by Jerry ElengicalOct 23, 2021
In many respects, drawings are a kind of lingua franca among architects - conveying thoughts, ideas, schemes, and details that words fail to express. Among professionals of this vocation, the act of putting a pen, pencil, or more recently, a stylus to a canvas of their liking has remained one of the most practical routes to cross barriers of language, expertise, and mutual comprehension. Perhaps the most advantageous element of this rudimentary practice in design expression, is its knack for stripping away the esoteric jargon that has proliferated the field, bringing an oft-lost visual clarity to the process of ideation, representation, and communication, with a potency that few other methods can replicate. The power of drawings to critique and expound new schools of thought is likely best illustrated in the works of avant-garde collectives such as Archigram, Superstudio, U.F.O., and Archizoom, whose seminal and at times, satirical contributions during the era of radical design have left an enduring legacy on contemporary architecture.
Launched in 2017, the Architecture Drawing Prize is an annual competition organised by Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, in collaboration with Make Architects and the World Architecture Festival to celebrate ground-breaking propositions made by innovative and technically exceptional architectural drawings from across the world. Honouring works that chart imaginative possibilities for the past, present, and future of architecture, the winning entries each year are displayed at a special exhibition at the 19th century museum, which had formerly served as the residence of the reputed British architect Sir John Soane, known for his exploits in the the neoclassical style. As one of the most unique institutions of its kind, Sir John Soane’s Museum hosts innumerable drawings, models, antiquities, furniture, and sculptures by its founder, alongside paintings and works by other prominent artists and architects.
Having unveiled the category winners of its fifth edition at the end of November last year, the 2021 Architecture Drawing Prize - sponsored by Gleeds, an independent real estate and construction consultancy - has recently revealed the overall winner of this year’s competition. The triumphant entry by Dafni Filippa of the Bartlett School of Architecture in the United Kingdom is titled Fluid Strata – Flood-responsive landscape performance, and depicts a potential future highlighting the devastating consequences of the world’s current inaction on climate change. Filippa has made use of hybrid rendering techniques to posit a solution to this dire situation, employing computational and illustration tools such as Autodesk ReCap, Rhino 3D, and Adobe Photoshop, to relay her vision.
Sir John Soane’s Museum has issued a press statement sharing that “Filippa’s project takes the climate emergency as its starting point, imagining a future London in which the Thames Barrier has been overwhelmed and flash floods are a regular occurrence. She proposes a solution which involves injecting hydro-membranes deep underground, protecting the infrastructure from flood waters. The image began with a photograph of a physical model which was then digitally manipulated”. Reflecting on the announcement, Ken Shuttleworth, Founder of Make Architects and a judge, comments on the winning drawing in an official release, stating: “Fluid Strata blurs the lines between physical objects and drawing with great skill and imagination, making it a truly exceptional example of a hybrid rendering."
Winners for this year’s iteration of the prize were spread across three main categories: Hand Drawn, Digital, and Hybrid. Each bracket hosted three to five finalists, from which an esteemed panel of jurors selected the category winners. The 2021 jury included Louise Stewart (Curator of Exhibitions at Sir John Soane's Museum), alongside Paul Finch (Programme Director at the World Architecture Festival), Ken Shuttleworth of Make Architects, Robin Brodie Cooper of Gleeds, Argentine-born artist Pablo Bronstein, Lily Jencks of Lily Jencks Studio and Jencks Squared, Narinder Sagoo of Foster + Partners, as well as Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell of Langlands & Bell artists.
The winner of the Hand-Drawn category for 2021 was Reconfiguring Addis Ababa’s Narratives by Antonio Paoletti, of The Netherlands-based firm Mecanoo, which was structured as a graphic novel portraying a proposal for the redevelopment of historical districts within Ethiopia’s capital city. Recounting the hardships faced by local communities in the wake of rampant urbanisation, Paoletti’s work is presented in a format that combines narrative storytelling with architectural exposition.
On the other hand, Zachary Higson of Szczepaniak Astridge took home both the Digital category winner and the Lockdown prize for Site(s) of Flux, which probes into the relationships between studio and site in the conceptualisation and execution of architectural projects in the contemporary context. Developed on V-Ray, the initial seeds of the project were sown when one of Higson’s work sites at a quarry was shut down due to COVID lockdowns. Instead, the artist continued to interact and study the location through photogrammetry, eventually digitally transforming his bedroom into the site itself, with a giant machine roaming about on his bed - creating an immersive allegory for work-from-home scenarios. Finally, the Hybrid category saw a joint prize awarded to both Dafni Filippa for Fluid Strata and Boji Hu of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners for (Un)homeliness - a hand-drawn short film brimming with stylistically somber pencil gestures and street sounds, exploring means by which vacant urban interiors, both private and public, can provide refuge for refugees, asylum seekers, and the homeless.
Following the announcement, Sir John Soane’s Museum is hosting a duo of exhibitions - a curated virtual retrospective at the Vault of Contemporary Art (VCA) of the past five editions of the Architecture Drawing Prize, that is available as an online exhibition until March 14, as well as one of the finalists and winners from 2020-2021 in the halls of the museum itself. The latter showcase of category winners from the past two years commenced on January 19 and will be on view till February 20. As part of the associated programming, the museum will offer a guided tour of the 2020-2021 Prize exhibition with judge Lily Jencks and overall winner Dafni Filippa on Feb 10.
The 2020-2021 Prize exhibition is essentially a snapshot of the virtual retrospective, and will also offer insight into how drawing has granted architects and students a fresh perspective to reconnect with their surroundings while stuck indoors as the pandemic ravaged cities worldwide. Both exhibitions illuminate how the effective communication of ideas is the most vital aspect of a strong architectural drawing. This edition also saw a large concentration of student winners and finalists - a sure sign of the immense technical skill possessed by newer generations of graduates to shape the future of the profession with the aid of cutting-edge channels and digital tools available in the present context.
More information about the 2020-2021 exhibition and tours can be found here.