"You can only reach this space by wandering through the museum," says Soane curator and prize judge Owen Hopkins as we enter a small, domed space. "I’m interested in seeing how people respond to [...] suddenly being confronted by drawings of a very different nature; drawings that may be doing something different, or perhaps something quite similar [to the historical collections]."
Architectural drawing is currently undergoing a paradigmatic shift, argues Hopkins, which is why the Soane joined forces last year with Make Architects and the World Architecture Festival to launch the first Architecture Drawing Prize. "This is an interesting moment for architectural drawing in an equivalent way to what happened with the resurgence of interest in vinyl," says Hopkins. "Once music entirely lost its physical manifestation – now it's all mp3s – that was the moment when there was this counter-interest built up in the physicality of the format of vinyl."
With digital rendering techniques rendering hand-drawing redundant in architecture teaching and practice, a liberation of sorts might entail for architectural drawing. "When drawings cease to have any relevance to architecture as a design tool, that almost frees it to take on a new guise as a very different type of architectural expression or communication," says Hopkins. "Whether one might call that post-digital, I don’t know. I’m not that into these fashionable catchwords."
Reflecting the crossroads at which the format finds itself, the Architecture Drawing Prize had three categories: hand-drawn, digital, and hybrid. "We were very open in the criteria we had," says Hopkins. "We made a distinction and called it the Architecture Drawing Prize rather than the Architectural Drawing Prize as it’s slightly more open. In terms of what we were asking people to do, it was using the medium of drawing as a communication tool; drawing to convey the sense of an architectural idea."
The display features 10 commended entires, the three category winners, and the overall winner – 13 drawings in total. Below, Hopkins talks Disegno through the highlights.
"In this drawing, the architect set himself a series of parameters and, using those parameters in a very systematic way, saw what he could create within that. So there are all these different manifestations of how you might deal with a cube by breaking it up and intersecting it in all sorts of ways. It is almost abstract, but perhaps points towards possibilities to architectural form. There is this sense of using drawing to work through an architectural idea."
"This is a proposition for a mythical city called Utopia. There are lots of different pieces of familiar cities that have all been brought together, as well as different types of urbanism that co-exist. There’s the Hagia Sofia [from Istanbul], Florence, Paris, Berlin, and then you’ve got a little bit of Dubai or Shanghai possibly. It is, I suppose, something that you can only do through drawing: creating this view of the mythical city that only exists in this drawing, and making the joins appear entirely seamless. There’s no sense that this is a collage at all; this is all coming from one single architectural sensibility."
"Then you have something like this, a digital submission. This is using drawing as an analytical and, to some extent, representational tool. It’s St Paul’s Cathedral and it’s charting the publicly accessible route from the crypt all the way up to the very top of the dome. The drawing gives you a completely different sense of an incredibly familiar structure. What I like is the series of sections or plans at the different levels on the left. Connecting the two [parts of the drawing] gives you even more information than is contained within either one. On their own, they don’t make much sense. But when you connect them, you begin to understand how this very complex set of spaces actually work. We were quite taken with this as an analytical tool, but I also like how the circular sections take on an abstract quality too."
"The winning entry was a hybrid drawing, and insofar as it is a hybrid, it’s a quite hard to disentangle what is hand-drawn and what is computer-generated. We thought this was technically extraordinary; the level of detail, the way that Ng has depicted the building, the characters, the personalities of the people – they’re not just figures stuck on as they are in most architectural depictions. The drawing conveys a sense of what’s going on in this building, using an exploded view. There are no separate parts; all is integrated in the same image. The key move for this project is the adaptable and moveable facade, which is about breaking down what can seem as quite an oppressive structure; a series of fixed spaces that essentially define the limits of an individual’s life. This is all about adaptability and change. So you can have that small space and privacy of you want it. But when you’re visited by family and friends, you can open it up and have an expansive experience. That’s all built into this image. It’s that combination of being packed full of information but also conveying a sense of the poetic quality of this building. It’s that perfect unity between the way something is depicted and the project itself. A worthy winner."