks were not lines. This is not a matter of nomenclature, extremity or classification. No matter how bombastic, trail-like, curvy or straight the mark, it might not always register as a line. This is because lines are relational mental constructs. A line is what we read into marks. Sometimes, the association between marks and lines is not one to one. Consider two marks made by a pen in exactly the same location. Consider 100 such marks. The line read by those marks may be different depending on the number of marks, but it is still only one line. Consider the horizon line. The horizon line is real; it can be measured, photographed, described, and defined, but it is not a thing. It can be perceived without association with a single mark. A mark does not always lead to a line and a line is not always made up of one mark. Consider, further, that a line can exist because of the tension between marks—as in when our mind literally connects the dots—or a complete lack of marks—as in when marks fill an area to maximum density except for a small sliver of space. This chapter continues in pursuit of drawing structures with an inquiry into various taxonomies of line. Throughout this taxonomy of taxonomies exercises and algorithms push the scope of coding into the space of line behavior, relationship and evaluation.
What makes a good computational drawing? What over-arching principles guide the creation of computational drawing projects? This chapter begins with an exercise that prompts the re-coding of a common digital tool with the aim of capitalizing on willful misuse as a creative enterprise. The exercise further prompts, "Make a work of art with your code by continuing to change and evolve it. Embrace the surprising results that may emerge as you treat your code not as tool to perform a single function but a medium to explore new possibilities. What may have been considered a flaw may be prized as a generator of a new kind of line, form, shape, or space. Furthermore, explore the productive misuse to the code. Can the code be modified to expand the set of possible inputs beyond what would’ve made sense within the narrower scope of possibilities when interpreted as a mere tool?" As the chapter progresses, the computational drawing is further considered in multiple positions relative to the human author. We often assume that a computational drawing is the result of a highly intelligent or optimized process, but a "dumb underlay" may be just as valuable in a creative practice.
Difficulty engenders innovation. Hard problems often bring out the best in us. How can we make drawing difficult? Computation brings some kind of difficulty to drawing. This difficulty is intertwined with form and its co-conspirator in the domain of drawing: depth. In architecture, we often assume that every drawing is the result of a projection of three-dimensional form onto a two-dimensional surface. In this chapter, we explore conceptions of depth that are just as rigorous, that allow more ambiguous relationships between objects in space and matter and machines. This approach to drawing uses projective representation as a way to speculate, interpret, analyze, and perceive, rather than a method to assert or communicate. Three exercises are dispersed throughout the chapter: automatic drawing, the depthy line, and the pursuit of flatness. The chapter concludes with attention to the form of ink and the drawn object.
Rather than predict the distant future, this final brief chapter uses the Washington Post style section "In/Out" list as a model for reflecting on where our culture is going. Every year since 1978 the Post uses a list of paired terms, one is out—as in out of fashion—and the other is in. Taken in the aggregate, these lists are more than a collection of passing trends, but a deep analysis of the direction and priorities of a nation. The list often positions macro economic trends along side matters of aesthetics and taste. The pairing is, of course, essential. Much more interesting than just what’s trendy now is what that is replacing, mitigating, or undermining. Each diptych can be understood as defining a vector, the difference between what was once relevant and what is now relevant, and we can project that vector forward. In this way, taking the pulse of a culture also implicitly predicts the future. In this chapter, four futures for computational drawing are explored: still on paper, still difficult, slower, longer; crafted; disciplined; and making and re-making technology;
The algorithms in this book are written in plain English and no specific platform or programming language is presumed or required to make use of these ideas. (It might even be possible to perform all the exercises without a digital computer at all.) However, in the interest of supporting productivity and leveraging the ever-expanding field of programming resources, the appendix lists some potentially useful technologies. All are available online, many for no cost.