The contrasting graphic techniques of the two The Lion King films demonstrate a jarring shift in representation between 1994 and 2019. In the first film, the individual hair strands are invisible, but the flattened, cartoon surfaces depicting a low-resolution hairstyle for each animal exaggerates their attitudes. These smooth surfaces make up the animals' fur, which the viewer perceives to be comprised of many parts only by way of the tufts at the edge. In the second film, a high-resolution attempt at realism demanded the articulation of individual hair strands at the expense of the characters' ability to emote. The fur is made up of so many highly defined individual parts that it appears continuous and approaches verisimilitude. This contrast, paralleled in architecture, highlights a compositional problem: easy 'parts' with easy wholes' or difficult 'parts' with no 'wholes.' The former prioritizes the legibility of a "hairstyle" silhouette to convey character, while the latter emphasizes the quality of an individual hair strand to display technological mastery.
This perceptual "experience" of surface, whether one whole or many parts, is elucidated by perceptual psychologist James J. Gibson. In The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Gibson states that "the perception of surfaciness depends on the proximity to one another of discontinuities in the optic array." In other words, there needs to be a certain density of parts for one to perceive a surface instead of an array of many parts. In Gibson's experiments, which involved imperfect wall surfaces and a series of black and white rings, discontinuities were seen as the grain or density of a given surface. When the density was high, a continuous surface was perceived.
The Lion King film comparison of both conditions—the whole hairstyle dominating in the first movie, and the individual parts making up the whole in the second one—shows the inherent duality of fur-as-surface and fur-as-array. The 1994 fur is always flat and never multiple. By contrast, the 2019 fur, which is a product of the digital age, employs a topographic skin that is populated with a series of interrelated primary and secondary hairs. Adult Simba's mane consists of 700,000 strands of hair in which 1% are 'lead' hairs and guide the movement of any surrounding tresses.
Architecture has always had a hair problem, too. The single follicle (or part) must necessarily negotiate with the hairstyle (or whole). As an irreducible, atomized absolute, the strand of hair is architecture's default single-pixel part that aggregates into a greater whole. It is one fraction of a modular, standardized, repeatable, rearrangeable, and replaceable system usually guided by an additive process. One ubiquitous example of this is the unit of the brick, which defines the scales and resolutions of an object, whether such object is as small as a wall or as large as a city. Rather than having any character of their own, architecture's hairs are only masterful and complete when they make up a hairstyle. Such hairs can be clay, terracotta, and mushroom bricks, but other times concrete masonry units, pillows, rooms, lawn chairs, skateboard off-cuts, and even megapixels. The hair versus the hairdo is a conceptual problem at the core of every compositional endeavor.
Much like film and animation, architecture has experienced a digital transformation in the last 30 years. In many cases, this transformation has moved away from the raster and toward the vector, assigning directionality and movement to architecture's parts. This suggests that component-based architecture has begun to swirl and coif in ways that make it behave even more like hair. As Caroline O'Donnell points out in Niche Tactics: Generative Relationships Between Architecture and Site, Tim Ingold's diagrams of a human's relationship to the earth and sky are best understood when one studies the effect of wind, weather, and land unto the human. Unlike an 'exhabitant,' an 'inhabitant' of the earth has an orientation, a gait, and hair to interface with the environment. This tactical relationship to context can also be perceived in ecologically responsive architecture, where a favoring of the edge condition of a given whole increases the legibility and performance of the architecture.
The turn of the 21st century saw technological advancement in rapid prototyping. This allowed architects to explore new territories and conceive previously impossible forms without the computer. The Blobwall (2005) by Greg Lynn, for example, is composed of highly customized parts made possible by CNC robot arms. This digital turn transformed the software vector process into physical hardware. CNC machines, laser cutters, waterjet cutters, and other interfacing output systems all worked better with vectors, instead of raster, files. Limited by the size of the output constraints of the machines, as well as the software that handled the file types, designers began to place more emphasis on the complexities of each part, rather than the image of the eventual whole. Lynn's early career, particularly given his focus on the qualities of curves and splines, was a natural fit in the cultivation of vector-based projects. In his essay, "Multiplicitous and Inorganic Bodies," he describes the animated cut of the Statue of Liberty as a series of successive curves. The generative nature of developing the body based on the geometric properties of the vector was critical to the early practitioners during the digital turn.
