"Towards the formalisation of an engineering language: technical drawing at renaissance"

Keynote by Manuel Silva at ETFA'2010.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain, September 13, 2010.

Abstract: The technique is an essential feature of the process of humanization, an important element of culture and a cultural engine in itself. Furthermore, it is well recognised that “the engineer is the technician (technologist) par excellence” (José Ortega y Gasset: “Meditación de la Técnica”, 1933). Languages used in engineering are basic means to fix and communicate concepts, ideas and projects. At this point it is important to stress that they are useful not only for communication, playing a substantial role in our very thinking (idea of “self-dialog”), being easy to accept that we tend to think in the languages we master. The basic engineering’ languages can be classified as verbal and non-verbal. Technical drawing and mathematics belong to the last set. In this talk, the technical drawing – “the Mind’s Eye” (Guido da Vigevano, 1335) – will be considered at its inflexion point towards formalization. This process represents a corner step towards formal engineering languages and techniques with strong technical, socio-professional and economical implications. Even today, a significant part of the creative thought of the designers is non-verbal, not easily reducible to words. Drawings or models are for this reason extremely important in engineering. The historical epoch to be mainly considered covers the Renaissance, which in a too simplistic form is often simply perceived as a renewed aesthetic language, ignoring that is a period of major innovations. At this epoch, technical drawing will intend to define (i.e., describe, not only suggest), with progressive rigor, three-dimensional realities. Drawing techniques during the Renaissance will favor the professional dissociation between the designer (e.g., engineer or architect) and the builder or constructor. In other words, will allow the firsts to work in a completely different site where the engine, building or infrastructure is constructed. In turn this will be in itself a catalyst for the processes of concentration of political and economical power.