On scalar reference

Joel Kerner, Chicago, IL

Architects no longer need to rely on designing buildings through the aggregation of known elements: posts, beams, doors, windows, etc. With the freedom of formal exploration that computers now afford us, we can quickly iterate infinite forms and their resulting digital ephemera. In the era of hand drafting, every line was drawn out as a scaled representation of a larger whole. Within the computer, however, scale does not exist; it is a construct. Digital models are only sized according to the arbitrary metrics we apply to them, as is evidenced by any architect who has ever imported a digital file with the wrong scale setting. Therefore, architects can repurpose digital models into new buildings or objects simply by their relationship to scale figures. That is to say, the scale of a digital object remains ambiguous in the absence of scale references such as people, doors, cars, trees, furniture, etc.

The human figure is by far the most common and essential scalar reference. We can most easily imagine the scale of an arbitrary assemblage of lines when they are presented in relation to ‘us.’ Graphic scales that display units of measurement do not communicate nearly as effectively as object references because they simply express a metric. Most people have a hard time understanding how tall three and a half meters is, or how wide thirty six inches is. They can usually, however, understand how tall two humans are, or how wide a doorway is. With the combinations of graphic scales and object references, the human figure may not be necessary to represent in architecture; it remains a matter of preference. In their book “An Unfinished Encyclopedia of Scale Figures Without Architecture,” MOS Architects states, “Even when the human presence is intentionally left out or is reduced to a faceless set of measurements, it haunts architecture in its absence…Perhaps their absence is evidence of desires for the so-called post-human; perhaps including people simply obscured representation of the architecture; or, perhaps the architects just didn't get to it.”1)

Through leveraging digital tools, often times in unintended ways, architecture becomes inundated with new formal and organizational potential. The drawings presented here are based on a self-similar collection of digital debris. Debris seems to be a fitting word for the residues of compounded digital process. They are the leftovers, the unused, the trim guides, and the keep just in case. They couldn’t have been designed manually. They are the working layer chock-full of latent potential. Here, the collection takes on new life through the introduction of scalar references. Chairs transform a series of lines into a table (S). People transform them into a room (M). Doorways transform them into a building (L). Cars transforms them into a city (XL).

1). MOS Architects, An Unfinished Encyclopedia of Scale Figures Without Architecture (New York: Studio Lin, 2016) ii-v.