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SketchUp and stone

Last Thursday held a series of meetings and events that filled up my workday.  In the span of just a few hours, I went from a jobsite to a client presentation to SketchUp's BaseCamp conference held here in Boulder.  What struck me was the staggering range of tasks and in a sense, realities, that these events entailed.

In the afternoon, as I was sitting in a breakout session at the SketchUp conference, I looked down and realized that I had stone dust from the construction site all over my trousers and shoes.  In fact, looking at the floor, I had nicely tracked it in the conference with a series of footprints slowly fading to my seat.  Feeling a bit embarassed, I then looked up and along with a sea of eager faces, watched a large computer monitor as an engineer and SketchUp guru, walked us through a workflow diagram of computer files derived from a 3D computer model of a building.  The very real stone dust seemed so out of place, so foreign, so frankly unreal in this place and with these highly abstract computer tools.  Looking around at the largely geeky male audience, I thought I certainly am not as sophisticated as these guys are with the manipulation of this virtual world, but how many professions span this kind of phenomenological gap.

The building on the computer monitor had no weight, no mass, no physical substance, but it was undeniably real - a complex, integrated series of spaces with form and mass and material.  The level of abstraction was no doubt substantial, but so familiar as a working method, that nothing about this digitized world seemed less real than the weight and heft of the stone earlier in the morning.

At BaseCamp, hundreds of 3D modeling experts flew from around the world to meet and exchange thoughts and ideas they exist in this ephemeral virtual world.  For the architects in attendence, the discussions on modeling, visualization, information management, etc. all must at some point come down to some variant of my first meeting of the morning:  sitting down with a mason and talking about bedding joints, mortar types, stone species and patterns.  It's hard to imagine anything more diverse than a 3D computer model and a pile of stones - the latest building design technology and one of the oldest building materials.  I can't imagine practicing architecture without a fairly intimate knowledge of both, without an understanding of the power and limitations of technology or the irreducible "thingness" of a block of stone.

The fading stone dust footprints amongst the gurus of the virtual world made for a brief disjunctive moment as these two worlds unknowingly met. Is a computer model a work of architecture?  I don't think so, but I know that a piece of stone alone is surely not as well.