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Science Studies 1/2008

Copying, Cutting and Pasting Social

Computer Designers’ Participation in
Architectural Projects
Sophie Houdart

In architecture, projects are developed through a series of graphic productions. This

space of representation can be accessed using visual effects. Among the documents
(plans, sections, details, etc.) used to give shape to a building, so-called ‘perspective
drawings’ play a decisive role, as they make a whole world come alive and, at the same
time, act to convince a multiple audience of this world’s ability to function. Created using
computer-aided design (CAD), perspective drawings aim to ‘render’ space by projecting
potential uses, light, and intangible things such as atmosphere. These drawings provide
architects and designers with an opportunity to redefine the nature of beings and act on
the peculiarity of their relationships, and constitute an interesting support to consider
the projection of new cosmologies, anticipating the cohabitation of such diverse things
as human beings, buildings, roads, trees, skies, cars and their respective ways of existing.
This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork in a Japanese architect’s office and a
computer designer’s studio, and focuses on the architectural setting of the Japanese
World Fair, Aichi 2005.

Keywords: architectural process, computer design, drawing techniques, cosmology,


In their nascent incompleteness, the Florentine architect Filarete, in his

indeed in a form still more dream Trattato di architettura (“Treatise on
or wraithlike than actual, [digital] Architecture”, 1465), asked the prince
technologies are ripe, as it were, for to whom the city was dedicated, “Do
various imaginary schemas, projected you want me to describe what our city
futures, dreams, hopes and fears. would be like?” And the prince answered,
(Grosz, 1997: 109) “Draw it first, and then explain it to me,
part by part, with the drawing”. That a
When he was envisioning the drawing might provide adequate means
construction of the imaginary and to prefigure architectural ideals of
somewhat magical city of Sforzinda, urban and governmental organisation

Science Studies, Vol. 21 (2008) No. 1, 47-63 47

Science Studies 1/2008

was merely one of many innovations As Peter Galison puts it, for example,
promoted by Filarete. In giving figuration “Pictures are not just scaffolding, they
a central place in the argument, the are the gleaming edifices of truth itself
Italian architect inaugurated a new that we hope to reveal. So goes the
relationship between architectural brief for the scientific image: pictures
creation and production (Choay, 1996). are pedagogically, epistemically, and
The history of architecture, and especially metaphysically inalienable from the
of its technical inscription devices goal of science itself.” (Galison, 2002:
(see for instance Carpo, 2001; Choay, 300). Revealing a world by showing it
1996; Perez-Gomez, 1992; Robbins, and demonstrating its existence are but
1994), shows that, far from being “a two dimensions of the same thing. In
universal and transhistorical attribute of architecture, among the “universes of
architectural practice”, the act of drawing ideation” (Perez-Gomez, 2002: 6) such
is a “relatively recent and historically as plans, sections, details and models
situated” practice (Robbins, 1994: 10) used to give shape to a building in
which progressively transformed the contemporary architecture, the so-called
architect from craftperson or builder ‘perspective drawings’ or renderings play
to artist. This historical statement is a decisive role in that they make a whole
more than confirmed by contemporary world come alive and, at the same time,
observations. As soon as one enters an act to convince a multiple audience
architect’s office, images are obvious, (in particular the clients) of its ability
everywhere, and invasive to the to function. Created using computer-
point that “Like Magritte’s pipe, the aided design (CAD) systems, perspective
representation is almost more definitive drawings are aimed at ‘rendering’ space,
than the thing itself” (Rattenbury, 2002: to make it alive by projecting potential
xxi). Far from being confined to a mere uses, light and intangible things such
artistic role, architectural representations as atmosphere. While looking at the
have been described as being part of actual operations which constitute this
the design process itself. As tools to representation technique, I would like to
assist conception, images enable “the show how these virtual montages feature
spatialization of ideas, principles and as cosmologies in the making. Here,
concepts” (Durand, 2003: 11). Images ‘world’ or ‘cosmology’ are not simply
also serve as communication tools to manners of speaking. They must be seen
support architectural invention (Durand as common spaces to design, for which
2003; Pousin 1991). Here I shall argue the cohabitation of such diverse things
that architectural representations can as human beings, buildings, roads, trees,
also be seen as tools to experiment with skies, cars, and their respective ways
and express new social configurations. of existing must be anticipated. This
The place of images and figurations is a serious matter: Architects, while
in science or engineering has been designing, digitalizing, copying, and
richly documented and analysed (see cutting and pasting images, manipulate
Bucciarelli, 1994; Galison, 1997; Latour social spheres and give birth to new ones1
and Weibel, 2002; Lynch and Woolgar, by testing and submitting new social
1990; Vinck, 2003). This literature configurations.
shows that images play a critical role It seems appropriate to focus on
in the construction of the world itself. perspective drawings, considering

