200320: Learning from Wrongness


The assignment had been to 3D print 1/16th scale massing models, but we were all distracted by the one printed at 1/32nd scale which in comparison appeared diminutive and made us laugh because it was so, well, cute. Scales only appear to be quantitative; there is, in fact, a sort of feel to each one. The world drawn at 1/16″ = 1′ – 0″ (or in metric 1:100) is the right realm for first year architecture students tackling their first complex program, big enough to draw two lines representing a wall, but small enough to get away with not knowing what’s inside that wall just yet. Anything smaller–1/32nd, 1/64th–and we get into the realm of urban planning, a notation into a cityscape or landscape, something meant to be seen in an extensive site model, preferably in an attention getting color or material, calling attention to its location more than its form.

The 1/16th scale models we held with our hands, like a cereal bowl, or a large wallet,  whereas the 1/32nd model we held with our fingers, like chopsticks, or a pingpong ball, and that changed our relationship to it. I’m making a mental note that I will need videos of hands holding and showing any physical models that get made at home. The “client” for the studio project is the student making the model–physical models are there for them to get insight about what gets resolved when. I will miss standing next to them as they pick up each other’s physical models and respond to them, I will have to figure out some other way to get to see that online. It may seem that architecture professors teach students how to make; really we teach them how to see.

And they teach us. One of the very first courses I ever taught was hand-drawn one-point and two-point perspective. Students used a huge drawing surface to layout plans and sections of well documented works of architecture for the resulting perspective drawing in the middle. One student made a mistake with the scale of  the drawings for a Mies building and used a section that was twice the scale of the plan, resulting in a ridiculously tall Mies. Turns out tall Mies doesn’t work, those buildings really depend on long, low hanging horizontals, and no better way to see it than through the “wrong” drawing.

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