Oct 11 2010

Visual Artifact

Published by Dennis Dollens at 13:14 under General

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The video fragment I made with Screenr and Rhino are tech artifacts where 3D objects are produced and enter the world of transliteracy; my hope is that this little CAD demo embeds the idea that form and material are aspects of, not only physical worlds, but are understood as critical elements for full literacy in virtual space. I’m thinking of cognitive extension — objects and worlds as extension of our brains and thought as theorized, for example by Andy Clark — and what these mean to our ability to see and comprehend, and maybe revisualize the natural world as including the products of our hands — design and architecture for example.

The use of Screenr, while simple and easy, was a break through for me with its efficient and speedy production and ability to communicate fragments of technical information. I see it (and other apps) as important because they allow posts in YouTube, Tweeter, etc., along with emailing mp4 files, so that the potential of involving e-production with mobile phones for use in development and emergency situations gets more and more practical. I’m trying to assemble a “grab bag” of free or low-cost apps that work in medium and low bandwidth situations for the evolving goal of teaching advanced architectural design in eL worlds.

23 responses so far

23 Responses to “Visual Artifact”

  1.   Michael Sean Gallagheron 11 Oct 2010 at 18:21

    Excellent post, Dennis. I do think that spatial literacy is a critical component of transliteracy. There is no getting around the need to navigate space either physically or virtually. Architects and designers do this for a living, but it is a literacy we could all use in our attempt to marry process to design, to let flow occur naturally and without friction.

    It reminds me a bit of the taxonomy work I did for my Information Science degree. Dealing with ontologies, taxonomies, slotting information into categories and structure, managing flow and space. It is like one massive Risk/Tetris game. An important skill for students to have, thinking across multiple dimensions. I love the pragmatic nod to mobile development situations. Quite intrigued by that myself. Even for archaeological research. I worked quite a bit on this project digitizing African cultural heritage sites using laser scans, 3D models, to apply space to what had merely been text or static images. It got me thinking in terms of dimensions, a great skill to have.


  2.   Dennis Dollenson 11 Oct 2010 at 20:35


    There are some interesting cross-concepts in your post. I’m especially interested in viewing “the line” in a bio-taxonomic field that leads my theory classes to discuss letters and squiggles and plans and/or elevations (usually historic structures) as ways of reading/ways of being in spatial systems (books/buildings) — Information Science seems to have related or compatible systems. . . .

    Frank Gehry has demonstrated with the translation of his drawings (often squiggles), that when mediated by technology such chaotic systems of drawings can be harvested for “literate forms”. He was the first to bring the super strong (fighter jet production) French software (CATIA) to visualize architecture — the first CATIA architecture in the world was the architectural-scale sculptural fish on the beach in Barcelona; and that, a few years later, morphed into the Bilbao Guggenheim. I think we could trace this not only as line but as information visualization that has altered visual expectations globally. Architecture cannot be discussed in contemporary situations (either positive or negative) without acknowledging how his literacy changed our expectations of what architecture could be and how it can be read multidirectionally.

    I’ll come back to the African site. I’ve been involved for the past few years with historic adobe — how it can be reformulated etc in modern contexts (rich and poor) using plant-based binders (I’m using cactus juice) and of course know and love the adobe in Mali — I need to spend some time getting to know Aluka. Many thanks for a head’s up.

  3.   Michael Sean Gallagheron 12 Oct 2010 at 16:53

    Great thoughts here, Dennis.

    I am pulling this that vision mediated by technology can alter perceptions entirely, altering expectation and pushing the boundaries of composition and literacy out a bit further. I agree wholeheartedly. We rely on the Gehry’s of the world to blow out the edges, forms, and containers of representation. In fact, I drive by one of Gehry’s most recent works on Princeton University’s campus everyday. http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S20/84/49I22/index.xml?section=featured. It is hard to imagine a structure less at odds with the landscape, but more at odds with the other architecture. It intrigues me, shapes a path of discussion, engages me. It is a literacy stimulator, for sure. Technology coupled with vision can do that; stimulate spatial and other literacies merely by being there.

  4.   Jeremy Knoxon 13 Oct 2010 at 09:38

    A fascinating link with Andy Clark and extended mind theory Dennis. I see the division of the screen into four dimensions as a kind of mapping of our spatial understanding. The screen becomes an extended visual perception. The basic premise of extended mind seems to be that existing cognitive functions begin to encompass objects, or information, that exists outside of the physical boundaries of the brain, as part of that function. So rather than having to conceptualise the effects of multidimensional change in the physical form, the screen feeds back immediate, dimension-specific information. Perhaps the screen becomes an integral part of thinking about form.