Sophie Houdart

the nature of the project I propose to understand how cosmopolitics are

to introduce in this paper—strictly being shaped and how a common world
speaking, a utopia. It is about a World is defined (Latour, 2005; Latour and
Fair, 2005, which was held in the Gagliardi, 2006).
suburbs of a Japanese megalopolis.
The images produced by architects and Mapping the future
computer designers gave shape to this
utopia, showing worlds in formation World fairs are commonly known as
and new cosmologies. Just as Filarete regularly organised attempts to represent
questioned the prince, architects and glorious futures by envisioning and
computer designers, while producing exhibiting technological progress (see,
images, asked “Would you like to have for instance, Harvey, 1996; Heller, 1999;
an overview of what the Expo – and Rydell, 1993). The last fair to date in this
the world to come – might look like?” rather long history was held in Japan in
Furthermore, in composing drawings, 2005. Like its immediate predecessors,
architects addressed issues that can be Aichi 2005, the first of the twenty-first
formulated as follows: What do we need century, could not but show subtle
for the world we project? What do we put variations on the rhetoric of progress and
in it? Which relationships do we rely on? development, and propose to go ‘beyond’
To observe the making of these drawings that. After many discussions about the
is basically to witness new universes size of the site and how the structures
being fabricated, corrected, coloured, built for the occasion would be used
articulated or dislocated, by simple clicks afterwards, for the second time in history2
on a keyboard. In the case of Expo 2005, it was officially decided to hold a world
how did the architects in charge of the fair in Japan; In December 2000, during
plans create a new assembly (Latour, a symbolic ceremony, Japan received
2005)? And which assembly did they the International Bureau of Expositions
choose to create? What and who did they (BIE) flag from Germany. Five years
put into the images? What was the quality later, in 2005, the Expo, entitled “Beyond
of the space they designed? What kinds of Development: Rediscovering Nature’s
cosmologies were they versioning? Wisdom”, was eventually inaugurated for
In order to approach these questions, six months, in the suburb of Nagoya. In
I will combine multiple perspectives. the meantime, however, the Expo project
Uncomfortable as it is, this position had been running into problems and
should allow me to examine elements restrictions – controversy among local
very different in nature, expressing people, political u-turns and scandals,
themselves on very different scales: The economic crisis, and scientific inquiries
making of particular architectural images that somewhat modified its form and
and the description of some of their content (Houdart, 2002; 2006a). These
specific properties; the content of images are a few of the problems I witnessed
and their submission to and reception by between the winter of 1999 (when I got
the public; the history of architecture and to know about the Expo Project by taking
digital technologies; and world fairs and part in an interview of Bruno Latour by a
modern/non-modern Japan. I believe Japanese anthropologist, eager to make
that going back and forth between these the Expo 2005 the first ‘non-modern’ one
different dimensions is an effective way in history) and the spring of 2005, with

