C 1 – Parallel Projection as ‘Symbolic Form’
monadnock, axonometrische Ansicht des Nationalen Historischen Museums, Berlage Institut (Studie), 2010-11.

SECTION C – Order as Design

C 1 – Parallel Projection as ‘Symbolic Form’

Chris Dähne, Sara Hillnhütter, Barbara Wittmann

Art History Institute at the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Institute for Art History, Art Theory and Aesthetics at the Berlin University of the Arts


Since Erwin Panofsky’s famous essay on perspective as ‘symbolic form’ (Panofsky 1927), the history of central perspective has received some attention both within and outside of art history. In recent decades in particular, art historians and philosophers have discussed extensively, following Panofsky’s thesis, the ways in which and the effects with which central perspective could gain the status of a binding model of visual perception, consciousness, or subjectivity. What remained largely underexposed in this debate was the fact that the use of imaging rays converging on one point could by no means establish itself in all areas of the arts and sciences as a privileged medium of planning. Perspective primarily established itself in the visual arts as the (supposed) equivalent of the one-eyed perception of space; in the sciences, the engineering arts and architecture, various forms of parallel projection already dominated in early modern times (and continue to do so today).

This subproject aims to conduct a historically broad, comparative investigation into the different forms of parallel projection in architecture, the arts, and the (engineering) sciences. Orthogonal projections, isometrics and all other methods of parallel projection shift the vanishing point of the rays into infinity, so that the projection rays are nearly parallel. The images generated in this way ensure a greater fidelity of form by eliminating the dimensionally distorting depth defects of the vanishing point perspective resulting from the convergence of the projection beams. Parallel projections therefore offer more or less abstract spatial representations from which dimensions can be taken directly. They are thus operative images that both enable and challenge our sight, thoughts and actions.

The research project of Chris Dähne investigates axonometry as a graphical method of spatial planning between analog and digital media. Contemporary architecture also makes use of this traditional procedure, and its role in the production of architecture must be questioned, especially against the backdrop of digitalization. To what extent is axonometry generatively involved in the design process and what role does the computer play in this?


Publications on the project topic (selection):

Werkzeuge des Entwerfens, Ed. by Barbara Wittmann, Schriften des Internationalen Kollegs für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie, Bd. 30, Zürich: diaphanes, 2018.

Planbilder. Medien der Architekturgestaltung, Ed. by Sara Hillnhütter, Bildwelten des Wissens, Bd. 11, Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015.

Dähne, Chris: „Die analogen Bilder digital entworfener Architektur“, in: Wolkenkuckucksheim|Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, Zeitschrift zur Theorie der Architektur: Mediale Praktiken des architektonischen Entwerfens, Heft Nr. 40, 2020 (in print).