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Drawing Attention unpacks the digital culture of architectural drawings

ROCA London Gallery’s autumn exhibition examines the state of contemporary architectural drawing, revealing its potential and questioning possible futures in the post digital era.

by Zohra Khan Sep 16, 2019

In what is now being referred to as the ‘post-digital era’ – a time when technology is so pervasive that it is the basis of all we create and the medium through which we think – contemporary architects are wielding the digital as an ever more powerful tool.

Drawing is the most fundamental tool of expression in architecture - the medium through which architects define the construction of a building. Historically, drawings were produced by hand that followed specific conventions of scale and projection. As time progressed, technology intervened in the landscape and opened a spectrum of possibilities for drawings to accommodate and reveal so much more than simply the detailing of a building’s construction.

Liquid Kingdom (2017) by Laura Allen | Drawing Attention | ROCA London Gallery | STIR
Liquid Kingdom (2017) by Laura Allen is a speculative design proposal for an environmental ‘proving ground’ of landscape and architectural installations, sited on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary Image Credit: Laura Allen, Smout Allen

An upcoming exhibition at the ROCA London Gallery, titled Drawing Attention: The Digital Culture of Contemporary Architectural Drawings seeks to examine the state of contemporary architectural drawing. Curators Jeremy Ficca, Amy Kulper, and Grace La, associate professors at Carnegie Mellon University, Rhode Island School of Design and Harvard GSD respectively, bring together a collection of over 70 contemporary drawings from established and emerging practitioners across the globe. These works teeter on the fine line between real, imaginary, and virtual and are stimulated by a wide range of inputs - from waste to olfactory cloud patterns, political borders to airflow, revealing unconventional information through graphic representation.

  • Walled City (10-mile version) (2017) by Andrew Kudless | Drawing Attention | ROCA London Gallery | STIR
    Walled City (10-mile version) (2017) by Andrew Kudless is a drawing of a wall that consumed a city - folding and inflating, the wall took over the entire area and program of the city Image Credit: Andrew Kudless
  • Association Façade (2016) by Johanna Just | Drawing Attention | ROCA London Gallery | STIR
    Association Façade (2016) by Johanna Just explore the act of architectural drawing as an inclusive format Image Credit: Johanna Just
  • Aranya Art Center (2019) by Lyndon Neri, Neri&Hu | Drawing Attention | ROCA London Gallery | STIR
    Aranya Art Center (2019) by Lyndon Neri, Neri&Hu attempts to encapsulate the natural wonder of water at its core format Image Credit: Courtesy of Neri&Hu Design and Research Office

In this post-digital era, technology has emerged as the medium through which architects think, while in architectural representation, hand continues to be the instrument that prompts thinking. We asked the curators their choice: “One of the interesting things about the post-digital era is that it disrupts the previous analog/digital dichotomy. Currently, in architectural drawing, the question is no longer whether to construct a drawing by hand or digitally, it is more of a both and operation.”

Historically, the explicitness of the architectural drawing resided in its capacity to directly communicate the building it anticipated. Contemporary digital culture liberates the architect from these demonstrative constraints, creating a context in which the architectural drawing possesses an unparalleled freedom of expression and latitude of operation. – Curators Jeremy Ficca, Amy Kulper and Grace La
  • Monument to Superstudio (2019) by Matthew Butcher | Drawing Attention | ROCA London Gallery | STIR
    Monument to Superstudio (2019) by Matthew Butcher proposes a monument to the work of radical avant-garde protagonists, Superstudio Image Credit: Matthew Butcher
  • Shimmer House (2019) by Adam Dayem | Drawing Attention | ROCA London Gallery | STIR
    Shimmer House (2019) by Adam Dayem uses the technique of glitching to 19th century paintings of Hudson River School Image Credit: Adam Dayem, actual / office

A range of drawings from the exhibition attempt to illustrate this emerging fluidity. For example, Matthew Butcher’s Monument to Superstudio proposes a monument to the work of radical avant-garde protagonists, Superstudio - a Florentine architectural practice of the 1960s. Here, Butcher has sampled an analog grid drawing of Superstudio, where he gesturally dragged it across the surface of a scanner, by hand. “The subsequent work,” in his own words, “is a direct mapping of this action and the scanning process – a physical imprint of the drawing as it moves through time and space.”