Science Studies 1/2008

the inauguration of the Expo. Over six question of making small arrangements
years, I went to Japan twice for long-term and compromises with the actual world.
studies (a year in 2000, then 8 months At one point or another in the design
in 2003) and, when not on intensive development stage, an architectural
fieldwork, I went once a year for shorter project takes the form of a package, an
stays. The first long stay was mainly A3 size booklet made up of the various
devoted to meeting organisers from representation techniques or graphic
different committees, and planners who steps – concepts’ drawings, perspective
were responsible for conceptualising the drawings, ground plans, elevation or
theme of the Expo. Much of the discourse section plans, engineering details and
was redundant, however, and convinced so on. With it are models or samples of
me to look for more concrete aspects, so materials. Among these diverse types
I came back to Japan to do fieldwork in of figurations, perspective drawings,
two of the main architectural and design or renderings, constitute an important
studios involved in shaping the Expo site. and delicate part of the architectural
There, I attended meetings and work argumentation as they offer a point of
sessions related to the Expo project and view into the future building, orientate
observed the daily making and unmaking and direct the attention and ‘subjectivise’
of drafts, models and drawings. Later the project. Defined as “drawings of solid
on in this paper I will scrutinise two objects on a two-dimensional surface
main architectural scenarios, proposed done in such a way as to suggest their
by the studios where I carried out my relative positions and size when viewed
ethnographical research. from a particular point” (Robbins,
The basic proposal of the Expo 2005 1994: 23), their function is to render
was to take advantage of the geographical space explicitly, to render a building by
conditions of a forest in order to invite virtually building it, then surrounding it
the world to develop new relationships by projecting potential uses, light, and
with nature for the century to come. intangible things such as an atmosphere.
The organisers, helped by a team of While plans, based on conventions
Japanese thinkers and designers, tried and graphic symbols, can hardly
to anticipate a new society, based on communicate on their own and require
the idea of statin—or, more precisely, some specific knowledge (Robbins:
of restating—the terms of a pact made 125), perspective drawings appear as
with nature. Architects played a pre- accessible materials, scenarios that do
eminent role in this process, and helped not need a translator. They offer a realistic
by various graphic tools, they gave forms image of the building, in situation, aimed
to the basic idea by digitalizing pictures, at convincing people that the project
building virtual structures and mapping can exist in the real world, and can take
textures. place among real and existent objects. As
In order to comprehend the way new demonstration tools, they are based on
worlds are given form, we shall first look specific visual devices, aimed at boosting
at the techniques and basic principles imagination and producing special visual
needed to create them. As we shall see effects. It is no coincidence that the
in this section, creating a new world is computer techniques used to produce
not a question of making a tabula rasa such effects, created in the early 1990s,
of preceding cosmologies, but is rather a have been borrowed from the Hollywood

Sophie Houdart

SFX industry. The images produced by The architect at work

these techniques are multi-layer images,
blending photographic elements, Kuma, the well-known Japanese arc­
computer graphics and visual elements hi­tect, was chosen to work on the
taken from databases. They are, therefore, preliminary plans for Expo 2005
composite, hybrid images, that are not (Houdart, 2006a) on the basis of his
photography per se but seem to borrow developing ‘green-architecture’ and
some of its qualities and characteristics. his previous involvement in post-
The making of these perspective modernism. This was the original reason
drawings involves interesting operations for my first encounter with Kuma in
such as ‘matching colours’, ‘mapping 2001. Back in Japan two years later, I
texture’ or ‘importing objects’. negotiated my daily presence with the
Transformation, combination or architect in his studio for an eight-month
superimposition, alteration and also term. Kuma himself reformulated my
simulation, reproduction, enhancement proposal of “following architects at work”
and augmentation are but a few ways an to “following a project” – a reformulation
architect can work on and experience which would circumscribe my presence
these images. In order to understand the in space and time, where and when
technical aspects of these operations, it something would ‘happen’ concerning
is first necessary to look more closely at this particular project. I therefore
the making of perspective drawings. shadowed Teppei, a young architect,
trying my best not to add an unnecessary
and unmanageable presence to an
already saturated place. I observed
Teppei and Asako, the computer designer
hired ‘to do renderings’, who worked
together in the following way: “We start
by building a model on computer, using
AutoCad for example”. On his computer
screen, the architect showed me one of
the original models he built, exhibiting
its interior and exterior structure (Figure
This model is a set of bright lines that
specify, in three dimensions, the space
of the black screen. On this model, “each
louver is an object” – more precisely, a
computerised object. “Then you take a
view” – meaning you select part of the
computerised object with the mouse
–, and you render it. And then you click a
button: “Right now, it’s rendering. It takes
some time…” The result Teppei gets is

