Representation & Simulation

I started reading The Death of Drawing; Architecture in the Age of Simulation by David Ross Scheer today on a plane. I’m only a fifth of the way in, but already I’m hooked. It’s about how as the practice of drawing disappears from architecture, replaced by BIM (Building Information Modeling), a way of pulling together lots and lots of data to describe how it might interact, and therefore how a building should be designed. Scheer describes this as “representation” (drawing) versus “simulation” (BIM systems).

For Scheer, representations are loose, free. One drawing is one possible version of reality, but no more. A selection of drawings begins to build up a picture, but still, the viewer is left to fill in the gaps. Representations here allow space for creativity, not just of the drawer, but of all who look upon the drawings. We fill all the gaps in between the glimpses of reality we see.

Simulations, on the other hand, are “an artificial environment that creates an artificial experience that is felt to be reality”. They want the viewer to believe that they are real, because if they don’t, then they have failed in their task of simulation. Which means in turn there’s less space for creativity, for interpretation of meaning. If the simulation is not real, then the task is not to solve the problems, but to find a better simulation.

Scheer starts to ask some very interesting questions early on about Architecture (“When designs are evaluated in simulations, will the buildings themselves become simulations of the simulations? If architecture loses the idea of representation, how will buildings acquire meaning?“), and of course it’ll be fascinating to see where he goes in answer the three core questions he’s asking (my interpretations – i) What does it mean for the profession of an Architect? ii) What will become the nature of creativity in Architecture? iii) What role will Architecture play in culture in this world?).

For me, broadly thinking about the roles of representations and simulations in other spheres becomes really interesting. What if advertising agencies created ‘representations’, and media agencies ‘simulations’? How does data-driven product design fit in? What does it not leave space for? Where in organisations would we benefit from more representations, and less simulations? And how do we recognise what is representation, and what is simulation? More soon.