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The architectural virtual: From language to experience

Banou, Sophia



Anna Hougaard

Martin Søberg


In recent decades, architecture has persistently engaged with defining its relationship to digitization. The practice of architectural drawing has often been at the centre of this discussion, which has questioned its relevance by putting emphasis on the ability of digital visualization to produce simulations of spaces (Mitchell 1989; Carpo 2011; Graves 2012). This chapter examines the contested relationship between the mediation of architectural representations and the unmediated built in order to interrogate and define the value and nature of the virtual in architectural design. Through a critical review of mediation across visual culture, digital culture and architectural theory, the chapter introduces the concept of the ‘architectural virtual’ to define architecture’s own ability to produce architectural spaces, beyond and before the built or the digital.

The architectural virtual reframes the discussion of architecture’s digital turn, placing emphasis on drawing’s ability to operate between the abstraction of representation and embodied physical experience. The text reframes the supposed contradiction between systems of mediation such as language and the immediacy of experience to address and clarify the relationship between architectural drawing as a systematic language, and the digital claim to virtualisation as an effect of simulation, considering the architectural virtual through the idea of utopic texts as a spatial plays that entails a mode of situated experience (Marin 1984). Drawing from post-structuralist discourse, this research situates architectural drawing in the context of utopic visions within and beyond architecture through an understanding of language as a spatial condition of subjectivity rather than a purely referential representation (Derrida 1997; Lefebvre 1991).

Tracing the relationship between language and experience from the introduction of digital virtuality in William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), to the architectural utopias of the 1960s as drawn by Italian architectural group Superstudio, the chapter argues, that in both analogue and digital realms of design, architecture always emerges through a mediation that calls into question not only the media at hand, but also the very definition of architecture’s own claim upon the virtual before the real/built.


Banou, S. (2020). The architectural virtual: From language to experience. In M. Søberg, & A. Hougaard (Eds.), The Arftul Plan: Architectural Drawing Reconfigured (206-221). Basel/Berlin/Boston: Birkhäuser

Acceptance Date Sep 19, 2019
Online Publication Date Apr 20, 2020
Publication Date Apr 20, 2020
Deposit Date Jul 22, 2020
Pages 206-221
Book Title The Arftul Plan: Architectural Drawing Reconfigured
ISBN 9783035618747
Keywords architectural drawing; architectural representation; virtual; utopia; architectural image; digital architecture
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