    (‘maybe revisualize the natural world as including the products of our hands’

    On a bit of a tangent, I definitely resonated with the above notion. If we are ‘natural’, (which some seem to forget), then anything we create must be considered ‘natural’ as well, and I mean technology here. If ants construct ‘natural’ anthills, why is the microchip ‘unnatural’? Furthermore, the commonplace idea of ‘natural’ seems to ignore the molecular dimension. Everything on the planet is natural; it is all made out of the same set of elements isn’t it?!)

    @Gallagher, I’d agree that ‘spatial literacy’ is an interesting one for digital culture, and definitely important in our learning. It seems that with data visualisations we are using concepts of physical space to understand virtual space and data flow. Yet, the practice of augmented data (like your Aluka example) is strangely the opposite: about data providing better understanding of physical space. I like to think about this some more…

  5.   Marie Leadbetteron 13 Oct 2010 at 20:42

    @dennis Oh my word, this really did blow my mind. I feel like I learned something! I struggle with spatial literacy, it seems, the different views actually felt hard for me to understand. I get that this kind of skill would be useful in being truly transliterate, though…

    @jeremy i love the perspective of everything being natural, ultimately. There is definitely some myth that natural = good, when we know that lots of naturally occurring things (sugar, tobacco, illness) are, in fact, not.

  6.   Hugh O'Donnellon 14 Oct 2010 at 10:36

    Tangent, here but this is what sprung to mind: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:3D_scanning_and_printing.jpg
    I remember the look on a colleague’s face when I mentioned 3d printing to him – similar, perhaps, to my own reaction.

    @Jeremy, I see a totally different affect in attention when I place pupils (male) in front of a word processing application as opposed to paper and pen (I think Turkle mentions this in ‘Second Self’, 1984).

    “why is the microchip ‘unnatural’? ” – silicon = sand?

  7.   Dennis Dollenson 14 Oct 2010 at 15:01

    Jeremy. In the context of design and urbanism it seems to me that what you and I agree on is — one nature; we are part of it, and what we do is built of it, and therefore nothing we build can be outside the natural system–clearly we can devise destructive nature but nature’s nature has destruction built into its OS — I’ve been trying to formulate ways of incorporating this into design classes in order to stimulate students to begin searching nature for systems (biomimetics) that mediate between toxic constructions (still natural) and non-toxic remedial technologies in the form of bio-robotics as habitable architecture.
    I’m thinking this MSc program is part of the answer for distributing ideas for revisualizing our role in nature’s OS using the technologies around today and the ones we see emerging. Because I see the green movement as political greenwash I think we have no choice but to follow through with our evolutionary trajectory of using our minds and hands to “make things.” I really enjoyed you comment and would like to hear more.

  8.   Dennis Dollenson 14 Oct 2010 at 15:17

    Marie. That is a super positive comment. Wow, I’m happy.

    I’m working to develop small video tutorial that I hope make serious drawing open to more folks. If we distinguish between hard and complex then digital space is not hard (it’s complex, but so is learning English). A beginning is teaching the tools in little learning packets that also let the student make something; a cube or a tetrahedron, and then critically, for them to do something with it — create. When we see what a tool can do, and that we can use the tool without trauma, then, I think (but I’m not sure) some learners will design with it in the same vein as some writing students will create literature and poetry with the tools of words and grammars while most will become functional, but not, literary.

    I’ll be posting some little packet drawing tutorials and I hope you enjoy them.

  9.   Dennis Dollenson 14 Oct 2010 at 15:49

    Not a tangent in my thinking but a branch of making/thinking. I’m going to repost your link and add the machines that make the griffins–I use them all the time to build my models and to teach.

  10.   Noreen Dunnetton 14 Oct 2010 at 16:23

    I had a similar reaction to Marie, Dennis – this blew my mind and for similar reasons. I find the concept of space so problematic that I have to confess my initial reaction was not to watch your screencast past the first few seconds. Something about having to force my mind to think beyond the linear or a sequence of words throws me into a blind panic.

    Prezi nearly drove me around the bend – even the simple advice ‘just dot your ideas around the screen’ was beyond me initially because I just don’t think like that. However, I coped fine with Second Life and online multiplayer games in the game-based learning module. I would love to design my own 3D games so I’m hoping the experience of extending my comfort zone and producing my own Prezi (eventually!), watching your lovely clear tutorial (you have a calm, relaxing voice too!) will develop my spatial literacy.

    Sorry, bit of a personal, non-academic response.