Figure 1. The architect at work on his

computer. (Photo: S. Houdart)

Science Studies 1/2008

“like an illustration” and is “the best that The young architect enters modifications
AutoCad can do in terms of rendering”. by using the computerised material and
Then, “you assign the texture, this would by modulating the result, bit by bit, via
be wood, this would be stone, and you the basic functions of Adobe Photoshop
add the lighting: you are rendering. software: “Brightness/contrast”, “Colour
Rendering is the colour writing”. balance”, and so on. Since the 1990s,
Rendering, then, consists of allocating architects and computer designers
“texture” (a colour, a density, a nature or have benefited from an infinite number
a function) to computerised objects. The of colours in the digital palette (these
whole operation can be summarised as palettes contain more than a million
follows: First, you transform everything colours) and from the plasticity of
(pictures of things and also things this device which allows all kinds of
themselves, scanned to be digitalized) transformations, but at the same time,
into computerised objects, that is, to they have to deal with the so-called
homogenise them, through pixelisation, “colour matching problem” – faced with
by removing their peculiar qualities – to the impossibility of naming each colour,
de-essentialise or de-ontologise them. they have to find ways to express “what
Second, you allocate things with new kind of” red, green or grey is thought to
substantiations, texture, colour, and be more appropriate,3 using constant
density. discussions, tests and confirmations, and
Allocating substances or deciding successive approximations.
upon new identities for things, however, To consider the effects things give
is not a simple matter of assigning “an involves, therefore, a whole system
integer value to a pixel in order to specify to draw attention to them (see the
(according to some coding scheme) historical argument developed by Crary,
its tone or colour” (Mitchell, 1992: 6). 2001; see also Grimaud et al., 2006 and
It cannot be reduced to a mechanical Houdart, 2006b) as well as an effective
operation. Originally, explains the communication system. At this point
architect, you have “a very general idea in the drawing process, the architect
for colours”: Kuma wanted everything delegates the rendering to his colleague,
“not too dark, not too grey”. Having Asako, the computer designer who
seen a first draft, Kuma asked for some “will do some magic”. The computer
modifications concerning colours here designer has several windows open on
and there, “he wanted more nuances his screen, and so that I can understand
in the wood”, he “wanted contrast”. the process, he starts by closing them,
“In reality”, wooden materials would undoing the project by removing, one
not necessarily be different “here” and by one, the elements which made up the
“there”, “but it’s for the rendering”; final image. He then repeats the same
rendering the same material differently operations, starting from the beginning
“gives the effect” of wooden vertical (that is, from the three-dimensional
walls as opposed to wooden horizontal building’s plans given by the architect)
louvers, for example. From a mess of and reintroducing elements one by one.
documents and materials, Teppei drags These elements, colours and textures are
out a sample of wooden louver (a mock- fixed, in real time, through discussions
up) that has been “scanned”, its texture with the architect, who stands next to
being “mapped” to get the feeling of it. him, with successive approximations:

Sophie Houdart

“like that? And this part, like that?” Then the Expo project a few years after Kuma
Asako “frames the picture”, “puts people”, Kengo, Ikebe, a computer designer, is
adds the lawn in front, adds trees and the working at his desk. He is about to enter
blue of the sky… For this, the computer corrections into the perspective drawings
designer can pick elements from a file which were discussed and scrawled in
of pictures taken at the project site: he the last meeting. His boss and manager,
superimposes the composed image of the Wakamatsu Hirofumi, pointed out
as yet inexistent building onto the image some trees he found “strange”, and with
of the street in which the building will be, his red pencil, he “realigned” them on
with people walking by or cars driving the paper – indicating with a red line
past. “This way, it sticks”, concludes the position they should have on the
the designer – meaning sticks to reality, next print-out. The way in which the
enhancing the effect of the perspective trees had been situated in the previous
drawing. version meant that they collided with
While it may be said that “architecture the banners; both were still visible on
is driven by belief in the nature of the the drawing, but would not have been
real and the physical [and is] absolutely “in reality”. Therefore, a proposal was
rooted in the idea of ‘the thing itself’” made to realign either the trees or the
(Rattenbury, 2002: xxi), yet if one banners. Nothing could be easier than
observes it in practice, one sees that updating the drawing – the trees had to
the supposedly peculiar relationship be realigned – all Ikebe had to do was to
with reality comes second; in order to “slide them” using the mouse. Everything
compose a perspective rendering, to remains possible in the drawing,
make a new world come to alive, it is first regardless of the conflict between
necessary to add and arrange previously banners and trees in “reality”. A few days
homogenised objects, and then putting and a few rectifications later, however,
the composition to the test of reality, in during another meeting, the trees were
order to make it believable. still causing problems. “They are too
high”, commented someone, suggesting
The other nature of things that “maybe, it’s the perspective drawing
itself”, yet something needed to be done.
Let us now consider the nature of the The problem, according to one of the
beings involved in the process previously designers, was that these trees existed
described and the way they are organised. “for real” and were higher than the ones
In Land, the display design studio which figure on the drawing. The designer
responsible for the iconic management of showed me a set of pictures taken on-site,

Figure 2. Montage of trees out there. (Courtesy of Land)

Science Studies 1/2008

with the “real trees” surrounding the lake is subversive almost by definition. As a
adding “but if we render them higher on matter of fact, the above client’s request
the drawing, the pavilions are no longer was not exactly to make the drawing
visible” (Figure 2). “stick” to reality, as in the previous
The pavilions were a major part of example, but to “do something” on the
the architectural contract, and had to be rendering itself to show that the newly
visible – even though, in order to show designed world would “work” (Figure 3).
them, “real trees” had to be downsized As his job is to ensure graphic cohesion
on the drawing. The designer concluded: between several areas of the same site,
“So, you have to give the effect of the trees Ikebe works with files of images he
being smaller in order to keep the visual downloaded from the Internet. The plans
composition and make it work – to make he receives from the architects working
the clients believe in it”. This episode on the project contain captions stating
illustrates the ambiguity involved in the type of texture (wood, stone, and so
perspective drawings, as well as the risks on) they would like for each part of the
in dealing with and composing several building. Based on this synopsis, Ikebe
regimes of representation. A perspective “looks around for samples” and creates
drawing is not supposed to be convincing his own file to which he refers whenever
in its precision and respect for detail; the alternatives are required. The catalogue
challenge is, on the contrary, to be false or he obtains in this way has no hierarchy
unfaithful and still to transport the client or order of any kind, apart from the
away from his world into a new one; it order of his virtual peregrinations, and

Figure 3. “Sticking” to reality?” (Courtesy of Land)

Sophie Houdart

includes people (bodily gestures/social nature. There is no ontological difference

postures), colours, motifs and textures between things, everything being
(stone, wood) and all sorts of objects submitted to the same encoding, copying,
(flowers, skies, trees, cars, benches, cutting-pasting and correcting processes.
etc.). The databases from which Ikebe One can intervene indiscriminately
takes his files show hundreds of such in everything, and the very nature of
items. Using the specific structure of being is suspended at this stage of the
digital technology, these databases (such architectural work. This characteristic is
as the well-known “”) peculiar to digital techniques.
were originally created for local use in However, as shown in the previous
architects’ offices some fifteen years example of the trees, making the
ago, and are now widely published and composition work involves far more than
accessible on the web (Figure 4). “testing” and trying out alternatives,
Interestingly, according to the logic reducing or increasing the size until it
of these image creations, every single actually works, and merely “pushing a
element, a tree, sky, a person, and so button”. Rather, it involves compromises
on, must be considered equally. In these between elements which, after all, are
nascent cosmologies, in the form of not exactly of the same nature. It is
catalogues or lists of things, everything is about finding an appropriate way to
treated alike and as basically of the same make them cohabit. The problem is even

