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Viewpoints: Peter Cook on the Death of Drawing

Peter Cook

Has the steady march of progress been detrimental to the art of drawing?

The parallel emotions of fascination and frustration infect the minds of many architects right now. The latter is an obvious result of today’s economic woes, but the former is more complex. For too long we have heard various takes on the ‘end of Modernism’, yet find ourselves falling back on its very foibles. It still holds a certain fascination, as does the exponential burst of digital wonders hold an even more breathless fascination.

Just as, over the last 50 years, did the idea of the robot, the invincibility of concrete, the sheerness of plate-glass or the deviousness of certain French philosophers.If we cynically (or in fear) wait for each one of them to move in or out of our way we remain pawns in their several games. So, what to do? We can retreat into the vegetable patch, the healthy country walk, the gloom of red wine, the endless reconstruction of a clapped-out little building in a semi-accessible location.

Or we can do a drawing.

We can use this as a palliative, as an inspiration, as a daydream, or as an extension of our creative activity without the constraint of client, site, budget − or even materiality. Yet such an activity is under attack from a certain wing of the digital thought-police and still gets sniped at by the architectural theorists who sneer at anything that smacks of self-expression.

The computer can lead us away into a new land of inevitability and logic, say the first group, following that with dark hints that any deviation from the true and consequential process is over-indulgent.The set-up of the forthcoming Yale symposium entitled ‘Is Drawing Dead?’ (9−11 February) positions the old drawing-makers on 10 February and the digitals the day after.

Academics like artificial situations, since many of them have pulled out of the creative game. So a few of those of us who are heading for Yale will enjoy a certain muddying of the waters: just to make them uncomfortable? Or because we actually value the mandate of the drawing to delve, dream, speculate, manipulate, posit, doodle, or dart in an unexpected direction?

One or two of us don’t much care whether the drawing itself is covered in lead and sweat, caressed by layers of sedimented watercolour, is a partly Photoshopped manipulation, is caressed by the soothing characteristics of Maya, or dragged at extra speed through a printing machine.

As a teacher I found that the first generation of kids who chirped about their prowess on the computer (but were often eye-dead) were quickly overtaken by a second generation who did have talent, moving effortlessly from pencil to mouse and often back again.

I sit writing this on a train that runs across most of Denmark, from west to east. At one time this would have been unthinkable: since the various islands were once satisfied by their completeness and generated a breed of sailors who relished the heroism and craftsmanship of crossing the water. Now we simply glide along. At one time writing was for the study, travel was for the vessel.

Now I simply flap down the table, flap open the laptop. I can look out of the window (are we now on Thule, or is it Zealand already?). The kaleidoscope of the visible overlays my train of thought. When I arrive in Copenhagen I will see an extraordinary exhibition of drawings by Lebbeus Woods, Peter Wilson, CJ Lim and others, honouring our sadly lost friend, Svein Tønsager.

Such an exhibition reminds me of the 1980s when many European towns had architecture galleries, where we celebrated ideas. You will note that I cite ideas, rather than draughtsmanship, though that will also be in evidence.

The few remaining galleries seemed to have taken up a more rhetorical, programmatic stance, making it harder for the talented meanderer, the graphicate speculator to have a voice. Sandwiched between these two events lies a particular − and not so fragile − culture, waiting to be picked up, dusted and sent back into the mainstream of ideas.

‘Spare us a pencil, guv.’ Things might get worse, but paper is still cheap, if you’re not too fussy. Little old shop premises are sitting empty in every city. Architects, young and old, have strange and unfolding ideas. Including deviant ideas. And someone can be sitting at a fold-up table while working on a thesis, just stopping the drawings from getting nicked.

Not such a bad idea? Could be a part of the Academy of the Future; but that one is for another day.

AR Innovators: Find out more about Peter Cook in an interview where he talks about design and his inspirations


Readers' comments (1)

  • Here, here!!!
    Unfortunately, we cannot escape the computer. However, in my practice I insist on hand-drawing AND model-building until the end of Design Development. I like to say that I work with my hands and that my hands and mind are connected far more than a 23" TV screen can measure.
    Thank you for a thoughtful and timely article.
    Anthony LaFazia
    New York, NY

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