Friday’s tutorials with my post-graduate students from BSA introduced me to a new, influential figure in contemporary architecture. I met him some time ago, but until now hadn’t considered his importance.

Say hello to 2D_Man_Backpack:


He’s one of the default figures in the industry changing software, Google Sketchup. I’ve used him myself in models before, but it wasn’t until I started to see him appear in student’s work – in multiple locations across a model – that I realised what his key attribute was.

He’s entirely passive. Culturally, politically, ideologically, you name it, he hasn’t got a thing to say. He doesn’t have a single opinion about the spaces you force him to inhabit.

Is that a shirt or a roll-neck? Are those jeans or Farrar trousers? Hush Puppies or Merrells? Is he just passing by or will he stop and say/do something? Is the bag full of business or pleasure?

What’s he looking at and what does he look like? I can’t tell you because he’s programmed to always present this 2D surface to the camera. He doesn’t have the balls to look you in the eye. His glances bounce off your building without leaving an impression and with the seemingly unstoppable rise of Sketchup I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.

The lack of people inhabiting spaces is a long standing criticism of architectural photography. Photographers will tell you it’s about long shutter speeds and the subsequent time-lapse blur, but let’s not deny the fact that many of us like to picture our creations before they get sullied by the one thing we can’t control. My building would be perfect, if only it wasn’t spoilt by the people using it.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. His ambivalence reminds me of the qualities I listed in the entry about the blackbeltjones sketch comparing figure drawing techniques: Architects vs. Interaction Designers. Keep your hands in your pockets.

Whilst the Letraset guys I uploaded during the Architectural Advent may not be politically correct in the 21st Century, one thing’s for certain, they’ve got an opinion and by gosh old chap, they’re going to tell you.

Letraset guys

The most worrying realisation about this entry? From the back, 2D Man looks just like me.

6 thoughts on “2D Man

  1. 2d man doesn’t look like you. Don’t be silly. Your legs are longer, proportionally.

    Also, this is why I do my figures differently, either using poser, or by mapping them into the image with something like 3dsmax and tweaking it out with photoshop. They may sometimes look just slightly off, but at least they don’t look like the same thing over and over again. (no, we’re *not* going to suggest I draw them by hand, thank you so much.)

    Someone could make a lot of money creating a photo database of figures that could be pulled off of plain backgrounds and inserted into perspectives.

    btw, Chuck is back online. :) Allo.

  2. hello, i’ve been lurking away peacefully for quite a while, but i keep thinking of this entry so it seemed like time to speak up. i like your blog a lot.

    there’s something funny about how the representation of people changes as soon as it’s about public space or an urban study – i find myself getting impatient to get people off the lovely staircase so that i can take a picture without them ruining it, but as soon as it’s about a street or a park or a similar space, i’m fidgeting away, waiting for people to pile in so that i can represent what it’s used for. and aside from tradition/precedent, i have no idea why.

  3. Hi Lisa. Thanks for the kind words about the blog. I’ve been shirking lately and the entries have been thin on the ground, but hopefully I’ll find the time soon to get stuck in again.

    Staircases are an object in a territory that deserve (or cry out) to be photographed in a figurative manner, and their purpose is manifest in their form.

    Streets are territory whose form needs to be given purpose by the people.

    Objects in space. I think photographers call this foreground interest. I guess it’s just about being drawn to the action.

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