In the evolution of image culture from Marshall McLuhan’s claims of medium supplanting message to the mid-’90s paperless studios’ fetishization of computer rendering, the rise of suckerPUNCH has added a new visceral dimension. . . Projects published on suckerPUNCH . . . are elevated beyond the ordinary and contribute to a new kind of nuanced visual discourse uniquely enabled by the Web. The underlying visual logic of this discussion is the “field,” a now default technique for describing environment and indexing parametric process. Sensorial, geometric, and spatial, the field conveniently conflates the three into a rich digital milieu. . . .
In the evolution of image culture from Marshall McLuhan’s claims of medium supplanting message to the mid-’90s paperless studios’ fetishization of computer rendering, the rise of suckerPUNCH has added a new visceral dimension. Privileging the power of the single image, the Web site is a welcome relief from the graphic detritus that accumulates on most architecture Web sites. Projects published on suckerPUNCH—a common ambition of students today—are elevated beyond the ordinary and contribute to a new kind of nuanced visual discourse uniquely enabled by the Web. The underlying visual logic of this discussion is the “field,” a now default technique for describing environment and indexing parametric process. Sensorial, geometric, and spatial, the field conveniently conflates the three into a rich digital milieu. Moving beyond the proliferation of continuously differentiated form, a reconsideration of the graphic qualities of the field opens new spatial and atmospheric opportunities for architectural representation.
While the introduction of the field into architecture is cited most frequently as in the early 1960s conceptual work of Archizoom and Archigram, as well as contemporaneous systems-driven Modernists, it has taken some time for a theory of the differentiated field in architecture to develop. Coalesced by Sanford Kwinter with Michel Feher in the 1986 inaugural issue of Zone, this new regime of thought was a synthesis of chaos theory, non-Euclidean geometry, and complex nonlinear thinking. In this context, the object was no longer understood in terms of figure and ground, but was bound up in a wider milieu of intensities, forces, and perceptions. While intuitively incorporated into most contemporary work, Kwinter’s account of technology in his essay “La Città Nuova: Modernity and Continuity” was a significant overturning of classical and modern physiological constructs that destabilized the solidity of architecture in favor of dynamic, temporal multiplicity.
Central to Kwinter’s essay is a folding together of science and aesthetics, beginning with Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and ending with the Italian Futurists, finding parallels in abstract and experiential definitions of space:
The Einsteinian field, and its corresponding notion of space-time, dispensed entirely with the need to posit a material substratum as a carrier for forces and events by identifying the electromagnetic field—and ultimately gravitational fields as well—with the new metrical one. This notion of “the field” expresses the complete immanence of forces and events while supplanting the old concept of space identified with the Cartesian substratum and ether theory.1
Unlike Euclidean geometry, which focused on the description and interaction of solid bodies in an abstract, empty space, field theory describes the world in terms of a complex, multivalent space of propagation—that is, of effects—where forces and vectors act to continuously differentiate matter in various states of fluidity. In parallel, Kwinter calls back to Futurist manifestos in order to evoke the emergence of space as something that may be understood through direct experience:
Areas between one object and another are not empty spaces but rather continuing materials of differing intensities, which we reveal with visible lines which do not correspond to any photographic truth. This is why we do not have in our paintings objects and empty spaces but only a greater or lesser intensity and solidity of space.2
The problem of describing the new dynamic objects of that era—cars, subways, and airplanes—through a new set of visual terms was central to Futurist painters. To them, moving beyond the static nature of painting meant foregrounding visual effects that created dynamism over the Euclidean description of surface; now space would have to be clouded with implications and objects rendered through dynamic fragmentation. Of the Futurists’ use of field Kwinter concludes, “Vision alone fragments the field because it gives unity and discreteness to bodies: once the integrity of the field is restored, it is ‘objects’ themselves that appear fragmented.”3
Almost 30 years after this productive melding of theories of science and art, widely available modeling software facilitates generation and manipulation of fields with comparative ease. The rise of the digital model as the location of the design project, through the work of Greg Lynn, Mario Carpo, and others, positioned media as degraded index, mere versions of the animate and complex virtual world. The new sensate and material direction in architecture, simmering below the surface for some time, is gaining attention by foregrounding end effects over process and by connecting the virtual and real in new ways. Representation is no longer the index it used to be. The banality of the drawing—flat, explicit, and Cartesian—may be discarded in favor of new computational techniques that redefine drawing as projective, intensive, atmospheric, and sensational. To understand the duration and intensity of a field in visual terms requires an index, seen in material terms as matter that is inflected to describe what is otherwise invisible. For example, iron filings may be spread around a magnet to describe, through their position and orientation, the shape and intensity of a magnetic field.
Unlike Peter Eisenman’s theorizing of the index as a “trace of a former presence,”4 the materialist may describe the iron filings as a manifestation of a temporal intensity. In both cases, the causal mechanism produces useful form-generating parameters as either, respectively, a palimpsest of abstract geometric registrations of site or as physical properties that guide specific, complex geometric interactions. Kwinter’s theorizing of field invents an index that does neither. It is a projection of effect that is mediated by visual acuity.
This new notion of index shakes off the last vestiges of postmodern semiotics and the indexical project, enabling architecture to stake a claim to new projective forms of representation. Amongst the steady flow of new imagery entering visual discourse, the field offers a productive isomorphism that links form, space, and perception. Through the nuance and control of computation, the field may give drawing a sensational makeover.
1. Sanford Kwinter, “La Città Nuova: Modernity and Continuity,” Zone 1/2 (1986): 23. ↩
2. Umberto Boccioni, Pittura, scultura futuriste: Dinamismo plastico (Florence: Vallechi, 1977), 69. ↩
3. Kwinter, “La Città Nuova: Modernity and Continuity,” 28. ↩
4. Peter Eisenman, “Digital Scrambler: From Index to Codex,” Perspecta 35 (New Haven: Yale University School of Architecture, 2004): 40–53. ↩