Meanwhile, those whose work followed the raster logic had a different relationship with the digital project. For instance, Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto were producing collages. Their 1989 Aktion Poliphile series was an aggregation of found objects in large raster clusters. To collage is to derive new meanings from parts with old meanings - the part-to-part relationship of the clusters to convey semiotic associations, and therefore cannot be broken down into smaller bricks. Therefore, context is indispensable in order for the collaged architecture to become characters. The clusters were recognizable images in themselves, which allowed them to obtain new meanings when rotated, interrupted, or surrounded by new meanings. The collage was more difficult to translate using the early rapid-prototyping technology, and it would take another decade or two for technology to catch up to the raster logic.
Greg Lynn's Toy Furniture series in 2008 marked a significant transition point from which designers sought to find bricks, rather than make bricks. Similar to a collage where the image is composed of found objects, Lynn curated the bricks instead of prototyping them. Perhaps Lynn foresaw the problems ahead in the over-articulation of the single follicles with Blobwall; either the bricks needed to be simpler to produce, or the wholes must become more legible for the architecture to work. The zero-sum game of spending all efforts into the design and fabrication of individual parts contributes very little to a larger output or a project's reading across multiple scales. In the toy series, Lynn's solution was to simplify the parts by aggregating modified plastic toys and turning them into compression members for furniture.
In an age where the design focus is placed on the over-articulation of the individual hair strands, the awareness of the haircut can be lost on the designers themselves. Jason Payne's Raspberry Fields (2010) might be a perfect example about overly articulated parts with no vision for wholes. In Raspberry Fields, a highly-customized, individually weather-curled cedar shingle is used to compose a pitched-roof. The logic of this approach is described by Payne as a 'hair problem.' In this case, the scale of the strand (part) is the design problem, not the hairstyle (whole). This design approach is symptomatic of the early digital era, where the lasercut bed or the CNC machine becomes the space to design special bricks, instead of designing at the scale of the full composition. Raspberry Fields is almost literally splitting hair—it is a hair project that disregards the haircut, defaulting the decision of the overall haircut toward a slightly morphed postmodern vernacular pitched-roof house that the designer did not intend to produce. [CAO3] Being too invested in the details results in projects that cannot see the forest for the trees. The first decade in the 21st century has brought with it a field of over-articulated trees with hardly any understanding of a forest—or, a "difficult parts with no wholes" problem.
Opposed to Payne's project, the House of the Suicide by John Hejduk has no hair and only the haircut. The scale from which Hejduk conceived of this project is at the architectural scale, and not at the scale of the brick. This project spends no effort on the articulation of the "how" of each component, instead just focusing on the "what," or the full object. The shape of the hairdo is the only graphic to read. The materiality of the hair has no traces of the individual follicle. Whereas Payne's Raspberry Fields resembles the high-resolution of the 2019 Lion King, the House of the Suicide is the low-resolution 1994 cartoon. At the architectural scale, buildings are shapes that make up a city's skyline. They lose all hair once they start reading as the silhouettes of haircuts. As Robert E. Somol writes in his article, "12 Reasons to Get Back into Shape," the idea of shape is expendable, adaptable, fit, empty, arbitrary, intensive, buoyant, projective, and illicit. "Shape" he writes, "eliminates information, is often low resolution, and is in this sense a 'cool' medium." Most importantly, shape is easy,"avoiding the rhetorical excess of geometric form or expressive mass, shape exhibits the immediacy of the graphic."
CODA's Party Wall (2013) might be the beginning of a different story about the digital transformation of architecture. While also conceived as an aggregation project using CNC-fabricated parts, Party Wall does not revolve around the mass-customization of individual components. Instead, the pavilion's parts came from the off-cuts of industry-standard skateboards transformed to achieve a dual legibility of array and surface. In other words, CODA found 'bricks' that had already been produced. Put simply, Party Wall is both hair and hairdo—a wall guided by a raster logic that makes a new composition out of found objects. The use of the digitally fabricated leftover toggles the viewer's attention from the part to the whole so that neither dominates. Instead, one flicks back and forth between object and field. Party Wall alludes to but reroutes architecture's place in the digital realm, continuing an important disciplinary conversation about collage and the as-found.
Picking up where Lynn left off with the Toy Furniture series, CODA's Urchin (2016) reopens the part-to-whole dialogue between the hair and the hairdo by aggregating found-objects. In Urchin's case, the problem of the eccentric part is also tested with more familiar and readily available everyday items in the form of lawn chairs. Akin to Reiser + Umemoto's collage problems, this update to the hair-and-hairdo problem transcends the technical difficulties of the individual digital part, instead prompting the viewers to look for unexpected redeeming qualities in the objects that are all around us. It is not only a simple and made-new part, but also a generous acknowledgement about the beauty of an existing object. Where Duchamp saw the urinals for the fountains, CODA saw the chairs for Urchin. Moreover, compared to the over-articulated hair of Payne's or the easy hairdo of Hejduk's, CODA attentively works with both the part and the whole, creating a new graphic language that is able to mediate between multiple scales and resolutions. In other words, both the hair and the haircut are simple, legible, and intrinsic to the architecture. It is also easy to slip between the two, to be between object and field in a way that the 2019 Lion King could not. Urchin is an easy-whole made from easy-parts.
The more literally furry, Combust, begins life as a hairy object, where the hair is generated by hundreds of matchsticks adhered to a thin surface. Like a chrysalid undergoing a state of metamorphosis, the model is liberated by being set on fire. Here, Combust switches its operation to be more like the House of the Suicide, where all hair is lost and only the outline of a shape remains. As this model disappears into the flame, it recalls the way that the hair on Akira Toriyama's cartoon character, Goku, turns from the many parts into a graphic whole the moment he goes "Super Saiyan" for the first time. This easy outline describes the metamorphosis of the character transformation.
Finally, in OMG's 2017 pavilion Primitive Hut, hair and hairdo become literal. The pavilion's hairs are not minimally milled and notched components. Instead, the hair is the wild and unruly shag bursting through the roof in the form of four maple trees. This living hair is in a constant state of change in color, density, and scale, across seasons and years. This move to a more literal understanding of transformation marks the transition from the representation of hair to a literal living, growing, and shedding material.
The story of the raster logic in the digital age is an ongoing saga, especially where the collage of the found objects interface into and out of the computer much more easily. In the 2014 symposium, Firmness, Commodity, & Delight, organized by Joanna Grant and Kevin Pazik at Princeton University, Mark Foster Gage and Andrew Kovacs presented their respective 2014 Helsinki Guggenheim competition entries. The first architect worked with an approach that he described as "kitbashing," in which license-free digital models from 3D-warehouses were aggregated together. During this time period, Gage was experimenting with outputting the digital matter into the physical realm through the CNC-cutting of marble. Not unlike a bas-relief, Gage collapsed a Minion next to a Hello Kitty next to a pile of other pop-culture objects. The second architect achieved a similar effect by purchasing inexpensive commodities (with architectural qualities) at a dollar store, and physically gluing the found objects together. In both cases, the result was a flattening of hundreds of found objects, not dissimilar from a judgement scene on a Gothic cathedral façade in which Jesus Christ, Hercules, and other historical, mythical, and invented figures collapse with one another. For both Gage and Kovacs, the collage was not about deriving new meanings or creating thought-out hairstyles, but rather about maximizing the spatial potentials yielded by the aggregation of individual strands of hair.
Whereas the aggregation of the found part in Kovacs's case was physical, Gage worked on his found objects within the digital space. What this meant was that, while the part-to-part relationship of Kovacs's physical aggregation would have to undergo a tectonic process of gluing objects that cannot physically merge into one another, Gage's kitbashed digital matter could merge with no consequences. The mathematical implications of a group of objects with no possibility for overlap juxtaposed with a seamlessly merged Venn Diagram was a striking moment in the recent history of hair problems in architecture. Additionally, Kovacs organized his physical objects mostly in plan, while Gage's Boolean union of the found parts was largely elevational. This suggests that the application of the individual unit was choreographic and programmatic for Kovacs, all the while Gage's bas-relief in elevation was a continuation of the flattened communicative narrative used in ancient façades.
The distinction between the collage of digital and physical found objects renders visible the advantages of harnessing the intelligence of things that already exist. Aside from simplifying architecture's modes of production without sacrificing the novelty of form, this strategy enables the re-seeing of the found objects based on their qualities and opportunities in a new context—or, as Gibson puts it, it allows for an understanding of the affordances of such objects.
In Party Wall, Urchin, Combust, and Primitive Hut (as well as Evitim, which uses the offcuts from Primitive Hut), the objects are certainly found ones, but the story pushes deeper into the nature of the part itself. CODA asks us to think beyond the dollar store and into the manufacture and provenance of the object, as well as into the future trajectory of the part when it enters into a future state, usually of waste. The tension between object and field traps us in a mind game between the wasted object and the extravagant whole, architecture's pleasure and pain in one glimpse. Only then is the struggle between hair and hairdo balanced: finally a third Lion King emerges that is both legible in part and in whole, allowing the lion to have its essential outline and its necessarily furry texture, while being able to emote.