Decoys & Depictions Symposium

Image by Constance Vale.

Posted by Liam Otten October 10, 2019


View the livestream of the event>>

In architecture today, nothing is what it seems. Familiar outputs in the form of drawings, models and photographs are now produced through sophisticated digital tools and techniques. And though these products of electronic imaging may seem like replicas of their predecessors, they are in fact something entirely new.

So argues Constance Vale, assistant professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. From October 24-26, Vale will convene Decoys & Depictions: Images of the Digital, a symposium exploring how digital images are constructed; the implications for how architects and artists operate; and the potential effects within social and political realms.

"Decoys are objects that share characteristics with images," Vale said. "Depictions are images that have the qualities of objects." Yet, unlike traditional representations, both decoys and depictions are primarily shaped by hidden matrixes of informational formats, frameworks, and data sets. "They are attuned to the visual world for only a fraction of their existence," she added.

For architects and artists, Vale said, these new data-driven modes raise important questions.

"How can a deeper understanding of electronic imaging and the ongoing technological developments therein reshape how we design and build?" she asked. "How might we reconsider conventional methods of display in relation to the circulation of images through social networking and web-based media?

"How can examining images closely change how we structure design pedagogy?"

Schedule and registration

Presented by the Sam Fox School’s College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, Decoys & Depictions will investigate the effects of digital imaging on contemporary practice through lectures, panel sessions, and exhibitions. The more than two dozen participants will include Sam Fox School architecture and art faculty as well as visiting architects from across the country.

Highlights of the symposium include keynote lectures by Nader Tehrani, dean of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union in New York (October. 25), and Brett Steele, dean of the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture in Los Angeles (October 26). Panel sessions will focus on “Image Formats,” “Image Accumulations,” “Image Frames,” and “Image Fictions.”

All lectures and panels will take place in the Sam Fox School’s Anabeth and John Weil Hall and will be livestreamed via the symposium website.

Three related exhibitions, curated by Vale, will open in conjunction with the symposium.

The first of these, at the Sam Fox School’s Des Lee Gallery, will feature projects by more than 30 architects and artists—the majority of whom are participants in the conference proceedings.

Included are works from O-S-A, Current Interests, Young & Ayata, Amanda Bowles, FreelandBuck, Michelle JaJa Chang, Somewhere Studio, Sage Dawson, Design Earth, Jonathan Hanahan, Amy Hauft, Derek Hoeferlin Design, Petra Kempf, Axi:Ome, Ruy Klein, Medium Architecture, MILLIØNS, Emiliano López Mónica Rivera Arquitectos, Architecture Office, WOJR, Patricia Olynyk, EXTENTS, Tim Portlock, Jack Risley, Curtis Roth, RUR, Buzz Spector, P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S, Jonathan Stitelman, NADAAA, Hans Tursack, Factory of Smoke & Mirrors, Van Dyck Murphy Studio, and Ultramoderne.

The exhibition will open October 24 and remain on view through November 16. The Des Lee Gallery is located at 1627 Washington Ave.

Other exhibitions will feature work by WashU architecture students (October 18-November 1 in Steinberg Hall Gallery) as well as highlight holdings from the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum's permanent collection, including examples by Sophie Calle, Nick Cave, Trevor Paglen, Kiki Smith, and Wolfgang Tillmans (October 25 in the Museum).

All events are free and open to the public, but registration to the symposium is requested. For a complete schedule, visit