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SKETCHBOOK: a creative tool and a way of life that celebrates design and drawing as vital ways to see and value culture, to discover ideas, and to envision a better world.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Inspiration for "Serial Vision" Challenge: Meet Gordon Cullen

This is a page from Gordon Cullen's The Concise Townscape, with eye-level sketches illustrating the "sequence of revelations" represented by arrows in the plan graphic at right.

It's been exciting to see how our global sketching community has responded to the "Serial Vision" challenge I tossed out at the end of our "USkTalks" interview one week ago.  Coming up with an idea for on-location drawing while we're quarantined inside is a bit of a challenge in itself. So I went back to my landscape architecture education for inspiration. The idea was to create a series of simple drawings, in storyboard fashion, to depict a sequence of views the sketcher would see in going about a daily routine or ritual while being isolated at home.

Like any idea, it didn't appear to me from nowhere. I was profoundly influenced in university by the work of British urban designer and author Gordon Cullen, whose seminal book "Townscape," first published in 1961, influenced a generation (or two) of architects, urban designers and illustrators with its deceptively simple ideas, wonderful writing and Cullen's signature drawing style.  Cullen coined the term "serial vision" to describe his wonderful sequences of spare drawings that depicted how one would experience an environment while moving through it at a steady pace (see example at top). Drawn quickly and simply, the panels could be used to describe the experience of walking through a town, driving a roadway, or any other experiential sequence of views, real or imaginary. Each drawing gives a hint of the next. I've used the technique to document experiences from imagining a walk through a yet-to-be-built college campus to capturing the experience in real time of floating down the Mekong River in Vietnam.

Cullen's book is still available as The Concise Townscape. My intent here is simply to introduce Cullen to those in our sketching community who haven't crossed his path, and to highlight this "serial vision" idea as one that has great potential to tell stories in the cities where we live and travel. And yes, my urban design firm was named "Townscape Inc." in tribute to Cullen, who serves as patron saint.

My drawings depicting a sequence of views moving through an imaginary college campus. It was prepared to introduce a "serial vision" assignment to my graduate students back in my professor days.

My panels capturing views along tributaries of the Mekong River as we boated to a village upstream.