Greg Andonian and Schawn Jasmann
School of Architecture, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Kevork Andonian
Department of Music, The University of Ottawa, Canada


The Information Technology (IT) Revolution in Architecture is the title of a series of condensed mini-book publications. The series offers a critical commentary on possible influences of virtual reality and cyberspace on the built form and inhabitable space. Each volume is devoted to a topic that accentuates an essential aspect of IT, as the new and evolving medium of design construction and space exploration, for the digital architect. Topics vary from Information Architecture to Hyper Architecture, Digital Stories to Digital Design, Spaces in the Electronic Age to Poetics of Communication, Electronic Bodies and Architectural Disorders to Aesthetics of Total Serialism, etc. Each topic examines the relationship of the virtual and the real in terms of their mutual complementarity and consequential relevance. It is not clear to the novice, however, that behind the subliminal messages and implied meanings, the series advances a global, collaborative, singular practice – the so called, a “fluent practice.” The role of the digital tools in an emergent construction process, with the embodiment of a renewed passion in design, is resulting in a “new architecture.” The info-tech is attempting to re-establish the architect as “master builder.”

This paper investigates architecture from a historical perspective as the product of four recursive systems that comprise the following: site-body, cadence-movement, sound-space, and light-thought. It articulates that contemporary info-tech based architectural design augments the realm of successive historic models of thinking, from tradition and innovation to revolution, to include virtuality. The dominant 20th century philosophies – namely conservatism, pragmatism, critical theory, and radicalism – can be juxtaposed against the info-tech incorporating architecture of the built environment, with an intention to decipher their current messages and interpret their plausible meanings.

Site-Body and “Hybridity”

The hybrid reality which attempts to integrate art, technology and the human factors advances a conception of “hybridity” that engage the body, image, and architecture sited within the digital realm and suggest that there could exist alternate possibilities addressing the built form. The work of Marco Frascari stands out in that respect. He examines the body’s role in relation to the conception and production of architecture suggesting that the role of the body within architectural production has often relied upon the long-standing tradition of bodily projection and inscription or anthropomorphism. In his book “Monsters of Architecture”, Frascari claims that an anthropomorphic method can be considered in the production of architecture today. He posits that there can be a corporeal presence within architecture that is initiated at the stage of conception and developed through the practice of architectural drawing. For Frascari, this corporeality, this embodied presence, can yield an imaginative and meaningful body-image, a hybrid of sorts, that results from the coalescence of sensation, representation and perception. [1]  It is hoped that this corporeality-based process will result in an architecture that embodies a “well-being”—an architecture that is inscribed with bodily characteristics that creates a condition favorable to understanding the timeless space / form relationship, namely, that of architecture as an extension of the physical and symbolic body. This conceptualization of architecture opens itself up to new figurative means of thinking about bodies interacting with other bodies, an ultimate corpus of body images from which to construct and construe the true substance of dwelling within the space-time of architecture.

The traditional use of bodily projection or inscription as a means of achieving a corporeal architecture of symbolic significance is undergoing renovation, particularly because of the use of the digital medium. Architectural ideas pertaining to space, namely those involving movement, transparency, and transformation in relation to bodily experience have been intensely investigated over the past several years through the use of digital visualization coupled with interactivity. In furthering verification of the transformation of the body’s role from instrument to substrate one can see embodied in the work of Char Davies who is a prolific pioneer of the genre of immersive VR environments. Her ground breaking works “Osmose” (1995) and “Ephémère” (1998), are of utmost importance to the advancement of ideas surrounding the body, space and perception. It is through her work that one sees a process of temporal inscription that occurs at the level of the inhabitant or what Davies refers to as the immersant. It is the immersant that is subject to the “will” of the virtually rendered stereoscopic landscapes through the act of witnessing and participating in the lived properties of the work. Davies re-situates the kinesthetic body in a new body schema, one that questions the immersant’s habitual perceptions about being in the world. It is the formation of these new perceptions that challenge the Cartesian relationship between mind and body, self and world, in order to construct new ways of apprehending the world. [2] These new ways of understanding the world result from the transformation of the navigator's perceptual experience through the body's re-framed consciousness, as psychologist Arthur J. Deikman notes "a 'de-automization' 'de-automatization' of cognitive structures, an opening to the sensory intensity of objects outside of conceptualized awareness or attachment". [3]

