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14 Pivotal Architecture Drawings

For centuries, the evolution of architecture’s representation has followed theories and ideas – or is it the other way around?


Two men under a tent, Prehistoric Indian cave painting, 7,000 years ago

Could this be the earliest example of a section drawing? Are those scratches between the layers of the tent perhaps insulation? It’s doubtful, but this cave painting of two men under a tent likely presents a representation completely unaffected by any previous style or preconceptions, showing the basic recognition of architecture as shelter or protection above all else.


The Prisons Series by Piranesi, 1750

Famous for his etchings of Rome that Rome itself could not live up to, Piranesi’s series of fictitious prison etchings anticipate Escher and Kafka and had a great influence on the Romanticists and Surrealists. While others took pleasure in depicting a sunlit scene, Piranesi brings us a terrifying fantasy. An aggregate of monumental architectural constructions, ruins and machinery create tense scenes that are at once menacing and fascinating. Along with Marco Ricci and others, Piranesi helped conceive the cappricio genre – the placing together of architecture and ruins to create fantastical scenes that has continued for centuries.


Interior of a Library, Etienne Boullee, 1785

Boullée’s grandiose and visionary neoclassicism, although rarely built, lives on in his hugely influential drawings. Focusing on polarity, particularly light and shadow, his drawings depict vast, atmospheric spaces. Commissioned in 1780 to extend Paris’ Royal Library, his amphitheatre-esque basilica, lit from above, is an example of his stunning ability to imagine atmosphere with sinister, megalomaniacal undertones. It is no surprise that Boullée can be seen in the monolithic, neo-classical Nazi architecture of Albert Speer.


La Citte Nuova by Antonio Sant’Ella, 1914

The mechanised and industrial city of La Citte Nuova (The New City) portrayed by Antonio Sant’Elia and the Futurists of the early 20th Century was a seminal point for architectural representation. Capturing the excitement and opportunity of early modernisation, the Futurists called for an aggressive rejection of the old. La Citta Nuova, with its walkways, terraces and mechanised skyscrapers remains a reminder of Modernism’s relentless optimism and belief in what was possible.


Dom-Ino House, Le Corbusier, 1914-15

A standardised, prefabricated skeleton allowing for a free façade and open plans, Le Corbusier’s dom-ino house plan did away completely with the load bearing wall. One of the first architects to promote its usage, the frame promised quick, flexible, economic housing that was within everyone’s grasp. Not only was the design the foundation for a decade’s worth of Le Corbusier’s architecture, it helped reify the open plan and free façade as modern concepts.


Le Corbusier’s designs for La Ville Radiuse, 1924

The vast, cold and ominous concrete landscapes of the Ville Radiuse (The Radiant City) or Plan Voisin are the most instantly recognisable of Le Corbusier’s drawings. Yet for all his Modernist brutalism, he produced sketchbooks full of sensitive drawings and paintings, explored by the recent MoMA exhibition Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes (reviewed here). Nonetheless, his plans for clearing the whole of Paris and replacing it with concrete skyscrapers and highways remain equal parts terrifying and inspiring in their ability to evoke an age age of utopian ideas.


Iakov Chernikov’s Architectural Fantasies, 1933

Chernikov’s visionary works find an immensely surefooted clarity in their depiction of a Soviet industrial aesthetic. His key work, Architectural Fantasies: 101 Compositions published in 1933 led to some dismissing him as too graphic and others dubbing him the Soviet Piranesi. Solid, often cylindrical volumes sit with lightweight meshes and trusses to form buildings with some vague industrial purpose, all rendered in bold colour. Chernikov’s style encapsulated the zeitgeist and proved more influential at the time than any built form.


Plug in City by Peter Cook for Archigram, 1964

Archigram’s technologically driven, futurist concepts could not have existed without the nuanced drawing style of Peter Cook. ‘Plug in City’, a city where buildings are replaced with a frame into which standardised cells are placed updated Sant’Ella’s designs for the 1960s and 70s, where Japanese Metabolism would see real attempts to build them. However, far more successful were the later works Archigram would inspire, such as Norman Foster’s early high tech projects and the blobitecture of Future Systems.


