Futures Forum: Skypark and “authoritarian high modernism”
Futures Forum: Skypark: the current reality on site is not quite the same as computer-generated publicity...
Apparently this technology is quite the rage, as pointed out at the Building Design website today:
Every picture tells a (tall) story
BD columnist Gillian Darley on the sleights of hand CGIs create
How do we envisage buildings – before, during and after their construction?
The options were once confined to perspectives and models, the latter allowing the client to fully understand (and potentially alter) the scheme. True, even perspectives could be misleading, whether in scale or detail – always to the advantage of the architect. By the early 20th century graphics had become more sophisticated; cleverly edited photographs and elaborate axonometric renderings served the modernists well.
But the means by which a design is conveyed becomes ever more sophisticated, ever more an end in itself, with all those possibilities for misunderstanding or, at worst, misrepresentation.
In local authority offices and online, planners and consultees are faced by an array of imagery, the way developers and architects of large-scale projects now present their schemes. Many a contentious proposal has shimmied through the planning process (and on to the sales office) on the back of a series of CGIs, gleaming evocations that are liable to be slight on detail and heavy on seductive gleam. That bubble of wafer-thin glass fixed with gossamer wires may turn out to be an elephantine affair of multi-layered glazing slotted into hefty fixings. But it is the fairy-tale CGIs that will adorn the brochures and become an alternative reality for the duration of the marketing (or fund-raising) programme.
In contrast, advanced digital imagery, 3D modelling, fly-throughs and their progeny are gifts to the exhibition designer with a generous budget. Fifteen years ago John Soane’s Bank of England was evoked at the Royal Academy by clunky (but still impressive for its time) computer modelling. At the current Louis Kahn exhibition at the Design Museum, his posthumous Roosevelt Island landscape scheme in Manhattan is illustrated by time-lapse film – the ideal medium to convey a subtle landscape scheme from practical inception to final fruition.
Other options push the limits of perception further. Charlotte Higgins’ recent Guardian essay on the BBC’s future includes a description of the Oculus Rift, under development. It’s a headset which provides a 360-degree view (a kind of individual IMAX plus). She was taken round a Tuscan villa, only to get motion sickness. But the BBC envisages it for walk-through concerts, in which viewers meet the various members of the orchestra – unsettling for the players as that might be.
And there are surprises wherever you look. Ikea admits that at least 75% of the images in its catalogue are CG mock-ups of room interiors rather than photographs. The distinction between “reality” and a manipulated image is, for them, entirely academic. Yet for us, the public, it introduces an element of smoke and mirrors, even a shift in trust.
I can cope with the make-believe of an Ikea catalogue because I am familiar with their goods. But, having puzzled over a set of CGIs – or even a persuasive fly-through – of a prominent city centre development, what are my grounds for complaint if the eventual structures bear very little resemblance to what I saw earlier?
There used to be – maybe still is – a Trade Descriptions Act. That duff Rolex can be taken to a small claims court and shown in evidence but what can “I” (the public) do about a multi-storey block or a fancy museum extension that, on the ground, bears little similarity to the fairy-tale evocations on which it was “sold”? The medium, once again, has become the message.
Maybe the new design at either Skypark or Knowle will be up for a prize or two:
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