Another drawing brings to attention a contemporary aesthetic practice, called glitching. This technique, the curators explain, “utilises analog or digital errors as generative devices, interspersed with projection, a convention that dates back to the earliest architectural drawings.” Adam Dayem’s Shimmer House makes use of this technique where he takes imagery from the pastoral 19th century paintings of the Hudson River School, glitches it in two dimensions and projects it in three dimensions. Describing the process, Dayem says, “Glitched two-dimensional imagery is projected on to the resulting geometry, and the cycle of glitching and projecting continues from there.” Glitching, in his case, has produced a shimmer effect that reflects the sublime aesthetic of the original paintings he sampled.

Scenes from the Noclip World (2015) by Luke Caspar Pearson | Drawing Attention | ROCA London Gallery | STIR
Scenes from the Noclip World (2015) by Luke Caspar Pearson interrogates the underlying logics of video game spaces using hand drawing as a critical tool Image Credit: Luke Caspar Pearson, You+Pea

Scenes from the Noclip World by Luke Caspar Pearson is another intriguing work that takes the utopic world of video game imagery as its point of departure. Pearson has created hand drawn overlays of these virtual environments to establish how their construction resonates with broader principles of architectural representation and design.

Referencing the vast collection, we asked the curators to identify any interesting components that surfaced in the visualisation of contemporary architectural drawings. They said one prominent trend is that a number of architects are exploring new approaches to address environmental issues. CJ Lim’s Ocean Cleaning, Ang Li’s Inventory and Ábalos + Sentkiewicz’s, Thermodynamic Tree reflect on this analogy of architectural drawing as a medium to deliver change.

Ocean Cleaning (2019 – ongoing) by CJ Lim | Drawing Attention | ROCA London Gallery | STIR
Ocean Cleaning (2019 – ongoing) by CJ Lim draws attention to the plastic threat to marine life Image Credit: CJ Lim with Jason Ho + Victor Moldoveanu

Where Lim’s Ocean Cleaning is a propaganda-comic that draws attention to the plastic threat to marine life, Li’s Inventory examines construction and demolition of waste streams. Ábalos + Sentkiewicz’s Thermodynamic Tree, on the other hand, proposes cooling effects through six artificial convective trees in a courtyard that aim to extend hours of passive comfort.

  • Walled City (10-mile version) (2017) by Andrew Kudless | Drawing Attention | ROCA London Gallery | STIR
    Inventory (2018) by Ang Li examines construction and demolition of waste streams Image Credit: Ang Li
  • Thermodynamic Trees (2014) by Abalos+Sentkiewicz AS+ | Drawing Attention | ROCA London Gallery | STIR
    Thermodynamic Trees (2014) by Abalos+Sentkiewicz AS+ proposes six artificial convective trees designed in a courtyard space to manage dew, humidity, and solar radiation Image Credit: Abalos+Sentkiewicz AS+

“Within these three examples, architectural approaches to the environment range from the allegorical, to the procedural, to the technical, and the architectural drawing is underwriting this tremendous breadth of perspectives,” the curators added.

Describing the opportunities and intrinsic potential of drawing, the curators remarked, “at the crossroads of architecture and information environments, resides the promise and the speculative future of the drawing. Its capacity to structure, imagine, realise, speculate, transform, politicise, and activate makes the drawing an enduring vehicle for the discipline.”

Through the diversity of narratives and multiple scales of projection, the exhibition questions drawing’s possible futures and its role to establish architecture as an agile and critical agent in contemporary digital culture.

Drawing Attention: The Digital Culture of Contemporary Architectural Drawings opens on September 17, 2019, and will be on display until January 11, 2020.

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than two years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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