In her work, “Ephémère”, Davies creates a new awareness of the human body in relation to the natural world, one where the flesh of the body is understood as the flesh of the world. This awareness is achieved through shifting the emphasis away from vision as an exclusive perceptual system and engaging the body in an affective manner thereby dissolving the boundaries between self and world. The role of inscription in her work is a critical feature in the transformation of experience. This transformation makes visible the invisibility of a dormant awareness of the body as the flesh of the world. Bringing this invisibility right to the surface of experience, through a physically, physiologically and psychologically engendered transformation, Davies achieves what Gaston Bachelard identified in “The Poetics of Space”. By transiting space or by departing from the “space of one's usual sensibilities”, one engages into dialogue with a space that is “psychically innovating”. For one does not “change place”, but does change “one’s nature”. [4]  The work by Frascari and Davies is a transformation of the idea of inscription in relation to the body. The idea of inscription is one that is not indelible but temporal, hence the body becomes not the primary instrument in the act of inscribing a symbolic corporeal order through architectural drawing, rather it has been re-situated as the recipient, the very substrate that is inscribed.

The challenge to architectural thinking and making can be sought in the representational space of the image, which is the space of mental inhabitation; it differs from the physical space of the body.  This representational space for Frascari is one of synesthesia. His anthropomorphic centered approach suggests the inciting of synesthesia through the drawn description of the visceral and tactile dimensions of the future building in order to engage the bodily senses fully as though one were actually physically situated within the spaces of the projected design. Char Davies, however, manages to meld the representational space of a fluid image with bodily interaction in order to flesh out a direct encounter that fuses all senses simultaneously, effectively inducing synesthesia during a physical encounter within her interactive virtual stereoscopic worlds. It is through this process of exploration that a more permeable exchange between a projected representation of an architectural design and the direct bodily experience of the design will introduce new perceptual horizons, thus effectively moving beyond the experiential limits of traditional anthropomorphism-based rendered drawings.

Cadence-Movement and Cinematic Experience

While the interactive virtual stereoscopic realm provides robust opportunities utilizable for the representation of expressions of human experience, non-stereo and non-interactive but dynamically rendered digital environments, staged as a cinematic experience, can provide an enriched setting to develop new modes of perception. The digital 3D environments—defined by nodes, planes and spaces that constitute the cinematic context – can form the basis of the folds of experience that embrace us, surround us, and invite us to partake in its physical and virtual splendor within the cadence-movement setting. Hence, these digital environments as nodal points can be integral elements of the infra-structural skin matrices that mediate within the every-day world of experience. These matrices can become the vibrational fields of phenomena that engulf our perceptual state(s) received as information and filtered through our active sensorial and linguistic faculties. A multi-nodal net can be formed out of a configuration of the skin matrices. It can be composed of latent informational content, network relations between immaterial phenomena and bodily sensed experience. These relations can define the thickness of the skin of experience at the language-experience axis and identify the necessity of a privileged position and proximity within the encounter. The skin's lived experience can be demonstrative of the flux and flows of the forces of a language-experience dialogic, slowly caressing the skin’s malleable surface in order to coax its sensory inputs into new configurative orders with the desire of shaping alternate experiential realities.

