An ‘artist whose profession is architecture’, captures 16 buildings’ dynamic in space, emphasising the importance of hand drawings in a creative process which is becoming ever more software-based
‘Hand drawings help to channel the vague ponderings of the mind into visual images of a germinating concept. It is then up to the eyes to trace and decode its meaning,’ says Zvi Hecker in this new collection. Naturally that’s why sketches were always important and intriguing as they followed one’s mind. These days a lot of architects think with the digital mouse in hand, while using software that quickly facilitates a buildable appeal of almost any design, while there is a great danger in shortening the design process and eliminating the core moments that lead to good architecture. Has the assessment of thoughts visually disappeared from the architect’s design process? Are a lot of architects rushing towards the end game dropping the necessary middle process of design? What will happen to the intuitive immediacy of the hand drawing in days where one’s thoughts are channelled by software?
Nevertheless, all is not as it seems; there is confidence among young architects that sketches and drawings are not dead, as some claim, since they are natural and at ease with much software, and seem to be engaged with visual thinking through a wide range of drawing applications that are wider than ever before, leading to a sophisticated architectural output. Or perhaps such antagonistic observations reflect on a clear schism between professional practice and academic circles? In the practice of today, speed and practicality are the main yardsticks, where Building Information Modelling (BIM) for architects and engineers accelerates dramatically the design process; whereas in the academic context the pursuit of a design process articulated through drawings is highly valued.
Hecker’s astute observation clarifies his unique angle: ‘I’m an artist whose profession is architecture’, and that ambivalent reality was phrased by him knowingly saying ‘an architect is always within a schizophrenic situation because, on one hand, he is a professional and, on the other, he is within a creative process of searching and developing the design. The beginning of the process is an experiment − much like creating a dish that is not yet cooked and ready to be served. So the architect must admit that the design is still not perfect and is only in development.’
The brilliant structural engineer Peter Rice would have agreed with Hecker, as he dedicated one of his lectures in the mid 1980s, at the AA, to the importance of creative work not falling into the category of being extremely professional. Most architects will agree with that; this is the very nature of brilliant architecture for hundreds of years, so why is it so troublesome?
In this new book the sketches are mostly Hecker’s studies leading to his projects, built and unbuilt, and portray his passion for his work, as well as his sincerity and commitment to architecture − the most complex of all arts. They are hand drawn in pencil, colour pencil, ink and acrylic paint, capturing his laborious thought process with doubts and assertions that can be traced as perceived and developed while drawn on paper, recording his sense of responsibility as well as a relentless search for a new aesthetic. His sharp comments are displayed among the visual report of his design process, in short paragraphs: anecdotes, words of wisdom, cynical humour with a few battles illustrated, placing him along other maverick artists who often were misunderstood, and even more so in their hometown.
Hecker has selected studies of 16 projects, starting with one of his first building, the Bat Yam city hall, Israel (1960), and ending with his latest building to come: the Royal Military Police District in Schiphol Amsterdam Airport (2001-13). In all, it represents 40 years or so of architectural thinking by one of the most prominent maverick living architects; work that is often exhibited as art work in galleries, private collections and museums.
Three of Hecker’s projects, of which two made him known with the international community, are represented in the book by numerous studies. Each starts with the fascinating sunflower’s geometry or mathematics, an interest that was initiated in 1970 when he was given a drawing that showed how logarithmic spirals determine the growth of the sunflower seeds in the golden progression. ‘It was Frank Lloyd Wright who first considered geometry as scaffolding, which is later taken off’ says Hecker. Similarly, Hecker’s plans and sections are his common medium for studies with which he often thinks and works out his moves.
Most of the sketches tell us about Hecker’s struggles and rigorous design process, as when the building has been built the decisive acts hide any traces of the thinking. Thus the sunflower’s line network is hidden or unseen when you are looking at the buildings, but in the Jewish School in Berlin it retained the potential due to openings that capture and spread daylight into the interior of the school. Naturally, it is a similar case with the Spiral House in Ramat Gan, where one of its most unique and contemporary aspects (in one of its earliest appearances) is that Hecker’s interpretation of the organisation captures a spatial depth with many openings cutting through, creating this unique see-through for a building that otherwise is rather heavy and unforgiving. These allow cross ventilation, unusual views, connections between interior and exterior, illustrating a characteristic of all Hecker’s work that directs the viewer along a series of progressions and delays through the building − much like a journey through a city.
Hecker’s sketches are naked since no materials are expressed, though his use of materials communicates few of his intentions: a cultural critic as in the spiral apartment-block, or touching a nerve of the collective memory as in the Palmach Museum. Hecker’s freehand sketches of people, city landscapes, old historical buildings or trees inform us he can draw well naturally with elegant lines that portray the subject. Nevertheless, when designing he avoids being seduced by his lightness of hand, thus the sketches’ attraction is more about framing thoughts and early ideas that often are incomplete, and (for an architect who wished to keep this sense of incompleteness through his architecture as well), it’s fascinating to see the build up for that. His painterly sketches are three dimensional, capturing the building’s dynamic in space, and are often expressive − more about an impression than about the completeness of form (another feature that software cannot handle).
Designing through numerous sketches of plans and sections is a reflection of a 20th-century design medium that is disappearing, where these days the rigorous design is taking place three dimensionally, and plans and sections are often cut at the end of the process, dissecting the end product so as to provide working drawings and building instructions. The three-dimensional thinking is through software and always looks complete, leaving the charm or attraction of an incomplete sketch as a memory from the past.
Sketches Zvi Hecker
Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern