Alexander Asanowicz,

Technical University of Bialystok, Bialystok, Poland





Keywords: Architectural composition, computer modelling, method of teaching




In this paper the possibilities of using the computers at course of architectural compositions are considered. As the start point of the new teaching method of architectural composition we used the course of tradition architectural composition at Faculty of Architecture Technical University of Bialystok. The course of Digital Architectural Composition was finished in 2002. The main goal of using the new digital media for modelling architectural forms was checking the new possibilities of form creation. Our new method showed that it is possible to do the same thing using the computer-based 3D modelling, experiencing no physical limitations of the 'real' substance. At the same time, at the early design stages, when formal value is sought, computer modelling can be done almost intuitively. In ours work we try to find a creative way of using computer - transforming the tool into medium. The attention was paid on exploring the possibilities characteristic for computers and not available with traditional methods of modelling. Architect’s tradition tools are effectively replaced by a computer, which create a new way of doing things.


Keywords. Architectural composition, computer modelling, method of teaching




In traditional architectural compositions cardboard models are used. Our course of traditional architectural composition in general, was concentrated on the abstract composition exercises (façade, solid model, transformation, walk-through the open space, sequences, and walk-through the internal space). First time we introduced the digital media into the Architectural Composition course in 1997, after many years of experience with teaching traditional architectural composition. When we decided to use the new digital media for modelling architectural forms we would like to check the new possibilities of form creation. For experiment we chose the solid form modelling. The main reason for this was fact that exploration of 3-dimensional space and 3-dimensional volumes in space is one of the most basic and fundamental architectural activities. In this experiment one group of 1st year students was participated. Usually, at the conceptual design stage architects use sketches, drawings and physical models. Our experiment showed that it is possible to do the same thing using the computer-based 3D modelling, experiencing no physical limitations of the 'real' substance. At the same time, at the early design stages, when formal value is sought, computer modelling can be done almost intuitively. The achieved result was very promising. Simple operation with basic forms enables students to design architectural sculptures, forms with specific formal value. We decided to 'translate' traditional exercises into digital space and elaborate the whole course of digital architectural composition. In 2002 the whole course was elaborated. This course was including four groups of exercises: facade; solid composition with specific formal values (dynamic, light, massive, monumental form); walk through (desert, valley, tunnel), walk through the abstract urban space (space of celebration, contemplation and dynamic space).






Description.. An element of each architectural object is space: both inside and outside the object. There always exists a real border between them – plane. The way plane is shaped greatly influences both the spaces. To define the plane one has to be familiar with the rules of applying such composition methods as geometric characteristics of form, divisions, weigh ratios, rhythm, symmetry, accent, colour, texture or proportions. Plane can divide as well as join. There are an infinite number of intermediate states and their types between these two cases. Thus, this topic, whose core idea is to surface and sculpture the plane, is also an attempt at discussing the above-mentioned states.


Goal. The goal of this exercise is to arrive at cohesiveness and harmony of composition through the use of basic composition methods (such as relief, rhythm, contrast of mass and space, symmetry and accent). What is most important is to determine the vertical composition attitude (top « bottom).


Exercise. Another thing that ought to be done is to design a relief composition – a facade of an object of unspecified purpose. This facade will only be viewed from the front, thus it should all be within an effective perception field. The composition should be arranged on a 30´30 m field. The viewer is on horizontal 30´30 m surface. Perception point should be marked with a human shape, as its position determines the size of the facade. The facade may be built of different types of prisms. Their size and number depends on the conception.. The elements may be arranged within the plane in any way. The only limit concerns the depth of the composition, i.e. the distance from the furthest element to the composition plane, which cannot exceed 5 m.


Result. The high quality rendering of the form. (Fig.. 1)

Fig. 1. Fasade


Solid composition with specific formal value


Description. Architectural form is the point of contact between mass and space. Architectural forms, textures, materials, modulation of light and shade, colour, all combine to inject a quality or spirit that articulates space.


A classic form expressing man’s relation to the surrounding reality is experiencing specific emotions. By expressing one’s attitude to the idea presented in pieces of art, estimating it, one not only ascribes it a material form but also encodes in the created pieces certain emotions, one’s subjective experiences. Each piece of information concerning the surrounding world has emotional undertones. Perception of a given form within the surrounding space evokes certain emotions, which, in a way, are relevant to the form.


Goal. The goal of the exercise is, on the one hand, getting to know the rules of applying such composition methods as: geometric characteristics of form, divisions, weigh ratios, rhythm, symmetry, accent, colour, texture and proportions, and on the other hand – connections between the composition methods and emotional evaluation, such as dynamism, monumentality, lightness and massiveness.


Exercise. A solid composition placed within a 30´30´30 m surface should be designed. The composition will be viewed from different perception points located around the object. A point from which, according to the designer, the composition appears most effective should be specified. Any cuboid solid can be used to build the form. Their size and number depend on the conception. To make the evaluation of the object scale easier, a human 1,7 m figure should be placed on horizontal plane.