  11.   James Lambon 14 Oct 2010 at 17:29


    ‘I’m working to develop small video tutorial that I hope make serious drawing open to more folks. If we distinguish between hard and complex then digital space is not hard…’

    ‘When we see what a tool can do, and that we can use the tool without trauma, then, I think (but I’m not sure) some learners will design with it in the same vein as some writing students will create literature and poetry’

    Your statements encapsulate some of the key strengths of E-Learning for me. To focus specifically on software training, I haven’t attended (RL) class-based tutorials for a long time – I relate to your point about trauma!

    Instead, the type of approach you’re taking enables me to work at my own (slower) pace, gives me freedom to experiment and, crucially, means I can make mistakes without anyone else present. All in all, your propose a way of learning tech skills that is much better suited to my way of learning.

    Look forward to seeing the packet drawing tutorials.

  12.   James Lambon 14 Oct 2010 at 22:10


    ‘the first CATIA architecture in the world was the architectural-scale sculptural fish on the beach in Barcelona; and that, a few years later, morphed into the Bilbao Guggenheim’

    This reminded me of Santiago Calatrava’s work, beginning with sketches of the human form or nature, before morphing into airports, train stations, concert halls, museums…


    One of the best things about visiting the Guggenheim in Bilbao was crossing Calatrava’s Campo Volantin footbridge on the way there and back. That’s an inspiring, breathtaking stroll!

  13.   Alison Johnsonon 15 Oct 2010 at 22:47

    Hello Dennis a very clear, digital visual artefact. Thinking in planes, layers, views and perspective is so very alien to many learners. Talk of skins, rendering etc all seems such a specific community of practice and area of expertise.

    My husband has used many design packages in his time for product design and to draw the extension we have just had built, but to me the drawing and design process online seems so complex and fiddily. Outside the design industry, I think perhaps some game players may pick up get a certain level of spatial literacy from the online gaming environment they move around in however in what other scenarios do you think spacial literacy will be useful/essential and in what other ways do you think we could pick up this type of literacy?


  14.   Dennis Dollenson 17 Oct 2010 at 02:13

    Hi Ali,

    This is a really an interesting topic (I’ve never been ask before)— SecondLife is a good “place” to begin because it uses the same system drawing, animating, mapping, and space defining maths use. A surprise for many people, is that system is based on Descartes 17th-century “laws”. His Cartesian system is still pervasive for navigation and describing space — Descartes gives us a traditional base in 17thC natural philosophy, culture, & maths, as well as ways of seeing. And I’ll come to why I think all students should be exposed to this science, tech, & math sibling as part of Now Transliteracy.

    First, to begin thinking of your question, in the big sense, learners of virtual drawing spaces are introduce to spatial mapping defined with the coordinates X, Y, & Z (Z being up and down). In the machine you’re reading this on, a algorithm is tracking X & Y (left/right and front/back) inputs from your mouse to find points for your cursor to switch on/off and thus, begin or stop an app/program/action — and, since computer screens are only 2D, there is no Z axis to contend with (or it is simulated).

    Today, the usefulness of X, Y, Z and thus “drawing space,” finds resonance in zillions of applications beginning with computer programming languages but more apparently in apps such as Google Earth, GPS tracking (say for runners, cyclists, where to drop bombs), 3D weaving of clothes, radio frequency tagging (food freshness etc.), as well as for naval and aeronautical navigation. The new industrial design & fabrication machines that build 3D objects, metaphorically work like copy machines or inkjet printers, and are standard not only for product design (cars, iPhones, airplanes, etc. [I saw a machine last year whose material was frosting for making designs on cakes]). These machines and the visualization to run them is also important for building medical parts and prostheses — if a piece of skull or knee cap is crushed, doctors fabricate a custom-to-the-injured new piece, and implant it — same for radical dentistry.

    There’s a great free Google app for PCs and Macs called SketchUp and it’s a 3D drawing system. It takes all of 10 minutes to learn and is really fun (give it a try) — it’s powerful and I’m thinking of it as a tool for teaching villagers how to DYI replan and rebuild traditional settlements or camps after emergencies (tsunami’s for example); so that instead of having militarylike emergency camps that end up existing as slums for years, decades; displaced persons could begin to recreate traditional patterns for community life and economics with local X, Y, Zs mapped to GoogleMaps/Earth. They could situate a school, market, hospital, paths, or café where they want/need. I say this because in the context of MScEL, SketchUP could also be a very powerful tool for teaching space — with the benefit that SketchUP literacy could be a life tool justified in terms of transliteracy with trajectories for secondary students to future digital worlds and jobs and life. A week with something like SketchUP would underpin understand 3D space the course is base on and in.

