Fathoming the Unfathomable

Pamphlet Architecture #34 / Princeton Architectural Press

Buildings hold immense ranges of possibilities. Though specific uses may be suggested by the architect, the exact future occupation of a space can’t be predicted. In other words, architecture unavoidably deals with uncertainty. The graphical representation of architecture, however, typically displays a narrow range of predictable spatial occupations. Of course, architectural representation is restrictive for a reason: the visual representation of indeterminacy is a difficult task.

In Pamphlet Architecture 34: Fathoming the Unfathomable: Archival Ghosts + Paradoxical Shadows, architects Nat Chard and Perry Kulper explore provocative, open-ended architectural representation. With Chard working in the UK and Kulper living in Michigan, this project represents a long-distance collaboration. Each architect takes a unique approach to the representation of indeterminacy, culminating in an attempt to synthesize their techniques.


As the product of a long-distance collaboration, Pamphlet Architecture is more of an exhibition of two complimentary projects than a single cohesive effort. Kulper’s work addresses indeterminacy through strikingly complex, associative drawings. Employing architectural line-work, found imagery, and textual prompts, Kulper’s drawings don’t spell out meaning, but instead provoke many possible meanings through the viewer’s own visual associations. As opposed to architectural drawings that seek to eliminate ambiguity, Kulper’s drawings are intended to elicit a range of spatial outcomes.

Chard’s work focuses on the ways architectural experience is tied to the human body. At a basic level, architecture accommodates bodily functions such as waste disposal, temperature, and hygiene. An alteration to the human body, therefore, changes how the body relates to architecture and results in an alteration to spatial consciousness. In this sense, though most architectural drawings represent “an experience that is reasonably reliable for all,” a piece of architecture in fact holds a range of experiential potential tied to the unique physical presence of the individual.

Chard attempts to visually represent the relationship between spatial consciousness and the physical occupation of architecture. He does this through the photography of a series of surreal dioramas, or “instruments.” These instruments are build on simple metal tripod platforms, supporting folded picture planes representative of architectural space. Dolls, plastic animals, and other whimsical objects occupy the instruments, which resemble hallucinatory lunar probes. The weirdness of these instruments is intensified when Chard spatters them with paint.

Chard writes: “With the projection of a material, the splatter is the consequence of the way in which the paint (representing occupation) and the drawing pieces (architecture) meet.” In other words, the spatter of the paint on the illustrated picture planes represents an individual’s unique physical occupation of architectural space. The unpredictability of the spatter is indicative of the experiential indeterminacy latent in all architecture. By the end of the book, Kulper’s drawings are physically incorporated into Chard’s instruments, and the architectural spaces they represent are spattered by paint.


Kulper writes: “Liberation from traditional working skills, the production of unique objects, and the dominance of the visual required new aesthetic criteria less concerned with appearance and more concerned with ideas.” While Kulper and Chard’s works are visually impressive and can be enjoyed on purely aesthetic grounds, I find it difficult to believe this project is more concerned with ideas than appearances—all of these pieces strike me as meticulously crafted, aesthetically-driven art objects. While Kulper and Chard describe the project as conceptually driven, Pamphlet Architecture 34, with its paint-spattered, mannequin-piloted lunar probes and abstract, associative drawings, can occasionally read as an elaborate justification for cool-looking images.

Pamphlet Architecture 34: Fathoming the Unfathomable: Archival Ghosts + Paradoxical Shadows by Nat Chard and Perry Kulper / All images courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

Still, the visual representation of indeterminate conditions is an important issue, particularly to landscape architecture. While buildings hold infinite potential, their physical forms are fixed. Landscapes, however, are inevitably dynamic spaces. Unlike architecture, landscape architecture must not only address programmatic indeterminacy, but also physical indeterminacy. In this context, non-prescriptive representation becomes especially critical. Chard and Kulper should be applauded for their provocative and occasionally whimsical exploration.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Associate ASLA, designer, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, recent Louisiana State University Master’s of Landscape Architecture graduate, and former ASLA summer intern.

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