Using the film as an exemplar, one could illustrate a further line of inquiry into the language/experience relation. This relation is frequently a source of tension within designers’ understandings and definitions of the manufacture of architecture today. However, the film as a cinematic experience is referred to not so much to illustrate that the experience of silently watching is superior to a linguistically-based interpretive moment. Rather, the film itself contains revelatory material that recruits both the viewer's sensorial and linguistic modes of reception. Hence, the film is a dialogue of sorts between its own ideas (rendered as a set of fluid narrative encounters) and its own experientially-derived moments. That is, the moments that show viewers properties of the flesh-world, of architectural properties such as form, space, and light, and the transformation between these as a parallel to our own linguistic-experience dialogic encounter with the world of things. [5]

Sound-Space and Inner Understanding

A computer-generated film can contain elements that question designers’ typical approaches to architecture. It does so by giving them the raw animated material that is used to build a framework that sets up interpretive opportunity. These opportunities in cinematic form move beyond either a purely visual or language-dependent mode of cognition. One way to parse this is to look at the relationship between witnessing and participating. To witness is to engage passively while to participate is to find active engagement. This familiar dialogic tension located within designers, sometimes engendered as language (which is the passive utilization or borrowing of a pre-coded set of rules—grammar, vocabulary, idiom, etc.) and sometimes as experience (often described in terms of physical engagement that may or may not include language).

Designers may come across something foreign to their usual language-experience polarity in the form of an animated film. The film may draw them in through its animated conditions and rendering—for example in the form of suggestive resonance that evokes geometry, form, motion, refraction, transparency, luminosity and so on. Designers first engagement evokes emotional responses because the material in the film overwhelms the senses, deliberately presenting mechanisms of charged confusion, or perhaps a blockage or delay of thoughts that would otherwise come to mind when listening to music or someone speaking, viewing a dance or when reading.

The interrelationship between the aural and the visual is manifested in many forms of art making including digital architecture. Traditional dance incorporates movement, which is conceived to be a visual “transformation” of the emotional underpinnings of the music.  Film, too, synthesizes the visual and the aural.  Even in the “silent” era of film, music was often performed live concurrently with the screening of the moving picture as part of its content deciphering. Many musical pieces are written as interpretations of paintings, landscapes, and city and regional dwelling. And conversely, architectural sketches, collages and montages are constructed under the descriptively selective, albeit influential, music compositions. [6]

For the sound-space to advance a plausible inner understanding in any given multimedia setting, the incorporation of music must define a new technological synthesis in accord with many different means of conveying information. Hence, it should adopt aural cues meaningfully. The navigation through a multimedia cinematic interface can be compared to a narrative or story line of a film. Music can serve digital animation in much the same way that it can serve a motion picture.  It can create a transient atmosphere of time and place, between being and becoming, suspending immediate judgment but eventually clarifying ambiguity.  The subject matter of a multimedia film in a specific act and scene, of a particular geographical place or a time period, can be enhanced by use of musical sounds indigenous to the context. Music in film as well as in multimedia can build a sense of linearity at disconnected scenes and offer continuity at points of transition. When images on the screen are changing rapidly, a unifying musical idea can act as a weaver.  In any spatial setting music can highlight points of interest and add dynamism within a multimedia interface, as it often readily reinforces climactic points within a film.

Light-Color and Articulated Thought

The contemporary info-tech based architectural art work attempts to create an intense presencing of an alternate body-image outside of a language-based rendering which Frascari describes and Davies achieves. This presencing can articulate thought through an environmental experience that is not grounded within a fixed state, duration or position. Hence, the computer-generated film entitled “The Shadow Dweller’s Gaze” is an example in that regard, which determines an approach to a body-image engagement that addresses the “unreality” concerns typified by deliberate opposition to the more familiar attributes, found residing within worldly material realities. Schawn Jasmann’s artistic playfulness with the color-light pixels in the VR animation of the filmic scenes and their cinematic production is predicated on Composer Kevork Andonian’s 11:00 minute piece entitled “In Memorium”. The orchestral music that deplores “man’s inhumanity to man” propagates the despicable 20th century phenomenon, manifested in imperceptible, unimaginable and incomprehensible acts of genocite and holocaust, which humanity has yet to reconcile with its enormity and magnitude.

