a Graphic Theory of Architecture

The premise of this independent study is to explore a new means by which an architectural narrative can be told through still images and text. Conceptually, a combination of still images and text has always been is the cornerstone of realizing a work of architecture.  The graphics provided in an architectural drawing set hold the same weight as the text and both are entirely dependent upon one another. Because our culture and practice are primarily graphic in nature, it should follow that an associated theory of architecture should be equally so.  However, thus far architectural criticism has been primarily textual.  My intention is to discover new architectural possibilities by investing in an alternate means through which an architectural narrative might be told.


Graphics can provide a shorthand to the reader.  By abstracting an idea into a visualization, we open opportunities for interpretation. 

Graphics can be used to convey literal information, like locating a column, and to convey symbolic information, such as The Fall of Icarus.  My hope is that through the medium of graphic novels, architecture can be more accessible to a general audience.  The effort of turning an idea into a symbol or graphic representation allows for the reader to be critical of style and framing.  Engaging the reader in this way allows independent thought which can lead to a better understanding. 


In the graphic novel Maus, for example, Anja’s tail is revealed while she is in costume.  The text is simple, “You could see more easy she was Jewish.” and the drawing was of two mice with coats on walking through a courtyard with the camera above and behind them.  Both are dressed similarly with a pig mask on, but one of the mice has a tail hanging out the back of her coat. 
The immediate reaction is “Pigs do not have mouse tails.  The pigs and the cats will see that she is a mouse.”
Then it's not hard to consider, “Well what does that mean to the correlated literal narrative? Did Anja have a feature which could identify her as Jewish visually?”
 “Was everyone so in tune with who was who that a facial feature or gait or type hair could be as obvious as having a mouse tail?”
“You really couldn’t hide or go outside at all”. 
In some middle schools this is assigned reading, I'd venture to say it's due to Spiegl's ability to skirt between fact and fiction. 


These reactions are the focus of this project, Investigating The potential for graphics to improve relatability. 


In addition to graphic novels, I found an opportunity in studying pacing in film as well.  Orphan Black is a series which uses pacing and camera angles to force the viewer to relate to the main character very quickly.  The first episode became a case study-- a variety of techniques were chosen to represent the 45 minute episode. 


The first iteration was a recreation of the episode.  I essentially made a storyboard for the episode trying to emulate it and tell the story accurately.  The next was comprised of a series of screen captures at equal intervals.  The last iteration was similar to the second, but at random intervals.


This exercise helped break down where and when events occurred and the necessary slow space which occurs to allow the viewer to fully comprehend the information given.  In the first iteration, I tend to focus on events and have the objective of only getting through the story.  It is comprised only of key frames which are the most economical to telling the story as I had experienced it.  That being said, it is extremely biased toward the actress’s attempt to embody two characters at once. 


The next iteration does an accurate job of telling the story, but builds up little suspense, not allowing itself to develop a series of events which are closely spaced in order to draw out the experience.  I found these storyboards did the best job at documenting everything that happened in the episode.  However, that’s not the focus of a graphic novel.  It’s more about causing the reader to feel a certain way as they are experiencing an idea which the author wants to share with them. 


The random interval exercise ended up being more of an observation of camera techniques and “Tween” images.  This was interesting to see – due to the fact that key frames are typically like posed photographs, these in between frames are more candid.  This is something a comic typically doesn’t focus on, spending more effort only drawing critical images that are the most clear in portraying a mood or action.  This was an interesting phenomena which could be exploited in the form of overlayed frame by frame, also known as onion skin, to show a variety of images instead of prioritizing a single one.


Storytelling has a long and rich history, utilizing many media over thousands of years to express narrative, mood and emotion. Many times, and for me personally, the story itself is not as important as the means or techniques used to tell it.  Movies, books, art, comics, and spoken word all provide a variety of precedents for the graphic novel to mimic, improve, and create.  With the proliferation of stories our society is exposed to, it’s important to know the tools, limitations, and triumphs which are controlled in each medium.  The story telling techniques I am interested in include adaptations of Camera, Blurs, Focus, Motion, Atmosphere, and Inflection; shared tools include Symbolism, Metaphors, Exaggeration, Clarity, and Exposition; and unique tools occur as Framing, Diagrams, and Phantasmagoria.


