Drawn, Not Digital

Drawn, Not Digital

London Eight
Southern California Institute of Architecture
960 East 3rd Street, Los Angeles
Through May 16

London Eight, an exhibition of architectural drawings presented at SCI-Arc, is a dazzling display of inventive draftsmanship by graduates and faculty of the Bartlett, the architecture school of London University, selected by Peter Cook, its former chair. It’s a must see.

In his catalogue introduction, SCI-Arc director Eric Owen Moss likens digital software to a set of regulations that limit creative expression, as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) has for music. He claims it has devoured architectural representation, and welcomes Cook’s eight as artisans exploring fruitful alternatives. Cook concurs, arguing that “Modernism never took hold in Britain. We’ve always been fiddlers, craft-oriented, and that explains the survival of drawing…. Certain ideas have a boiling point that can be captured in a drawing but may be lost in the building.”

Only two of the eight architects—Laura Allen and Mark Smout—were born in the U.K., but all have absorbed the English love of whimsy and speculation as a complement, rather than an alternative, to serious building. C.J. Lim, a Bartlett professor and head of Studio 8 Architects, exemplifies this duality, veering from inspired fantasy to visionary—and sustainable—city plans that might change the face of China. The exhibit features drawings from Lim’s upcoming book, Short Stories: London in Two-and-a-Half Dimensions. Light-hearted and chaotic, but still graphically precise, they include fantastical imaginings with bizarre names like Battersea Dogs Home: A Dating Agency, and Sky Transport for London: Redevelopment of the Circle Line.

Pascal Bronner has collaborated with Lim, but offers his own vision of New Malacovia—a Portable City Blueprint, which looks back to extinct civilizations and forward to sustainable communities of the future. The spirit of Italo Calvino hovers over these meticulous delineations of a multi-layered megastructure of flattened windows and fiber optics resting on a bed of corks, and harvesting renewable energy from potatoes impaled on pins.


A similar aesthetic is carried further in the three-dimensional drawings of Johan Hybschmann who was inspired by The Russian Ark, a film by Alexander Sukorov that telescopes time and space as the camera moves uninterrupted through the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Laser-cut constructions that suggest the intricate mechanisms of a watch abstract the rich décor of the palace, drawing us into a delicate labyrinth of cogs and connecting rods.

From here it’s a leap into the alternative reality of marcosandmarjan, the experimental practice that Marcos Cruz and Marjan Colletti established ten years ago. In that decade they’ve explored the links between architecture, biology, and human emotion, drawing imaginary cities while building real expo pavilions. Their research and seductive imagery feed into competition entries for projects in China and the Middle East.

Yousef Al-Mehdari is more explicitly concerned with human anatomy. He re-imagines a Byzantine church in Istanbul that was gutted to serve as a museum, transformed into a hammam; bodies exploding from a wall of crumbling bricks; and a disturbing hybrid of bone and human features that evokes Giger’s monster in Alien. Smout Allen’s theme is “Envirographic Architecture,” exploring the relationship of nature and technology in specific locations, from the eroding coastline of eastern England to the volcanic island of Lanzarote. Their drawings have a formal beauty that would earn them an honored place in any museum.

It’s encouraging to see that the basic tools architects have used for centuries to conceive and represent their work still have validity as an adjunct and alternative to software. The drawings exhibited here remain cutting edge, despite being non-digital—the latest successful manifestation of a long tradition.


Read all of AN‘s Friday Reviews here.