On a 15th-century piece of paper in black ink, Albrecht Dürer describes a snake. Drawn by hand with enormous precision, it is not evident at first that this is a snake. It looks nothing like a snake. The Snake he refers to isn’t the drawing instrument “die Schlange” he has illustrated on the page but the 3-dimensional serpentine curve absent from the diagram that the instrument produces. Although the diagram does not represent the serpentine curve, it does prescribe the kinematic arrangement of the five ‘rods’ and four ‘dials’ of “die Schlange,” which would, hypothetically, be the earliest parametric drawing instrument intended to construct a 3-dimensional spline (pictured right). Over the past several months, I have been reconstructing robotic armatures modeled after Dürer’s lesser-known 15th-century drawing instrument, “die Schlange,” to better understand the device through its performance. The recursive act of reconstructing this elusive snake has led me to realize that new interpretations of drawing instruments have the instructive potential to confront the incongruities between the computationally described object and the constructed surface.


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Between the Lines: The Instrumentation of Architecture