Screen Images


Computer graphics offer versatility, spontaneity and a means of clear visualisation for the client. In his work with Maru, Graham Cooper describes how he uses the computer as a simulation tool for orchestrating a hospital arts project HD Hospital Development May 1990

Most people are aware that there is an urgent need for better healthcare facilities and in my work for the Medical Architecture Research Unit (MARU) Art Projects I aim to help health service managers make their premises more attractive and sympathetic to the needs of those who use them. To this end I find that the computer is an extremely supportive and versatile instrument for communication.

The quality of the environment is currently a major concern, and the Maru Art Projects' remedy is sympathetically to introduce appropriate visual and tactile stimulation. Incorporating an artistic programme into the architecture enlivens the building and contributes towards more appealing surroundings. As well as assisting orientation around the maze of corridors found in large building complexes, art embellishment has a mediating effect between the individual and the institution. Pleasant surroundings and well maintained buildings and courtyards lift staff morale, and improve the public image of the organisation. In 1981 I began to work as an artist in collaboration with the live-project architects at Maru who were designing new group practice GP surgeries. Initially my work on these smaller scale projects was supported by a grant from the Arts Council. The Maru Art Projects began in earnest when I was invited to work on the new nearby Great Northern Building at the Whittington Hospital, Islington, with architects from the NE Thames Region in 1985. This project is an important attempt to introduce art and decoration into the fabric of a new hospital building and it was here that I commenced work on computer graphics. Breaking down large hospitals into more human proportions offers great potential for an artistic contribution, and it is here that the computer becomes a useful assistant.

Historically, art and architecture were fully integrated as an expression of the building's purpose, and since antiquity there has been an established order to its arrangement throughout the building. In classical buildings for instance there were niches such as pediments and tympanums to stage sculpture in the round and friezes and capitals to create high relief, with subject matter organised chronologically according to the order in which it was experienced by the visitor. Thus decorative art provided a readable hierarchy with a built-in code for orientation.

Unfortunately, large public buildings have long since lost this identifiable vocabulary and many have become anonymous, magnolia-coloured spaces with no sense of place. Part of my role is to re-establish which artistic skills are appropriate and where, and if they are achievable and affordable.

Colour Coding

First I shall explain how a computer can be used as a coherent simulation tool for orchestrating an overall art project package, I will illustrate this by describing how, over the last two years, I have used a paint box type of program on an Amiga 500 computer and Hewlett Packard Ink Jet printer. The following categories are for ease of presentation and are not in order of experience. They describe a conceptual process for the integration of art based on observation and practice, and represent a more comprehensive strategy than that normally commissioned.

1 The Hospital Art Plan -introducing the concept;

2.Presentation and perspectives illustrating ideas and options;

3.The computer as a design tool - development of detail;

4. Computer printouts as artwork - hard copy artefacts

! The Hospital Art Plan: diagrams are produced using the most familiar form of computer graphics, reminiscent of CAD plan drawings. The computer can describe space utilisation and orientation through the building very clearly. It enables the relative importance of each part of the building to he evaluated in terms of its main public routes, junctions and staff zones where perhaps there is a need to lift the spirits. The art plan is useful as a strategic design device to determine the location of artefacts and it offers a price related option appraisal. it can indicate basic characteristics such as the building axis, vistas, movement and node punctuation of the public spaces and courtyards. The plan enables the designer to determine the decorative art priorities, which can then be incorporated into a co-ordinated ornamental and colour-coding scheme. These environmental graphics can be used as maps to supplement the existing sign systems and are decoratively pleasing artefacts in their own right.

2 Presentation graphics and perspective: When working on a public building it is necessary to work closely with the building users, particularly the commissioning client or management representatives. For clear communications, good quality presentation is essential in order to advance beyond this preliminary stage. Traditionally, an artist visualises an idea, and in architecture this may mean time taken in preparing perspective drawings or models. Use of a computer can considerably accelerate this initial presentation process, and concepts can be illustrated quickly and spontaneously, with an impressive finish.

Quality  The consistent quality of the image and the ability to quickly make alterations and try other options is a tremendous asset. With a drawing 'tablet' it is easy to digitise a clear picture of the proposed work and its content in order to gain the confidence of the patrons; image quality is crucial if they are to continue to pay for your services.

