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London Eight, Curated by Peter Cook, Los Angeles, USA

[EXHIBITION] Graduates and faculty from the Bartlett demonstrate the endangered art of architectural drawing

London Eight sounds rather threatening, like the Gang of Four doubled up or the latest batch of terrorist suspects. But this octet are provocateurs of the immaterial; graduates and faculty of the Bartlett, selected by Peter Cook to demonstrate the endangered art of architectural drawing for an exhibition at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. It’s an apt location, for SCI-Arc was founded in 1972 to challenge conventional teaching, and is currently directed by Eric Owen Moss, the enfant terrible of LA architects.

In his catalogue introduction, Moss likens digital software to a set of regulations that limit creative expression, as MIDI has for music. He claims it has devoured architectural representation and welcomes Cook’s eight as artisans exploring fruitful alternatives.

Cook concurs, arguing that ‘Modernism never took hold in Britain. We’ve always been fiddlers, craft-oriented, and that explains the survival of drawing… Certain ideas have a boiling point that can be captured in a drawing but may be lost in the building.’

Only two of the eight architects - Laura Allen and Mark Smout - were born in the UK, but all have absorbed the English love of whimsy and speculation as a complement, rather than an alternative, to serious building. CJ Lim, a Bartlett professor and head of Studio 8 Architects, exemplifies this duality, veering from inspired fantasy to visionary city plans that might change the face of China. In the newly published Smartcities + Eco-warriors (Routledge, 2010, £29.99), he addresses urgent environmental issues with rigour and imagination. The London Eight exhibition features drawings from an upcoming book, Short Stories: London in Two-and-a-Half Dimensions (Routledge, 2011, £19.99). Light-hearted but precise, and as graphically accomplished as the early work of Zaha Hadid, they include such fantastical imaginings as Battersea Dogs Home: A Dating Agency, and Sky Transport for London: Redevelopment of the Circle Line.

Pascal Bronner offers his own vision of New Malacovia - a Portable City Blueprint, which looks back to extinct civilisations and forward to sustainable communities of the future. The spirits of writer Italo Calvino and illustrator Heath Robinson hover over these meticulous delineations of a multi-layered megastructure of flattened windows and fibre-optics, resting on a bed of corks, and harvesting renewable energy from potatoes impaled on pins. A similar aesthetic is carried further in the three-dimensional drawings of Johan Hybschmann. Inspired by Russian Ark, a film by Alexander Sokurov that telescopes time as the camera moves uninterruptedly through the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, he explores the perception of space. Laser-cut constructions that suggest the intricate mechanisms of a watch abstract the rich decor of the palace, drawing us into a labyrinth of cogs and connecting rods.

From here it’s a leap into the alternative reality of marcosandmarjan, the experimental practice that Marcos Cruz and Marjan Colletti established ten years ago. In that decade they’ve explored the links between architecture, biology and human emotion, drawing imaginary cities while building pavilions for the Lisbon Book Fair. Their research and seductive imagery feed into competition entries for projects in China and the Middle East. Yousef Al-Mehdari is more explicitly concerned with human anatomy. He re-imagines a Byzantine church in Istanbul that was gutted to serve as a museum, transformed into a hammam; bodies exploding from a wall of crumbling bricks; and a disturbing hybrid of bone and human features that evokes HR Giger’s monster in Alien. Smout Allen’s theme is Envirographic Architecture, exploring the relationship of nature and technology in specific locations, from the eroding coastline of Norfolk to the volcanic island of Lanzarote. The duo’s drawings have a formal beauty that would earn them an honoured place in any museum.

London Eight at SCI-Arc. Los Angeles, USA www.sciarc.edu

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