1986.10.09

Three-Dimensional Graphic Model of Center-City Philadelphia


The following drawing and text first appeared in Drawing Toward Building - Philadelphia Architectural Graphics, 1732-1986, the catalogue of the Drawing Toward Building exhibit.



"It would quickly be seen that the tools that man has made for himself, . . . and which till now have undergone only slight modifications in a slow evolution, have been transformed all at once with an amazing rapidity. These tools in the past were always in man's hands; today they have been entirely and formidably refashioned and for the time being are out of our grasp. The human animal stands breathless and panting before the tool that he cannot take hold of; progress appears to him as hateful as it is praiseworthy . . . This is a great but critical period, . . . we must create the state of mind which can understand what is going on . . . we will see that things have changed: and changed for the better."

The above excerpt, written in 1923 and taken from the opening paragraph of "Architecture or Revolution," the concluding chapter of Le Corbusier's Towards a New Architecture, almost prophesies the arrival of graphics computers in the world of architecture and more specifically their arrival in the world architectural drawing. The graphics computer is indeed a new drawing tool, one that has not "refashioned" the old tools as much as it has replaced them. Pencils, triangles and parallel rules are simply no longer necessary to produce a drawing. However, the heart of the issue is that the graphics computer has also eliminated the need for manual skill, that is, the graphic dexterity of the architect/delineator. Until now, an architect's drawing could be appreciated for both the idea that is manifested and the dexterity with which the idea is presented. It has always been the combination of mind and hand that has made architectural drawings very appealing. The question now is whether a drawing generated with the aid of a computer can be appreciated in the same way.

The 3-D graphic model of center city, commissioned by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, is a prime example where the capabilities of the machine, in this case Intergraph, far outweigh the capabilities of a delineator or any number of delineators. The model extends from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River, and from Spring Garden Street down to South Street. On the overall street map are projected, into three dimensions, the general mass of buildings. Since the nature of a 3-D "drawing" allows one to view the subject isometrically from any angle and offers the ability to draw perspectives from any vantage point, the Philadelphia City Planning Cormnission uses the 3-D model to view and compare the effect of zoning recommendations as well as study the effect of proposed development in center city.

In addition to the infinite number of drawings and views that can be produced through a 3-D graphic model, the computer also offers the chance to view the city dymanically, directly on the screen monitor, as if the city were floating and rotating in space, and the ability to set up a series of selected perspectives to simulate what a person might see walking down a given street.

Stephen Lauf, Drawing Toward Building: Philadelphia Architectural Graphics 1732-1986 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), p. 263-4.

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