The techniques which require adaptation are those in which mimicry does not occur in a one-to-one relationship. The medias come with their own idiosyncratic limitations and benefits.  These techniques may mimic but cannot always control or portray in the exact same way as another medium such as a movie can. All adapted storytelling techniques rely on the fundamental fact that a graphic novel is a compilation of still frames and written text and must be tempered through this reality.


Camera:  A very hard concept to grasp until the first camera was actually made and a series of subsequent experiments with camera techniques ensued.  A drawing is the same as a photograph in the sense that it is a flattening of 3d space onto a 2d surface. Camera angles have fortunately been studied for years and subliminally help give the viewer a reaction.  For instance, a low angle shot will make the subject seem important.  The text or dialogue does not have to tell the reader to think this way or prove that the subject is to be regarded this way, it is simply an effect.  The camera will, for this frame, make the viewer interpret this person as imposing.  A graphic novel has to pay close attention to the camera—too many movements will ruin the flow of the page, too few will become monotonous.  This happens because the reader compares the next frame to the previous few and analyzes what is different, they piece together the information through time.  When the reader looks to the next frame and finds 100% new information each time, they move slowly.  When the reader only has to perceive 20% new information from frame to frame, they will only slow down for text.

Bird’s Eye:  Sets up spatial relationships

Straight on: Focuses on facial expression

Worm’s Eye: Subject seems more powerful

Tilted: Creates a dreamlike, surreal scene.

Over the Shoulder: Conversation frame

Two Shot: Allows for comparison of two subjects

Establishing Shot: Typically a landscape view of the setting

First Person: Good for trying to get the reader to sympathize with subject.

EX: Citizen Kane, Rear Window, Psycho; Batman, Citizens, TinTin


Focus:  A camera switching focus is a common tactic.  It’s a subtle way to introduce and familiarize the subject with a view, then slowly changing the information given and direct the attention in a very specific way.  Another form of this is how the background can fall out behind a character but still be recognized as a certain room or maintain the atmosphere.  Line work struggles to do this.  It’s typically done with omitting detail, changing the drawing style, not by blurring or fading if it’s even done at all.  Focus shifts typically are not done in line work, despite being successful in film.  One thing the graphic novel can uniquely do is let the background or non-pertinent information fall in and out of frame.  This helps direct the reader to only the useful information.

EX: The Shining, Carnet de Voyage, AD, Photographer


Motion:  Film can display literal motion. The speed, style, and direction are all captured in a single scene.  The line work reaction to movement is typically showing lines, series of images, and gestures.  Details bring the next level of motion.  For example, if someone is whimsically moving, you may see it in their face or the still will be of them with both feet off the ground.  Because graphic novels rely on the reader to create “time”and imagine flows of motion, symbolism pushes motion in graphic novels forward in a way which movies cannot.  This falls short in the still images in the event of a moving object such as a car, the stretch and squash method can only work so well depending on the art style.  This technique even involves interaction with the environment, for example, focusing on the subject affecting the world around it within the frame. Singular parts of a motion cannot be honed in on during a movie due to the fact that you are often getting a totalizing and literal view of the motion, IE A walk cycle.  The graphic novel can capitalize on specific events of movement in lieu of getting a more informative story on someone’s movements. 

EX: Inception (Rotating Room), Tintin, AD


Monologue:  Inflection of voice is hard to perceive through a graphic novel.  A movie can show minute gestures and stances which accompany words with inflection and passion. A monologue in a book does not seem out of place if there is too much text.  In a graphic novel, there is the certain amount of pictures which need to accompany text in order to not overwhelm the reader.  Graphic novels react to this by getting distracted.  They’ll keep the text going but shift to wildly different places such as diagrams, symbols, different parts of the scene, and zoomed-in views.  The freedom to not show transition and not stand out too much to vary the style allows for a variety of possibilities to complete the narrative.

EX: The Fountainhead, Citizens of No Place, To Kill a Mockingbird, Yes is More


Setting: A movie can create a full scene and have objects that naturally occur populate it.  This is natural for a person to see and they are already good at discerning what is unique about the entourage in the space.  In books, things that aren’t specifically created in the scene are typically filled in by the reader’s imagination.  This results in a very engaging scene for the reader, who has put in as much or as little information as he/she needs to visualize the story.  A graphic novel must work to find the happy medium between overly populated and sparse.  The reader will typically parse out extraneous and repeating information from frame to frame.