Figure 4. The world in pieces. (Taken from

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more clearly defined in situations where realistically – were a better guarantee

human figures are introduced into the that the project was feasible. However,
drawings. According to Thomas Meyer drawings which include people often
and Alexander Ware of Archimation, loose the effect of reality. Either people
a digital media company providing appear to float above the surface – as if
visual communication for architects joints, in the composition, were harder
and developers, people in a rendering to dissimulate or the fade effect harder
involve a different method or “a different to produce; or drawings are victims of
level of being real”4. Introducing them “over-definition of computer models”
into a landscape is said to be one of the (Moreau, 2004: 74) and show over-
most challenging areas of perspective standardised people. Therefore, despite
drawings. These figures are ‘ready-made’ being treated in the same way, some
people taken from catalogues available things or beings appear somehow to be
on the web, (“People walking”, “People resistant to drawing. Looking back on
at the weekend”, etc.), devoid of context, the history of architectural practices,
and representative of a set of social the very itemisation of things, proper to
behaviours. People are then imported digital technologies, does not seem to
to the images in order to emphasise be in question here. Mario Carpo (2001),
the “effect of reality”. Databases of for example, shows how architecture
people used by architects and computer during the Renaissance made much use
designers basically show bodies in of standardised and repeatable graphic
various positions. These generic bodies components. Among the interchangeable
are neither singular nor individuals – in graphics were landscapes, backgrounds
other words, they are not real subjects and also body parts that appeared
(Sloterdijk, 2002); neither are they sometimes repeatedly in different
complete identities in the fashion that, illustrations, prefiguring the “visionaries
for instance, photographic portraits of visual standardization (…) no less
were used to figure legal representatives numerous in the sixteenth century than
(Rouillé, 2005). They obtain meaning, in the twentieth” (Carpo, 2001: 53) as
however, in the relationships projected on well as its counterpart, the creation
their behalf with the virtual environment of enormous and somehow non-
they are inserted into, with other beings or manageable databases.
objects surrounding them. These figures
– or walkers on (they are very often actors What makes cosmological
hired to express some generic human differences?
or social behaviour) – are put together
in the drawing through a basic process In one of the first scripts produced by
of populating. According to computer Kuma Kengo & Associates (KKAA) for Expo
designers working for architects, “we 2005, architects seem to have found a
can do very realistic drawing, as long way to overcome some beings’ resistance
as we don’t introduce people”. In the to be drawn in a convincing way. The
still dominant paradigm of realism, the result shows men with ghostly contours
“super-realistic looking images” exert walking in a somewhat ghostly forest on
a great fascination on architects and large wooden walkways. Without ever
clients, as if realistic images – the ability touching the ground, these men are
to make elements of the images cohabit figured to cross the forest, at the level of

Sophie Houdart

ferns, or higher, closer to the tops of the “Topos architecture”, supposedly “an
trees (Figure 5). anti-architectural expression” aimed at
According to Kuma, the first step “erasing” architecture itself (Kuma, 1997),
in the shaping of Expo 2005 was an in dissolving it or making it as invisible
situ visualisation – Kuma went to the as possible. This was, indeed, a very
site, together with an anthropologist, compromising form of architecture at a
Nakazawa Shin’ichi, and a photographer, time when controversies concerning the
Minato Chihiro. There, he “made a survey Expo project were at their peak. Obeying
of the site, its contours and its spaces”. the natural topography of the site and
“My idea”, he said, “is not to cut the abandoning the modernist structure
land as it is usually done in architecture, of World Fairs and their overbearing
usually architects start by making the pavilions and exhibitions, the proposal,
site plan. On the contrary, I want to as epitomised in the perspective drawing,
keep the original landscape, to build the was in itself an answer to grave concerns.
architecture into the landscape”. From this Giving the assurance that nothing
architectural position, defended at length architectural per se (no buildings, no
in several essays, Kuma sought to “feel walls, no permanent structures) would
the site”, to let it talk; to give birth not to be constructed, it appeared to respect the
architectural objects but to “phenomena” forest’s precious and endangered species
(Kuma, 2000a). This is what Kuma named which local people and international

Figure 5. Men in the Forest according to Kuma. (Courtesy of KKAA)

