Imagination unchained

Our Eye Line drawing competition celebrates unbuilt architecture

I’ve always been fascinated by the mysterious way architecture gets transformed into buildings. Mysterious because the architecture simultaneously is and is not the same thing as the resulting building. Something is drawn or modelled, by whatever means, notes are appended in various ways, and these jointly serve, filtered through and modified by sundry intermediaries, as a kind of instruction book to the fabricators and builders. In that instruction book, the architect says here you are, this is the size and shape and layout of the building that everyone has agreed, this is what it should be made of. Now you get going, and I’ll pop back from time to time to make sure you’re doing it properly. (I simplify.)

And so the alchemical miracle takes place, and gradually the architecture of the drawing becomes the architecture of a building, and if you are lucky the latter will closely resemble the former. If you’re unlucky someone – not necessarily the builder – will mess it up, turning it into a rougher approximation, perhaps even something you might regret or disown. But however closely it follows your intentions, however pleased you are with it, it will never be identical to what you drew on screen or paper, because the original work of architecture existed, and continues to exist, as a drawn rather than a built thing. The status of that drawing is fascinating. Is it, in a Platonic sense, just a pale shadow of what the architect imagined, imperfectly set down? To an extent, but then the very act of drawing stimulates ideas in exactly the same way that for writers, the act of writing does. You have to do it in order to be able to do it. After all the brief-taking and analysis, you have to start.

Eye Line is especially popular with students because, for most of them, the imagining of these worlds is absolute architecture, unfettered by tedious constraints, following their own logic

The appeal of self-building, even of composing a building directly from available materials rather than via a drawn intermediate stage, is therefore obvious (if rare in the latter case) to those concerned with the most direct transmission of the idea to built form.  But for now, since it is the time of year to reveal the winners of our Eye Line drawing competition, I’m concerned with architecture as it is drawn.

Eye Line, now in its third year, happens to have been won by a young practitioner, Hamed Khosravi from Delft, with his ideas-competition entry for a project in Tehran. Many other practitioners entered – such as Melbourne-based Anton James with a commended landscape scheme. But Eye Line is especially popular with students because, for most of them, the imagining of these worlds is absolute architecture, unfettered by tedious constraints, following their own logic. Indeed (sidestepping the education debate here), many use their time as students precisely to make architecture that you would not expect to encounter in built form, even if technically it could be.

It is nonetheless real architecture in this drawn-only form, as two of this year’s judges, former winners Amelia Hunter and Tom Noonan, will attest. Hunter is now in practice in Copenhagen and London, Noonan is with Hawkins\Brown – satisfyingly, working on the new Bartlett building, his alma mater. Oh yes, it’s a different discipline, building. But there’s a different glory to the unbuilt kind of architecture, as you’ll find on the following pages.