EX: Orphan Black (Walking into Beth’s world), Harry Potter (Diagon Alley), Batman (Architect’s office)


Some story telling techniques may be improved through the use of the graphic novel. These techniques are those that a graphic novel can master as well if not better than a movie or book.  Additionally, the affects associated with these techniques do not rely upon effects that are unique to other media, but may easily be deployed in any medium.


Mood: All mediums allow the artist to push the message further with small details that result in a “Mood”.  In movies makeup, filters, angles, and music can help subtly set the tone.  Directors can master this and even develop a style for themselves.  Books have a similar trait, the word choice, rhythm, tone, and dialogue help the reader subconsciously get in the frame of mind which further pushes the story.  Graphic novels do this primarily though art styles, framing, dialogue, and camera choices.  Linework plays an important role in what thoughts a panel generates.  For instance, a wobbly line with variable width makes things seem more ephemeral whereas a ballpoint pen with smooth lines and concise strokes gives a very factual impression.  Text bubbles that are typed have a different feel to them than hand lettered ones.



Symbolism- Books are particularly good at using this technique because they aren’t forced to express every detail, allowing the reader to interpret, imagine, and elicit meaning.  Movies may also use this to great affect due to the supporting details they can subtly deliver to the viewer without drawing attention.  In a similar vein comics allow for a world where certain givens can be established quickly and carried through. 

EX: Maus, Inception, Macbeth (Rook & Crow)


Exaggeration –  When something stops adhering to the typical world and temporarily jumps into a hyper fictional world. So if someone is yelling- they get bigger in the frame.  The person becomes a caricature of their former self.


Creation is a category reserved for styles unique to Graphic novels. 

The primary tool would be framing-- the comic book equivalent to a good soundtrack.  Frames are mostly a backdrop which is the vehicle for the camera to be displayed.  However, they serve as the graphic design portion of the novel.  A film will not switch aspect ratios at will and typically putting motion pictures in a subdivided arrangement is very distracting.  Whereas a graphic novel can orient a panel from landscape to portrait and subdivide and overlap. Frames control speed of the reading and create correlations between scenes.  They also provide a hierarchy of information.

·         Subdivision:  Nested frames can supply additional details to a previous frame and slow down pacing within a single frame


·         No Frame: Breaks a character out of their current story, changes atmosphere abruptly.  It also draws focus onto a single thing.  Whether that’s facial expressions or a nonperson speaker (such as a radio).  Exposition/ long shot

EX: Citizens, Photographer, AD, Maus

·         Consistent Frames: Moves the story along, provides a visual break for the reader, puts items in a series, consistent timing for a period of frames

EX: Watchmen, AD, Photographer, Maus

·         Inverted Frame: Takes reader into very different world or state of mind.  Calls attention to itself as an “Aside”

EX: Maus, That thinginthegraphicfictionanthology

·         Symmetry: When the frames are arranged in such a way that a distinct centerline occurs down the middle of the page.  The frames are mirrored from one side to the next.  This compels the reader to compare and contrast the information given.

EX: Batman, Watchmen


Diagrams: This lets the story eschew style momentarily and become vastly simpler for the purpose of explanation.  It removes a camera from the equation.  It’s the equivalent of “Drafting View” in a 3d modelling software. This allows the thin line of the 4th wall to be crossed effortlessly.  Since the reader is accustomed to assimilating lines to real life, the diagram is not a stretch to see on paper.  It almost belongs there.  The benefit is a quicker way for the author to tell the story in a very informal way.  Much like how a conversation would happen.

EX: Yes is More, Citizens, Maus

Phantasmagoria:  Movies and books imitate dreams often.  Unfortunately, they aren’t quite the same, They’re very crisp (even if a blur filter is applied)  In a graphic novel however, superimposition can be used to express a dream in a more ephemeral way.  The drawing style can change, the frame can change, and there are many more subtle ways to imply a lack of reality.  Also the distinct variation that nothing is given- everything has to be invented in a graphic novel. Correct perspective is not a given, neither is population of an area.

EX: Carnet De Voyage