Mapping Territories: Drawing and Representation of Space




Visual thinking is integral to engineering, facilitating the global exchange of ideas through a visual language that simplifies complex technical interpretations and relationships (Fergusson, 2001). Recognizing its importance, a series of workshops introduced engineering students to the nuances of spatial representation, enhancing their ability to conceptualise and convey intricate projects. Beginning with foundational drawing principles, the program escalated to complex scenarios, employing both optical and haptic techniques to foster a deeper, more intuitive understanding of form and space. By exploring the absence of form and emphasizing the relationship between figure and background, participants were encouraged to adopt a diagrammatic approach to spatial structures. These sessions not only honed students' perceptual and depiction skills but also underscored drawing as a multifaceted intellectual endeavour, combining abstract synthetic discourse with concrete visual achievements. Through this progression, the workshops aimed to significantly enrich students' spatial awareness and expressive capabilities, preparing them for the challenges of engineering design and communication.

Mapping the territory: The role of drawing in spatial representation


The concept of mapping, understood as a mental representation of space, has roots extending far back into human history, evidenced by ancient cave paintings that delineate paths and hunting territories. According to Harley and Woodward (1987), maps have always been more than just technical documents; they're a means of sharing and understanding spatial experiences, encapsulating complex interactions that go beyond simple data representation. This historical perspective shows that maps, through their diverse forms, have continually adapted to meet specific needs and solve problems, highlighting the dynamic evolution of drawing as a form of universal communication.


Drawing's significance in articulating artistic, scientific, and theoretical ideas sets it apart as a unique mode of expression. Its ability to visually manifest mental constructs without the constraints of grammatical syntax offers a flexible, yet objective, form of communication. This attribute positions drawing as an essential tool for bridging conceptual ideas across various domains, enabling a seamless transition from internal visualization to external presentation.


Bismarck (2000) underscores the efficiency of drawing, facilitated by simple tools like pen and paper, in forming meanings and visualizing solutions, making it an essential method for articulating thought. Drawings fulfil multiple roles—documenting concepts, addressing project challenges, or enhancing verbal communication—central to promoting comprehension, stimulating reflection, and aiding in decision-making processes. They are pivotal in demystifying the unfamiliar, allowing for the exploration and broadening of ideas. Petherbridge (2010) celebrates drawing's contribution to visual thought, emphasizing its prowess in transforming abstract thought into tangible form with minimal resources. This process not only fosters the examination of ideas but also uncovers new insights across different fields.

The Drawings of drawing


The term "drawing" has a rich etymology, reflecting a blend of physical action and conceptual thinking. Originating from the Old English "Dragan," it implies both the act of marking and the selection and planning it symbolizes. This dual nature is evident in languages like Italian and Portuguese, where "disegno" and "desenho" denote both the mark-making and the drawing process. Drawing embodies the interplay between creating tangible marks and selecting ideas, serving as a medium for both artistic expression and conceptual development. In engineering, drawing maintains a critical balance between depicting reality and envisioning future projects, highlighting its role in bridging concrete execution and imaginative exploration.


In this regard, it's noted that the very definition of the word drawing is ambiguous, given the impossibility of a consensus definition. Diane Petherbridge (2008) described it as a practice that operates within a continuum of mutually exclusive possibilities. Drawing is not defined merely as a medium or form of expression. It is both producer and product, representing and questioning, emphasizing knowledge derived from the formation and testing of hypotheses (Simmons, 2014).


Drawing, in a broad sense, is about presenting, representing, making present, and making visible through the use of graphic signs. It has a hybrid quality that establishes it as a graphic means of inscription/transcription (Michaud, 2005) of thought into an image, which is defined within the context of a specific practice.


For artists, drawing means discovering. "It is the act of drawing itself that forces the artist to look at the object before them, to dissect it in their mind and reassemble it," (Berger, 2008, p. 3). In this quest for the unknown, drawings become research tools that generate what we have yet to know. Artist Tania Kovats (2021) emphasizes this point by stating that it is through drawing she translates her experience into something she can see. "Drawing is where I can think and work things out. If I couldn't draw, then I couldn't think. And I couldn't dream," (2021, paragraph 7).