Result. The high quality rendering of the form. (Fig. 2 (a, b, c, d))



a) dynamic





 b) light




 c) massive



d) monumental form



Fig.. 2 (a, b, c, d). Solid form  


Passing through open space


Description. The path of our movement can be conceived as the perceptual thread that links different interior and exterior spaces together. All paths of movement  of people are linear in nature. Linear composition can be characterised by interrelations between spatial forms (solid planes and space between them) and by time and movement. The sequence of elements making up the spatial configuration of urban assumption is a sequence of spatial pictures which we perceive as we get to know of a part or entire configuration. It is a perfect embodiment of Sequence as a certain type of Peripathetic reflection or architectural story. "Since we move in Time through a Sequence of Spaces we experience a space in relation to where we've been and where we anticipate going." (Ching, 1987, p., 228)


Goal. The goal is to create a Passage. A passage through something most important, something that has no beginning or end. A passage ‘Through’ and not a way ‘From-To’. A space-time should be created in which things Happen and different moods are created. Interlinks between present, past and future sensations should be anticipated.


Exercise.  When applying architectural forms, a linear composition should be designed within 1.5´6.0 km space. The composition will have different emotional impact. Any geometric forms and various materials can be used.


Result. The high quality two renderings of the space from chosen point of perception and animation (min. 300 frames). (Fig. 3)


a) desert





  b) valley




 c) tunnel





Fig.. 3 (a,b,c). Passage through the open space (Video to Fig. 3)


Passing through abstract urban space


Description. Urban landscape consists of a series of interiors. They are more or less legible, have different size and evoke various tensions and impressions. "Its visual form, its dimensions and scale, the quality of its light - all these qualities depend on our perception of the spatial boundaries defined by elements of form. As space begins to be captured, enclosed, moulded, and organized by the elements of mass, architecture comes into being." (Ching, 1987) The shape, colour and pattern determine to what degree it defines spatial boundaries. The form of the square plan can create platforms for sitting, viewing, or performing.


Goal. The main goal is to get to know the possibility of creating, through the use of composition methods, enclosed urban space whose purpose will be received unequivocally.


Exercise. In the assigned space an action (dynamic), contemplation (quiet) or celebration (monumental) space should be designed. Similar as in the previous exercise, any geometric forms and different materials can be used. The space consists from two streets 200 m long each and square 200x200m between. Students put the camera into scene and create a path of camera moving for presenting the space, which was created in the best way.


Result. The high quality two renderings of the space from chosen point of perception and animation (min. 300 frames). (Fig. 4)



 a) dynamic




b) quiet



Fig.. 4. Abstract urban space (Video to Fig. 4)




The results of the four above-presented exercises performed by students can be divided into three groups:

1.      In the facade projects we didn't observe any visible influence of the applied creation method on the resulting form. In digital creation methods the sketches of designed forms did not differ from the sketches using in traditional designing. As a result, forms designed by students in digital environment were similar as traditional carton models. The similarity concerned the degree of facade complexity. The reason for this situation is little knowledge of software capabilities.


But at the same time we could observe that students like to design variants of designing form. In these variants they try use different sources of lights for achieving different emotions during process of perception.


2.      In the process of creating a solid form we could see certain different results. Forms got more complicated, curvilinear planes and surprising transitions among particular elements appeared. All students ‘discovered’ the possibility to apply light to model form in more consciously way. Simultaneously, simple computer animation (walking around the solid) allowed for a dynamic search of the best perception points and better understanding of visual frame.


3.      The third group of results is connected with more complex compositions. Forms chosen as inspiration were much more complex, often organic or abstract. As a result, forms that could not be made in a traditional way were created. The level of freedom in designing space by computer methods differed substantially from traditional models. Gravitation was no issue there. It must be emphasised, though, that not only ‘liquid architecture’ was created. Also, ‘no-function’ (the traditional meaning) spaces were created. The only function of space was evoking emotions. Forms got more poetic and metaphoric. Students paid attention to the possibilities they had through applying various materials of different transparency. Many projects concentrated on playing with light and not form. Another important aspect differentiating the results of traditional and digital course of architectural composition was the ability to animate the passage. It required of the student to write a sort of scenario, to determine important places and spaces, to define perception points and the moving speed in certain placers. In traditional models the viewer is ‘outside the space’. He is just an onlooker. In digital models, he is ‘in space’. One becomes an active participant of the space. The perception process becomes dynamic and the onlooker’s emotional engagement increases. It is possible now to convey the emotional message of the designed spaces more precisely. This helps to better understand the relations between composition elements as well as their influence on emotions.




The main conclusion concern the achieved results of the experimental way of teaching of Architectural Composition. Analysis of the possibilities of using computers at course of architectural compositions has shown that using the new digital media for modelling architectural forms gives us new possibilities but at the same time creates new problems. Thanks to the new information technology we have a new chance for changing the process of thinking about creation of the architectural form. Araujo (1976) said that in designing we use at the same time intellect (intuition and mind), emotions (intuition and imagination) and logic (mind and imagination). Our last experience has showed that we should add the new element for these triads - computer as a digital medium.




Araujo, I.: 1976, La forma arquitectonica, EUNSA, Pamplona

Asanowicz, A.: 1996, Using the Computer in Analysis of Architectural Form, in A. Asanowicz and A. Jakimowicz (eds), Approaches to Computer Aided Architectural Composition, TUB, Bialystok, pp. 25-34

Jakimowicz, A.: 1999 An Intuitive CAAD, in A. Brown, M. Knight, P. Berridge (eds), Proceedings of 17th ECAADE Conference, Liverpool, pp. 80-85



The author would like to acknowledge the colleagues who participated in development of both course of architectural compositions: Katarzyna Asanowicz, Adam Jakimowicz, Andrzej Kadysz, Bogumił Sawicki, and all the students who took part in the studies.

This paper was supported by the grant W/WA/1/02


This paper was supported by the grant S/WA/1/04