3 The computer as a design tool: My first experiences of computer graphics were on tile decoration designs for the washrooms at the Whittington Hospital. Tile layouts, with their regular grids, were easily simulated on the Deluxe Paint software using the fixed grid tool, from the 'menu bar'. An example of this is the random spatial tile concept, which is to be laid by the contractor. This approach appears to interest architects because the artist is incorporating his vision into the finishes of the building, and in the same materials, without unduly disturbing the contractors normal building practice. At this early stage I was using 'quick line and fill' computer devices to illustrate ideas that were to be fabricated in another medium, eg ceramic tiles, painted aluminium panels, wood or stone structures. The largest contribution to the Whittington building is the 'Tree of Life' mural for the children's ward courtyard. Painted on 'alucobond' panels it spreads across the regular fenestration, and the size and position of the coloured leaf shapes were developed on the Amiga.

Other work, such as the positioning and landscaping of the stone Howden arch at St George's Hospital, Tooting, was generated on the computer using the same software package. This arch is situated in a key position, orientated axially outside the main entrance, and it will shortly have a sculpture of the famous surgeon John Hunter mounted upon it just as it did in its original Hyde Park Corner location.

4. Computer printouts as artwork Generally speaking, a computer's strong points are consistency, repetition, fast colour change and the production of accurate regular shapes - this makes it ideal for animation. Fast alterations in colour and pictorial composition enable quick, multiple variations on a theme, together with low unit picture costs for a suite of prints. Using the PhotoLab software I can now produce large 'hardcopy' images which become the actual artwork itself. As a result of producing mural scale decorations I use the finer grain pixel of high resolution graphics - although unfortunately this means a more limited palette. My first computer hard copy artworks were ceiling panels produced for six new anaesthetic rooms. The boldly coloured flower motifs were developed with the close co-operation of a senior anaesthetist at the hospital. These same floral pieces form the basis for a later series of prints for the Brain Damage Ward at the Knowle hospital near Fareham. Other hard copy art for the Whittington includes a series of window images for the new building's main rear streets, and enlarged 'digitised' children's drawings to decorate the staff bases of the paediatric ward. These irregular cloud shapes were made from heat sealed dry mounted prints on a self- adhesive plastic board - new methods and techniques for the new tech medium.

Clowning Around

Along one featureless corridor at St George's we introduced a series of twelve-column shaped images specifically designed to punctuate and animate the blank wall of the corridor. The inherent pixel surface texture of this series reminds me of the tesserae patterns found in the mosaics of Ravenna. We completed this low budget scheme by painting the corridor in a colour sympathetic to the gold framed computer graphics. To decorate the children's room in the A&E Department, we have introduced four clown pictures derived from the curtain decoration in the room.

The largest computer decoration I have undertaken to date is for the ceiling of the new day theatre at the West Middlesex University Hospital. Patients in this type of theatre may have local anaesthetic for minor operations and will normally be lying horizontal examining the ceiling. Here I have introduced a colourful butterfly and flower theme, appropriate perhaps because of the nearby London Butterfly House. As this is a highly clinical area we used beat sealed and dry mounted self-adhesive tiles. This ceiling decoration was developed from four basic tile compositions, which are scrambled and re-assernbled over the28 tiles to animate the ceiling above the patient. The image and pattern were kept deliberately simple and unimposing so as not to mesmerise the onlooker.

As a general observation, I find computer art development has been market led, particularly for the more lucrative video and desktop publishing arts; but in the basic picture making components of line

and colourwash it is still primitive. Too many software packages are concerned with video 'fizz' effects or visual number crunching, which are great for games but not for more serious application. For progress in the quality of computer art, I would like to see the interface between the hand and the computer line improved so that the tactile experience is matched by a similar rendition of mark.

Where the architects brief is to produce massive volumes of covered space as cheaply as possible, there is plenty of room for enrichment on a human scale by artist and hospital uses. Maru Art Projects aspires to increase the vitality of the building, punctuating and simplifying large establishments. The computer can assist the planning and conceptual design work and can produce decorative friezes to alleviate those 'never-ending' magnolia corridors. Now that the Department of Health is converting to Autocad computer drawing systems, in the not too distant future designers of health buildings who are not using computer graphics may be in danger of becoming objects of antiquity.

*Graham Cooper will be giving live demonstrations of his work at Health Care 90 at the NEC, Birmingham.


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