    Stop me or I’ll go on forever ;-) I’ll close. I think it is impossible to even suggest children are digitally literate without understanding today’s spatial world (using cell phones and iPods and remote controls are not alone indications of digital functional-literacy — merely electronic tools, hammers say; falsely situating students in society, not as digital natives but as masked design consumers who know Wikipedia exists). We could bring revolutionary visualization, spatial literacy, and even high-skill job potential starting with something free and as easy as SketchUP literacy.

    Thanks for getting me here — my studio classes need it and I’ll work for greater clarity.

  15.   Jen Rosson 17 Oct 2010 at 09:20

    Your artefact has been so generative for so many of your peers, and I think it has to be counted a great success in that sense alone – quite apart from being very interesting and an original take on the assignment, which it also is. Really well done, Dennis. I also find thinking in this way quite challenging – my attempt to build a log in one of Frank Lassard’s Second Life tutorials a few years ago showed me that this is a way of seeing I don’t have yet!

    Hugh’s 3D printing connection reminded me of Cory Doctorow’s recent novel, Makers – free to download and well worth checking out, I think! http://craphound.com/makers/about/

  16.   Alison Johnsonon 17 Oct 2010 at 12:38

    Hi Dennis thanks for the great reply I will keep coming back to it to digest it fully as I think spatial literacy will be so important moving forward if learning space continues to evolve online. This is based on a hunch, hypothesis and gut feeling more than anything. I am not yet able to understand the implications of this yet or even articulate it. I need some concrete examples and scenarios to build from and you have helped me enormously with this..

    as jen says a ‘generative work of art!’


  17.   Linda Matthewson 17 Oct 2010 at 15:14

    Hi Dennis, a really helpful visual artefact and this discussion has been most illuminating. I found the internal narrative of fixing then unfixing an image to resonate with much that we have been reading over the last few weeks. Just at the moment that an image looks as if it is a digital ‘solid’ its potential to metamorphose and evolve is exposed. Most thought provoking.

  18.   Dennis Dollenson 17 Oct 2010 at 17:38


    That’s a great Calatrava tower — would love to see it. Thanks for the link. Neat the way the figure came up first. So many of Calatrava’s works are morphed from his sketchs. I always liked that this great engineer/architect kept an analog sketch book and watercolors at that. There are a few of his works in Barcelona and I frequently visit one of the bridges when I need some RL structural get-away — turns out Calatrava is also a great fan of Gaudi (me too). And I totally agree with you that one of the highs of Bilbao is his bridge (and the region’s good food ;-) .

  19.   Sindhu Radhakrishnanon 17 Oct 2010 at 18:17

    I feel that real gap between DIGITAL VISUAL LITERACY and simply VISUAL LITERACY!!!!! Creative side of real life design process…

  20.   Sharon Boydon 17 Oct 2010 at 19:35

    @jen “my attempt to build a log in one of Frank Lassard’s Second Life tutorials a few years ago showed me that this is a way of seeing I don’t have yet!”

    I have a table that I built in one of Frank’s sessions in SL – at least, I call it a table, and it looks like a table from one angle, but certainly not from the rest. Like Alison, Marie and Noreen, I also have a problem with spatial design – if I can’t touch something, I have a problem “seeing” it.

    I found this both a great artefact and also challenging when recognising my own weakness in this area. I love the reflection on the “natural” and it helps me to reflect my own need to blur boundaries between digital and botanical.

    I’ll definitely be coming back to read more – thank you Dennis!

    ps it was lovely seeing your tweetdeck notifications popping up – it felt just like looking at my own PC – a feeling of “home” helping me to relax?

  21.   James Lambon 17 Oct 2010 at 20:33


    ‘I always liked that this great engineer/architect kept an analog sketch book and watercolors at that.’

    Agree. I’ve seen some of the early sketches that he used for the Montjuic Communications Tower. I understand it’s widely interpreted as being a javelin (being next to the Olympic stadium) however it’s based on a man kneeling in prayer. Draw from that your own interpretation about religion and communication technology!

    I’ve included this link not for your benefit, on the basis you can probably look out your window and see the tower?!


  22.   Sue Grundyon 18 Oct 2010 at 05:50

    Dennis, you’ve created a phenomenal artefact – as the other posts have said – it was a real learning experience for me too…i shall be thinking about it and the ramifications of it for learning for some time to come. Thank you! Sue

  23.   Alison Johnsonon 26 Nov 2010 at 09:12

    Hi Dennis

    on the spatial practice and spatial issues front, I thought you might be interested in this event to be streamed live next week. Maggi Saven-Baden talks about the spaces in-between us (spatial practice in second life)



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