Architecture is defined by stories. Told through diverse mediums, these narratives shape how we understand our built environment. At the same time, drawings and visualizations can be architecture in their own right, a way of discovering what we see or what could be. For Vienna-based urbanist, architect and illustrator Alexander Daxböck, drawings are a way to imagine new futures together.
As a lecturer at the Vienna University of Technology, Daxböck has taught classes on both urban design and landscape architecture. Building off his interest on emergent forms of planning and development, his work focuses on the value and importance of architectural drawings, illustrations and visualizations as communication tools. Exploring representation through time, emotion and atmosphere, Daxböck's work embodies a process marked by playful speculations and critical ideas.
Why did you choose to study architecture?
I've always enjoyed drawing, but I don’t have an art school background. My education was highly classical in the humanities, with Latin, Ancient Greek, and a focus on history. My first interest was to pursue archaeology, following the traces of ‘Indiana Jones’. Over time, I thought a better idea would be to combine these studies with architecture. I could search and dig for hidden sites and temples, and afterwards, reconstruct the parts and pieces (architecture as a useful ‘byproduct’). So I enrolled to study in both fields here in Vienna, but within my first few weeks studying architecture, I felt a strong connection. I wanted to be exposed to it, to learn and experience. So I decided to focus on architecture and I did not complete my archaeology studies.
You’ve had the chance to study and learn around the world, from Vienna and Zurich to Tokyo. How does this global context shape your work?
My global experiences helped me to have an open mind towards everyone and everything. I gained more diverse ways of working and a versatile mindset, and in turn, learned to listen, read and observe. I discovered how the profession is taught, represented, expressed and treated by different nations, as well as its social value and influence on culture and people. I think my work is informed by this complexity as I play with details and information. I prefer to create series and sets of images and drawings, learning and visualizing a development through repetition, accumulations and distillations. The drawing moves with my thoughts.
You have a diverse background that includes teaching. What do you believe is the relationship between academia and professional practice?
When I first began teaching, I thought that these two areas of our discipline have to be combined more closely. Quite often, I got the impression (also from my own experience) that it is rather a coexistence next to each other than a relationship with each other. Two worlds in parallel, always in a mutual field of vision and perspective but with few possibilities of overlapping. But with more years of experience and discussions in both areas, I have understood for myself that this desire to merge these two units closer is not always as important.
I've come to think that the relationship between academia and practice is that academia should offer a 'freedom' (physically as well as mentally) and ask for critical and experimental analysis. Students should be working, arguing and thinking through problems, and as a result, can take their own stance on different topics. I believe we should equip students with different technologies and technical skills with some freedom, encouraging them to see the bigger picture and think beyond existing boundaries. I believe academia should create a space for graduates to reflect and think critically, and because of this, are able to approach various topics, problems and tasks in practice independently and successfully.
What type of projects do you enjoy working on most, and why?
I have an affinity for projects related to urban and landscape design, as well as mappings, cartography and graphics that go along with them. But in general, l enjoy when the act and tool of drawing becomes more than just a representation tool, where drawing influences design. When it's used as a medium to explore, understand and configure space, time, movement and spatial relationships. Where the drawing and lines become a communication tool (externally and for yourself), an intermediary, as well as a personal cartography and archive of ideas and narratives that draws connections together. Representation is a dynamic field of action and an act that reveals thoughts, atmospheres, emotions and investigations. Detailed and vague at the same time, partially overlaid with descriptions and notations, or asking the viewer to fill in the gaps and construct the content.
Simple black and white illustrations or line graphics are among my favorites because there is a challenge in being aware about the meaning and usage of the line and line weights, including their value within representation.
A project I've highly enjoyed working on is the first set of my Tokyo Metropolis Illustrations. Visually inspired by classical black and white manga drawings and the advantage of a comic to be able to be a ‘tempographic map’, where there is a distortion of the temporal distance over a geographical distance/perspective. A comic is always subjected to the narrative thread or the actions of their main characters. The built environment, or the city, is always a by-product, and in the truest sense of the word, a background. But it is only because of this 'space' certain actions and movements are enabled at all.
So the intention and attitude underlying this visual experiment and mapping is to put this background in the main focus. In other words, to examine the city through its representation, by analyzing both the elements (built, physical nature) and the composition of an 'image of the city' and the continuing medium (graphic / visual language of the manga / gif animation) through which it spreads and is distributed.
New technologies in architecture have given us new ways to visualize designs. How do you use technology in visualizing your ideas?
Technology can help to create and express visions and images, almost on an unlimited level. For myself, I actually like to keep the use quite basic, with Illustrator and Photoshop, together with drawing by hand and collages. But in general, I would say I’m not tied to one particular software or type of technology. If possible, I like to combine the strength of 3D render software, cad, digital painting, analogue models and hand drawing, to create mixed media images. The more I work through a project and the type of representation and the idea of it’s visual appearance evolves, the more I focus or shift to between software.
Your Tokyo Metropolis Illustrations showcase how architects can take cues from culture to explore new modes of representation. Are there other architects or designers working in visualization that you are inspired by?
There are many of them; when it comes to architectural visualizations, MIR, Luxigon or Artefactory Lab are some of my favorites. But I’m especially inspired by people who are working and exploring different modes and types of visualizations and visual interpretations on different levels, from architecture to graphic or set design. I really enjoy the collaboration between Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaas and the graphical universe and visualizations they have created for several projects and publications. Thomas Dubois and his sense of combining textual narratives and stills/illustrations is always a source of inspiration, as well as Denis Andernach and his black and white drawings. For storytelling and illustration, Hayao Miyazaki and the works and films he produced with his animation studio, ‘Studio Ghibli’, as well as Francois Schuiten and his graphic novel series ‘Cities of the Fantastic’ (Les Cités obscures), in part featuring imaginary cities that he created with his friend Benoît Peeters. In general movies, comics and graphic novels of different kinds are always an inspiration.
I also follow the work of Larissa Fassler, a Franco Canadian artist who mainly uses the application and practice of drawing to investigate the symbiotic relationship between people and places and their material effects on the residents. Similar to the situationists and their psychogeographic maps, the topological is superimposed on the topographic. Lebbeus Woods, Thom Mayne, Neil Denari, Bryan Cantley, Perry Kulper... I think I could go on with many many more.
As you look to the future, are there any ideas you think should be front and center in the minds of designers when they think of visualizing and sharing their ideas?
I think it’s important to take the time to question whether the actual type and the tool of representation is adequate and useful for a given task. We should be aware that drawings that are easy to read, easy to interpret and easy to carry out also have the potential to dull our awareness of the need for moments of friction and possible innovations within the framework of the known. We should reflect on our work, being critical and curious as we develop our skills. We also shouldn't be afraid to ask for help, and remember to try to share ideas with friends and the community.
Follow Alexander's work: https://www.behance.net/alexanderdaxboeck