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"Tools of the Imagination" at National Building Museum
Lexington Metropolitan Plaza, 2001. Hernan Diaz Alonso. Digital rendering. Design Team: Kara Block, Laura Fehlberg, Bryan Flaig, Asako Hiraoka, Drura Parrish, Mark Nagis, Timothy Rives Rash II, Kevin Sperry, Tony Trinh. Courtesy Xefirotarch, Los Angeles.

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Revealing the imagination of an architect or designer requires a well-stocked toolbox. From pencils and paper, to advanced computer technologies and 3D modeling, Tools of the Imagination, an exhibition opening at the National Building Museum on March 5, 2005, will examine the tools used and results achieved by architects and designers. The exhibition will explore how design tools have revolutionized the very ways in which architects and designers imagine and create buildings, examining the relationships between what is imagined, how it is drawn or represented, and what is built. Tools of the Imagination will be open in second-floor galleries through October 10, 2005.

Tools of the Imagination is made possible by Autodesk Inc., Bentley Systems, Incorporated, McGraw-Hill Construction, Business Software Alliance, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard Company, Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, P.C., and Norbert W. Young, Jr.

Covering 250 years of design tools and technologies—from historic pencils, ink, and drafting equipment, to the latest and most sophisticated software and hardware, simulations, and models —the exhibition will consider the range of tools used in the last few centuries while also imagining what tools might best address future needs. A wide array of drawings, renderings, and sketches from well-known architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, I.M. Pei, and Frank Gehry will also be featured. The work of architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill will also be shown in the exhibition, including representations of the World Trade Center site's Freedom Tower.

The exhibition will include a sampling of historical tools, from the familiar T-square and compass, to the more obscure semi-elliptical trammel, centrolinead, perspectograph, and ellipsograph. Reproductions of these tools will also be in the exhibition, together with traditional drawing boards, to allow visitors to handle them and exercise their capabilities. Visitors will also be able to try the new technologies available to architects and designers today: computer workstations with the most current drawing and 3D modeling programs —AutoCAD®, Autodesk® VIZ, Autodesk® Revit®, MicroStation, CATIA, and others—will be set up in the exhibition.

The tools featured in the exhibition are used by architects and designers as a means to express imaginations, desires, and wishes. The tools translate ideas from mind to paper—or to model or screen—and eventually to built architecture. Thomas Jefferson’s drawing for the University of Virginia’s Rotunda, John Russell Pope’s drawing of the National Gallery of Art’s West Building, a Frank Lloyd Wright perspective, I.M. Pei’s sketchbook, and more will show how traditional tools fulfill this translation role. The works of contemporary architects Frank Gehry, Jeanne Gang, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, David Adjaye, and Hernan Diaz Alonso, which employ both traditional tools and sophisticated computer technologies, will also appear in the exhibition. Together, the drawings, sketches, models, and other works will reveal the history and development of the architects’ and designers’ tools and both the limitations and opportunities they present. In addition, the driving factors behind the development of new tools—the desire for greater precision, expressiveness, efficiency, economy, and predictability—will also be addressed.

Tools of the Imagination will also consider how the changes in design tools reflect the changes in both technology and society. The exhibition will first look at the European tools and techniques that were employed to design American structures in the 18th century. The development of mass-produced tracing paper and linen and ink techniques provided a significant leap forward in the 19th century, when architects and engineers also took advantage of wooden pencils, triangles, and T-squares to draw more quickly, allowing more experimentation and exploration of various design schemes. In the 20th century, architecture and design were transformed through advances in photo reproduction, the copy machine, and drawings made on Mylar with plastic pencils, facilitating advances in construction standardization. Each preceding era has had its “high tech” tools. Now, in the 21st century, computer-aided design software, coupled with CRT screens, specialized keyboards, and sophisticated personal computers, offers possibilities for visualization that would have been unimaginable even a few decades ago. With new capacities for high-speed calculation, engineers and architects can test technological limits with increasing accuracy.

The exhibition’s guest curator is Susan Piedmont-Palladino, an architect and an associate professor of architecture at Virginia Tech's Washington/Alexandria Architecture Consortium in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to joining the faculty at the Washington/Alexandria Architecture Consortium, Piedmont-Palladino taught at the University of Maryland and the Catholic University of America. Her published works include the book Devil’s Workshop: 25 Years of Jersey Devil Architecture and several articles in both popular and professional press. The curatorial associate and exhibition project manager at the National Building Museum is Reed Haslach. A 15-member group comprised of architects, university professors, museum curators, and software experts served as the exhibition’s advisory committee.

Tools of the Imagination, a 4,000-square-foot exhibition, will be designed by Andrew Petitti of Knowtis Design. Petitti holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in graphic design from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has worked on numerous exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution, the National Wildlife Federation, The Textile Museum, and others.

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