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associations wanted to protect. It also the exposition’s space, into “the very
guaranteed that local people would still source of experience” (Pavarini 1999: 48).
be allowed to go into the forest as they Kuma worked on this virtual project with
used to do, walking with children or a Japanese computer scientist, Hirose
grand-children and collecting butterflies. Michitaka, a colleague and friend of his
As if this were not enough, the very whom he described as an otaku, one of
diplomatic position Kuma defended is those technology and media-obsessed
expressed in another rendering showing fans who are commonly described as
people walking in the forest, wearing socially-inept (Kinsella, 2000). As well
what seem to be common sunglasses as being a fan of manga and computer
(Figure 6). games, Hirose is a researcher in systems
This rendering seems to promise, engineering and human interface
once again, not to pollute nature with development, associate professor at
buildings or pavilions, but move into the School of Engineering, University
the 21st century without the modernist of Tokyo. In 1990, he developed with his
cortege of objects and imageries. The team a new generation of see-through
sunglasses in the rendering are actually type Head Mounted Displays (STHMD),5
virtual glasses, devices known as STHMD originally engineered to superimpose the
for See-Through Head-Mounted Displays internal structure of a mechanism onto
which attempt to transform the forest, the actual machine – as having at once

Figure 6. The forest as “the very source of experience”. (Courtesy of KKAA)

Sophie Houdart

the machine and its user’s guide. Hirose controversy has died down. Renderings
designed a new prototype for the Expo figure wooden paths or clear plazas
2005, for “field exhibition” which would which are frequented, but not over-
provide “each visitor individually” with crowded, by people using the site in
various exhibits or visions (Hirose, 2005: an obviously unproblematic fashion.
9) which would be superimposed onto Young couples are seen walking hand-
natural reality. The device was based in-hand with their children or carrying
on an Augmented Reality (AR) system, a baby, looking after them benevolently.
using the same approach as a Virtual The same couples reappear from one
Reality (VR) system, with the exception rendering to another, with same children,
that the synthetic visual stimuli increase fitting more or less into the context. Like
the view of the real scene rather than Kuma’s drawings, these ones also refer to
replace it. Instead of blocking the real an essential scene, but with a different
world view with screens and optics, the meaning. This shows Japan in its youth,
real and synthetic views are merged with society in its minima, reedited again
the STHMD. What had been nothing but and again from one image to another.
a sensory prosthesis was to be used to The world figured here does not cause
promote renewed relationships between much surprise; it is satisfied with giving
humankind and nature, by “increasing” credit to an already well-established
nature’s idiosyncratic characteristics social order based on a reiterated family
which had been rendered over time. contract. The contract with nature has
The STHMD helps the user walk along eventually been subsumed under a
and experience his or her natural contract among generations, the one
environment. The perspective drawings and only contract believed able to solve
produced by Kuma and his team use social delinquencies and the “illness
Hirose’s technological innovation, of civilisation” (Lock, 1990). Digital
showing a “hybrid space” which adds montage is used to caution and play
new properties or referents to the out a cosmology that politicians have
characteristics of the natural world. envisioned and have been advocating
This new configuration demonstrates for years in Japan. Said to be based on
no hierarchy among beings: People are “the state of things”, these drawings are
only one kind of being among many, designed in such a way as purposely
such as fairies or muses, for example, to avoid, according to Wakamatsu,
made present and visible again with conceptual overflow or utopia. It is
this technique. The scene figured in doubtful that the capacity for a reversal
such drawings is essential in the sense of relationships between humans and
that it renders a time of harmonious non-humans as seen in Kuma’s proposal,
cohabitation and mutual understanding for example, could provoke unanimity
between humans and non-humans. and create communality. As there are
The peculiarities of the cosmology so many conceptions of nature around
designed by Kuma at the beginning of the world, argues Wakamatsu, how
the Expo project appear even clearer could one seriously believe that an
when compared with the script designed architectural projection could possibly
by Ikebe few years later. The drawings, make beings cohabit on new basis?
whose creation we followed, are among Choosing to re-edite a consensual social
the more recent ones produced. It shows format, Wakamatsu does not give much
Expo 2005 in its stable state, after all the credit to iconographic innovation,