The story line and architecture parallel as the film progresses. As the music recalls the tragic past, the film lures to pure emotive experience in the viewer’s mind at the exposition of the painful condition of contemporary children’s psyche; it refers to living scenarios of dysfunctional families in disfigured architectural spatial settings. In recruiting masks and animating body-gestural language through the lucid music, a more fluid, yet liberating poetics is rendered that is experientially meaningful and reflectively thoughtful. The poetics in this sense involves the shaping of the non-linguistic moments of the film through the use of language's multivalent grafting potentials derived from the film’s visual elements and their movements, character, and behaviors. The connotative capacity of visual and linguistic poetics, derived from the rich sensorial expressions acquired by viewing computer generated films such as this, might illicit new programmatic orientations in architectural thinking and making. Like Bachelard’s “immense universes found within corners,” the more universalized symbolism of familiar experience can be re-invigorated through the new imagined and poeticized worlds emanating from a film, one that allows the viewer new ways of using the imagination. Familiar forms of understanding are liberated of the hackneyed symbolic order through the computer-generated mechanism of new imagined worlds in front of us, which can access poetics that develop independently—linguistic, visual, and even fictionally tactile ones.

Reflective Remarks

The idealism of site-body and its incorporation in traditional pursuits of architecture remaking, as manifestation of conservatism in contemporary digital realm, have always been thought as datum for continuity in reflective thinking and iconic referencing. The value of design in the context is seen not in the means of appropriation of high-tech but advancing knowledge of pre-tested forms for pre-verified spatial ends. The moralism of cadence-movement embodied in pragmatic innovation in designs of large clusters planning attempts not to deal with the immediate implications of their digital mapping, but questions the value thereafter. The realism of sound-space in the promotion of revolutionary ideas in 3D built form digital simulation is stipulated for inner understanding of the critical theory behind. And the nihilism of light-thought propagation of virtuality in radical experimentation in building construction deliberately serves for the production of artifacts identified with their artificial complexity and playful morphogenesis.

The realm of digital image making possesses new modes of thinking and constructing architecture. Architects have migrated to the drawing enabled screens of light emitting electrons, fluidly dancing within the cathode ray tube. The cinematic experience is a metaphoric space of the interrupted signal. It incites an interruption between language and experience. It is this zone of indeterminacy in which alternate realities exist and are interrogated, alongside latent signals, pixel artifacting and computational aberrations. This is the space in which language is confronted and required to redefine its form as a poetic that can aptly convey the new perceptual experiences and encounters.

Both the technological condition and the linguistic condition, the former dependent upon the explication by the latter, can bring to fore the necessary rift, rupture, displacement, or disconnect, creating a state of deconstructed habitual perceptions. This space transgresses the boundary conditions between the virtual and real, and shares a likeness to those imagined architectures that are created through an intensified interaction within a metaphorically enabled architectural ideation. It is here, within this fluid dialogic space of encounter, where we become enmeshed within the interference noise of perturbed signals folded into and out of the robust sensorial field of human experience. This is the space in which 21st century architectural inquiry is found, within the grey pixilated montage of multiple blurred boundaries of dissolving geometries, slowly oscillating their respective topological thresholds through each other.


1. Marco Frascari, Monsters of Architecture: Anthropomorphism in Architectural
. ISBN 084767648X. Savage: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1991
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2. Mark Hansen, Embodying Virtual Reality Touch and Self Movement in the work of Char Davies (Critical Matrix: The Princeton Journal of Women, Gender and Culture. Vol. 12 (1-2) Making Sense), 2001.
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3. Andrew Treadwell, Virtual Transcendence
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4. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space. ISBN: 0807064734. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.
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5. Juhani Pallasmaa, The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema. ISBN 95 16826288.
Building Information Ltd., Helsinki, Finland, 2001.
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6. Aaron Copland, What to Listen for in Music.  New York: Penguin Book, 1957.
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Last verified: August 1st 2013.