Friday, January 1, 2010

Representing Motion

Picking up on the thread of Transect Representation, I recalled that Urban Tick had recently posted a graphic from 'The View from the Road' (Kevin Lynch, Donald Appleyard et al., MIT press, Boston, 1964) - one that I hadn't previously heard of and sounds somewhat applicable to the idea of representational strategies for movement.

:: image via Ephemeral Landscape in the page

The post linked to a longer related post called 'Ephemeral Landscape: in the page' with some additional imagery and a long tangents that include storyboarding and graphic novels to name a few themes. A snippet from the text of Lynch & Appleyard begins to make this link between representation and experience: "The sense of spatial sequence is like that of large-scale architecture; the continuity and insistent temporal fl ow are akin to music and cinema. The kinaesthetic sensations are like those of the dance or the amusement park, although rarely so violent.”

This alludes to the idea of my continual exploration of 'Soundtrack of Spaces' where the sequence can be somewhat choreographed within a design concept. The idea of representation of temporal processes is fascinating, as it's a two-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional process - making it a quite a representational leap. A diagram of t'ai-chi footwork captures the essence of this notational form.

:: image via Ephemeral Landscape in the page

This notation reminds me of the very specifically of Lawrence Halprin's concepts of 'motation' that fused the representational techniques of movement and notation derived from a system of graphically representating dance steps. It's difficult to find many good images of this system to describe it fully, but here's a couple of images from a fascinating study I found from a early 1970s thesis from MIT on "Notation Systems in Architecture" which uses Halprins system of Notation as well as the methods from 'A View From the Road'.

:: images via 'Notation Systems in Architecture' by Premjit Talwar

For architecture, the concepts are broken into four ways of describing environments. These include 1) motion channels, 2) orientation, 3) anatomy of visual space, and 4) form quality. These work in tandem to provide a framework for symbol-based diagramming of spaces that include movement and use (sort of captured in the following two images).

:: images via 'Notation Systems in Architecture' by Premjit Talwar

The scores from Halprin, cannot be immediately discerned without some deep knowledge, sort of like stenographers short-hand. These are specifically taken from the idea of labanotation, which is commonly used to represent dance, as shown in this snippet from Brittanica "A page from Rudolf Laban’s Schrifttanz (1928), the origin of labanotation, which became the most widespread method of dance notation."

:: image via Encyclopedia Brittanica

I've been fascinated by these notational systems since looking at a volume of Halprin's work back in the mid-90s... along with many years playing tablature for guitar and mandolin... definitely a connection there - but is it a viable methodology for modern representation of spatial and movement dynamics? I'd love to hear more thoughts on what ideas others have for representation of motion (including new media methods for representation).

More to come on this somewhat random line of inquiry.


  1. If you have not yet read The View From The Road, I would recomend it. I think you will find it very interesting how the idea of the notation cam about. I had the opportunity to learn about and use this notation once in school. It took several days to understand how to use it and its intent.

    From what I could tell, the notation was mostly used as a way of documenting existing paths with a bias to navigation and orienting ones self to an environment. So, I found it more useful as a sketch-like technique for planning since you could quickly jot down an idea such as you want a view to open up at a particular point etc. Also it is a nice way of describing your intent to other designers without having to speak or gesture or write words. That idea is very similar to tableture in that you don't write a song with tabs, you use tabs to record a song for reproduction a song.

    I am not an expert on the system but I would like to hear what you would like to capture with a notation like this and what you think is inadequate about traditional methods.

  2. Thanks Scott. Since the reference I've been attempting to get a copy of it from the library (alas x-mas break proved difficult) along with the Halprin PA issue that gets into 'Motation'. I agree it seems a powerful conceptual framework for 'describing' spaces - particularly as a sketch like vocabulary - similar to site analysis graphics - which are somewhat readable and consistent, at least for professionals.

    I always get caught up in the issue of variables (the massive quantities of environmental variables, that is). Different from tablature, or even musical notation, where there are certain structural 'rules' such as notes, bars, measures relating to a translatable vocabulary (albeit somewhat different interpretations) - the physical environment is just way more complex and falls apart beyond simple movements and a infinite number of potential pathways and iterations of use.

    I got into this conundrum in a school thesis project for my BLA, where I was looking at using psychological research to create a landscape that could effect people's moods (in this case, a cemetery that aided in helping with the bereavement process). While somewhat simple to breakdown elements - to create spatial arrangements that had legibility, and homogeneity for all but a specific cultural group of people involved 100s of elements and actions that was fun as a thought exercise but not necessarily practical to use in a meaningful way.

    It seems the same argument when trying to find data to prove out the idea of 'healing landscapes'... instead of specifics it comes down to views of nature, comfort, simplicity and beauty.

    To your question, I'm trying to explore ways to communicate some of the temporal/spatial aspects of landscape architecture (more aptly landscape urbanist space) to be able to document (versus choreograp) and learn from urban experience beyond the 2-D and 3-D - going farther to incorporate the 4-D (as well as the ability to show that a multitude of possible scenarios exist and that each has a particular result (5-D?) like interactive design?). That's not even getting into other environmental variables that exist in landscape v. sealed controlled architecture, which complicates things further. Makes my head hurt but fascinating nonetheless.

  3. Jason, if you haven't yet seen Halprin's The RSVP Cycles: Creative processes in the Human Environment, you really should.
    It is all about Motation, all 200 plus pages of it.
    I picked up a copy at Powell's maybe eight years ago and find it an invaluable resource specifically in my work as an LA and designer in general.

  4. Into. That's the tome I remember from school... something hypnotic about the RSVP cycles and Motation... I haven't seen a copy aside from a library in years though. Perhaps I will check on that. JK

  5. Hey Jason,

    Well I think you are going to enjoy reading The View From The Road. A lot of what was discussed in that book I thought was very good and was really the first time I ever thought about coreographing or diagraming an approach to a city. The notation system that is explained in the book is pretty quick to pick up. I photocopied a few key pages and was ready to diagram after a few reads through those sections. I think you will find that you can adapt it to your needs and add some symbols to record what you are seeing or thinking about. I will be really excited to see what you produce!

    Thanks for this excellent blog btw, I read it all the time.

  6. It is interesting that some found a use for my thesis, written about 38 years ago. It brought warm and wonderful memories of my years at MIT and my thesis advisor Prof. Anderson.

    Premjit Talwar


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