This may seem like an article for connoisseurs but I’m sure it can reserve pleasant surprises even for those who are not interested in technical design. On the other hand, axonometry is not only a mode of representation for architectural projects but also a form of visual language.
When we think of a technique to represent the third dimension in art, the point of view immediately comes to mind.
Indeed there are many other ways of doing it.
However, axonometry rarely comes to mind.
Nevertheless, it allows us to show an object in three dimensions, thus giving an idea of its volume. But although the shape the object assumes is unnatural, it does not respond to the perceptual constants of our vision.
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What is far, for example, has the same dimensions as what is near; two parallel lines do not converge towards a point on the horizon but remain parallel even in their two-dimensional representation.
It is a representation, therefore, more true than likely. Respect the dimensional relationships between objects and the parallelism between lines. Therefore, although it appears more “artificial” it is, conceptually, more correct than the perspective.
The volumetric precision of the axonometry is exploited above all in the representation of past architectures of which both the external volume and the internal spatiality are to be shown (the so-called axonometric section).
Architecture and Furniture
It is also an irreplaceable tool for representing “disassembled” objects, both architecture and furnishings or mechanical parts. In this case we speak of an axonometric exploded view.
From the theoretical point of view it is a very young method of representation. It was scientifically codified in the nineteenth century (due to the need to design the machinery required by the Industrial Revolution) although, on an intuitive level, it already existed at the time of Greek art.
The first examples of axonometry can be found in vase painting and in particular in the design of architectural structures whose depth lines are parallel to each other (for this reason the axonometry is also called parallel perspective).
In Roman painting it is possible to find the axonometric drawing both in the three-dimensional meander decorations.
than in the figurative frescoes. The Pompeian ones below, for example, show furnishings (stool or baker’s counter) drawn in axonometric.
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The skill of the Pompeian painters, however, was such that they had already realized that our vision is more similar to perspective than to axonometry.
Thus, in some paintings of the so-called second style, one can observe perspective architectures complete with converging lines and vanishing points on the horizon line.
With the advent of the Middle Ages, spatial patterns derived from classical art continue to survive.
It is therefore possible to trace the use of a rather intuitive axonometry (and sometimes with obvious spatially impossible situations) even in Byzantine art, generally characterized by strong two-dimensionality.
When, with the Renaissance, in the fifteenth century, the central perspective prevailed over all the other systems of rendering the three-dimensional aspect, the axonometry did not disappear even if it was relegated to a more technical field:
the illustrations of the solid geometry treatises, the drawing of maps urban and military architecture projects.
Axonometry In The Military Field
And the military field has given its name to one of the various modes of representation, military axonometry, in fact.
Military architects had to be able to quickly draw the volume of buildings and other architectural works from the floor plan. So, in a military axonometry, you just need to raise the heights and the drawing already becomes three-dimensional!
Without wishing to go too far into the various definitions, here is a summary of the various types of axonometries.
Among all these, the first is also very interesting, isometric axonometry. It can be done very easily starting from the so-called isometric grid, a tessellation of the plane composed of equilateral triangles.
The constructive simplicity of the isometric axonometry made it an excellent pattern for the ancient Roman floors in opus scutulatum characterized by cubic motifs with a three-dimensional effect.
And for the composition of textile patch works (also called quilts).
The axonometric drawing, due to its geometric characteristics, can give rise to visual ambiguities effectively used to create impossible objects or spaces: from the Penrose triangle to the ever-rising staircase, up to the Necker cube with which an Escher character plays.
But let’s go back to the history of art. In Eastern cultures, axonometry has never been supplanted by perspective, probably for that sense of greater abstraction and cleanliness that this technique gives to paintings.
In Europe, however, we have to wait until the twentieth century for axonometry, after having been theoretically outlined by William Farish in 1820, to return to the fore in the field of art.
With Neoplasticism, Rationalism and Russian Constructivism, axonometry was used to represent decidedly innovative architectural structures in an almost abstract way.
In most cases these are monometric axonometries in which the plan maintains its orthogonality without deformation.
The same type of representation is used by Le Corbusier even in his purist still lifes (like this one from 1920).
And after almost a hundred years there are still those who try their hand at this type of representation: the original still lifes by Kenne Gregoire use the same type of axonometry to give volume to glasses and jugs.
Molto suggestive sono anche le stanze ipogee di Mathew Borrett. Le sue assonometrie monocromatiche scavate nella superficie bianca del foglio non hanno nulla di tecnicistico ma rimandano ad uno mondo misterioso da disseppellire.
We can also find axonometry in street art. This is the case of Aakash Nihalani with his minimalist and illusionistic graphic interventions.
Even axonometry, therefore, although belonging to a technical area of the world of visual communication, manages to be evocative and even fun.
As always, it all depends on how we look at things!