Science Studies 1/2008

opting for reality rather than utopia. the very different elements that make
This reality is made up of people who up the composition. Very interestingly,
“need to have fun”; “it is the first thing observing practices shows that the
to consider, how to make people come actual moment of ‘pixellisation’ – which
along”, says Wakamatsu. To “experience consists of de-essentialisation followed
dream, wonder and joy” is, indeed, one by re-essentialisation – offers a unique
of the decisive formulas epitomising opportunity to put everything back on
Expo 2005, as its website proclaims. the table and redistribute the nature
The project, reduced to this injunction of beings. The operation, however,
of communality, chooses to re-act can not be summed up by some kind
the usual routine of fairs (pavilions, of demiurgic act, and the architect or
stages of development, cultural and designer cannot be seen as the true
national manifestations, etc.). The creator of the reality in which we live. To
project abandons the original, post- produce a social sphere is a little more
modernist, ambition of “rediscovering complex than that. In filling up a blank
nature’s wisdom”, and takes for granted frame with fundamentally substitutable
the ontological delimitations instead elements, perspective drawings work
of envisioning new ones, ending up using exploratory combinations which
to propose remakes of modernist are rife with uncertainties. As shown by
assumptions. the contrastive drawings designed during
the Expo project, producing scenery
Conclusion which obviously sympathises with the
social ‘state of things’ or, on the contrary,
Perspective renderings constitute scenery that obviously compromises
a crucial step in the architectural it and invites us to dismantle and
process, in that this is the moment reconfigure it is less a question of
when architects introduce all the non- political involvement than a matter of
architectural elements, people, trees experimentation. It is a question of the
and greenery, skies and sometimes effects of montage, which are nothing
clouds, cars, and reflections of sunlight. other than effects of cohabitation. The
In this respect, they provide means to montage superimposes different layers
approach the nitty-gritty work required with different references: The people,
to make all these beings cohabit. Which trees, skies and contours of the site are
conditions are required for a ‘real’ tree, ‘real’ in a sense, while the structure of the
imported from the site, computerised building constructed in three-dimensions
and downsized, to share space with on the computer is virtual. An effect
prominent banners or ostentatious misses its point when these references
pavilions? What technical operations are are recognisable for what they are
needed to allow people to live within a – the real for being a truncated, cut and
digital frame without seeming out of pasted real; the virtual for being virtual
place? without any chance of ever becoming
In order to approach these issues, real. In other words, while successful
I followed architects and computer cohabitations are difficult to predict,
designers in their attempts to give architects and designers can try over and
birth to a new world. I tried to capture over again to render them, without ever
the making of an image and its inner exhausting the range of possible worlds.
qualities by questioning the nature of

Sophie Houdart

Acknowledgements economic development – that Osaka

70 exemplified – it is said that Japan
Fieldwork for this research was made “realized that this was not the sum of
possible with the support of the CNRS, its aspirations” (http://www.expo2005.
UMR 7186. The special attention I gave to
architectural drawings benefited greatly 3 For more about this issue, see the
from the collective ARTMAP and the ongoing research and design project of
workshops it has been organising since Minato Chihiro, Tama Art University,
2004 ( to whom I owe some answers.
I am especially grateful to Emmanuel 4 Unpublished communication, 2005:
Grimaud and Denis Vidal. I would also “Archimation. Image production in
like to thank Albena Yaneva for having practice” Workshop “The Artistry of
shared her thinking on architecture with Thinking like an Architect” organised
me over these past few years, as well as by Jean-Baptiste Joly and Albena
for her discussions and critical readings Yaneva. Akademie Schloss Solitude,
of several manuscripts. Stuttgart, May 12-14.
5 STHMDs have existed since the mid
Notes 1960s, when Ivan Sutherland built
the first see-through head-mounted
1 The notion of social sphere I refer to display system for displaying real-
here is borrowed from Peter Sloterdijk time computer-generated images. A
and his trilogy Spheres. “Life is a number of STHMDs have been built
matter of form” is the principal theme since Sutherland’s pioneering work.
in Spheres (Sloterdijk, 2002: 13). As
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