Bernard Tschumi’s Manhattan Transcripts, 1979-80

Praised by Peter Cook as ‘the most telling architectural statements of the late 20th Century’, Tschumi’s Manhattan Transcripts display a consideration of spatial sequencing, organisation and narrative. A series of panels depicts a space, its architectural manufacture and the movements of the space’s protagonists. For Tschumi, architectural representation is not purely concerned with form. His transcripts saw architecture as a stage and its users as protagonists in a way which has helped define architecture’s social role. Although not a built project, the transcripts draw from reality to show an apparently simple architectural method of thinking, the effects of which can be felt in the works of Rem Koolhaus and Bjarke Ingels.


The Peak by Zaha Hadid, 1982-83

The unbuilt competition winning design for The Peak in Hong Kong is an often cited example of ‘painting as architecture’, and a go-to defence against those who attack ZHA for relying on computer generated form making. With touches of constructivism and Cezánne, there are none of Hadid’s now characteristic flowing curves here; The Peak’s ‘knives’ cut horizontally into the site, their geometry inspired by the surrounding city’s verticality. The potency, arrogance and optimism of the image is a precursor to the character of Hadid’s later works, showing the effect she feels one small project can have on an entire city.


Woodcarving Museum by Peter Salter, 1993

With a highly developed sense of atmosphere, materiality and construction – as well as naked occupants – Peter Salter’s drawings helped re-ignite the poetic capacity of building for a generation of students. In the 1980s working with Christopher Macdonald, Salter produced a series of unbuilt speculative projects that were famous for their highly meticulous drawings. This style continues to show through in his more recent projects such as 4 Houses, out of which he has squeezed -and drawn - as much detail as possible.


C.J Lim’s World of Cow, 2000

A take on the technical blueprint, C.J Lim’s drawing for the 2000 ‘World of Cow’ project combines a basic white on red line drawing with snapshots of key activities, in this case the movement of a Wagyu calf about its living space atop a restaurant (where it will later be eaten). The diagraming of events is reminiscent of Tschumi, albeit more whimsical, and the inclusion of a cow dancing across a stave perhaps an interesting nod to music’s role in architecture. The straightforward surety of the drawing heightens its audacity; occupying the space in between whimsy and sincerity that is seen in practices like MVRDV and FAT. Without such drawings we would never even consider proposals of cow residences above restaurants and skyscrapers full of pigs, and architecture would be duller for it.


Wandering Turtle by Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, 2001

Key figures in the world of ‘paper architecture’, Brodsky and Utkin’s etchings of fantastical architectural scenes began as an outlet for their views on the bleak professional scene in 1980s Russia. Many chose to abandon architecture entirely, but Brodsky and Utkin took to visual criticism to defy the Communist aesthetic of much that was being built. The etchings at once evoke Boullée and Piranesi’s light, shadow and disquieting quality, with the whimsy of Peter Cook and C.J Lim.

8 House Diagrams by Bjarke Ingels Group, 2010

Ingels takes an approach to representing and explaining schemes that gives them such a level of accessibility that it renders any other architect’s work esoteric. Simple, colourful and unashamedly pragmatic, his diagrams define design decisions step-by-step, and achieve their beauty through doing so. The unflinching simplicity of explanation is what makes Ingels’ projects competition winners - their persuasive clarity is hard to argue with. As if this wasn’t clear enough, Ingels casually paces around a table manipulating computer generated forms to make his logic seem indisputable.


To explore the evolution of architectural representation further, read the special issue of the AR online, featuring:

  • Nicholas Olsberg on the evolving role of drawing
  • Sou Fujimoto Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist
  • Charles Jencks on architecture and music

May 2013 Index

May 2013, Issue 1395. Volume CCXXXIII

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