In the artistic realm, knowledge construction occurs through a performative relationship with methods, strategies, tools, and production materials. This knowledge or skill is intuitively learned through doing and sensing. It is a dynamic process related to the logic of being in the game (Bourdieu, 1990) where strategies, while thought out, are not completely pre-determined. This interplay between commitment to our initial intention and improvisation requires us to understand the drawing process as a space where different circumstances can be considered, including those generated by the process itself, thus becoming a circumstance of drawing.


It is in this space of experimentation where we work on ideas, confronting the known with the unknown, graphic languages, conventions, and limitations, that drawing is made and resolved. Here, the open and speculative nature of practice plays out, enabling the formation of alternative rules for achieving new understandings in a research process that works with heterogeneity rather than against it.


Drawing in uncertainty takes advantage of the malleable condition of drawing to explore the exploratory and inventive capacity of drawing in a direction that moves it away from the hard codes of a method (Simões et. al, 2018). This leads us to understand that in practice-led research, the magic lies in the handling of the material process (Bolt, 2007), where through a set of actions of the creative process, connections are constantly made and remade.

Permeable Boundaries: Three Approaches to the Representation of Space


According to Angelika Boeck (2021), the proximity between Art and Sciences lies in the fact that all research, whether artistic or scientific, is a systematic creative activity of knowledge production. Both operate from a state of not-yet knowing. Coined by Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (1992), this concept suggests an open experimental model of investigation where indistinct things appear, and the unknown can be produced. Rheinberger's proposal is particularly relevant for its model of closeness-in-difference between artistic and scientific research.


Comparing the laboratory and the studio based on material practice, without equating the investigative domains, is as if the word experience had two meanings, both marked by the fascination of transformation. In the scientific domain, experience is guided by methods that are systematic, repeatable, and rational and analytical activities through which disturbances are eliminated. In the artistic domain, it is associated with attributes such as instability, indeterminacy, intuition, improvisation, and unpredictability, where chance is introduced as much as possible into the process.


For Rheinberger (1992), this distinction is centred, above all, on the experimental spirit assumed by artists, who to create situations remain immersed in the material in an interaction that occurs with both hands. It is an investigation from personal experience and reactions, where learning happens through intentional action and reflection on that action (Kolb, 1984), emphasizing that drawing is individualistic, intimate, and both a process and an end in itself. "Drawing is an intimate occupation; it is, by nature, a First Person activity because of the direct connection between the individual and the marks they make." (Cain, 2010, p. 265).


The course progressed from analytical perspectives to exploring haptic/optic visuality and subjective spatial views, encouraging students to embrace sensory practices and heterogeneity for innovative understandings of space.

What then is the contribution of the artistic approach to the representation of space through the eyes of engineers?


In the complementarity between art and engineering, drawing serves as a versatile tool due to its interpretative nature, capable of being reductive when synthesis is necessary while stimulating the imagination in developing concepts. It functions as a means of personal thought, similar to "thinking out loud," facilitating the systematization of the knowledge process. Even in this personal context, drawing retains its immense communicative capacity, which is at the core of science.


By proposing these three workshops on the theme of space but of different natures, what we intended was to emphasize the power of artistic practice, to break with the conventional sets of meanings assigned in the production of knowledge about space. Broadly, we can assert that limiting drawing to the definition of the graphic record produced on a two-dimensional support, no matter how succinct and synthetic it may be, eliminates a significant portion of the important data for understanding what drawing can be.


The students achieved significant results in improving their repertoire of thinking tools. They were able to learn basic drawing techniques and other open-ended drawing tools. All the students were able to complete the exercises and produce satisfactory results. As the workshop aimed at enhancing their capabilities the quality of the final drawings was not a measure in the workshop. The real measure of the workshop’s success can be assessed through the empowerment of the student to apply drawing in her daily activities. 


A majority of the participants mentioned that they had already sought to use drawing, especially to enhance visualization and structural representation through the use of diagrams, sketches, and details. A small percentage stated that they never use drawing in their daily activities.


As a justification for using drawing, they pointed out its assistance in understanding spatial aspects of reality and visualizing the course content, particularly in understanding and modelling structures.


The vast majority of participants believed that incorporating drawing would aid in their comprehension of course materials, noting that several teachers already utilize drawing.


Participants found the workshops to provide useful tools for their studies, offering drawing concepts without the use of rulers and instruments. The workshops introduced a different approach to observing and drawing, encouraging the use of diverse materials, and fostering the ability to concentrate and create quickly.