Same place, different time: new interpretations of old designs

Words:
Pamela Buxton

The Architecture Foundation and Drawing Matter ask contemporary architects to model archive drawings

Alternative Histories, a new exhibition from Drawing Matter and the Architectural Foundation, is an intriguing proposition. For this, curators Jantje Engels and Marius Grootveld selected more than 80 architectural practices from across Europe and assigned each a work from Drawing Matter’s extensive collection of architectural drawings. They were then challenged to create an architectural model in response that imagined an alternative future for the project in the drawing. The only restriction was that the footprint of the model had to fit within that of the source drawing. The result is a stimulating mass of collaborations across time.

  • Hans Poelzig, sketch for the Stadthaus, Dresden, 1918
    Hans Poelzig, sketch for the Stadthaus, Dresden, 1918 Credit: Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • Caruso St John & Siw Thomas, on Hans Poelzig’s sketch for the Stadthaus, Dresden
    Caruso St John & Siw Thomas, on Hans Poelzig’s sketch for the Stadthaus, Dresden Credit: Caruso St John & Siw Thomas. Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen, frontispiece, with design for the primitive hut, for the second edition of Essai sur l’Architecture, by Abbé Laugier, 1755.
    Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen, frontispiece, with design for the primitive hut, for the second edition of Essai sur l’Architecture, by Abbé Laugier, 1755. Credit: Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • Hayatsu Architects, on Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen’s frontispiece, with design for the primitive hut, for the second edition of Essai sur l’Architecture, by Abbé Laugier.
    Hayatsu Architects, on Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen’s frontispiece, with design for the primitive hut, for the second edition of Essai sur l’Architecture, by Abbé Laugier. Credit: Hayatsu Architects. Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • Hans Poelzig, sketch for the Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin, 1919
    Hans Poelzig, sketch for the Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin, 1919 Credit: Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • Tom de Paor, on Hans Poelzig’s sketch for the Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin.
    Tom de Paor, on Hans Poelzig’s sketch for the Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin. Credit: Tom de Paor. Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
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The matchmaking curators have clearly enjoyed selecting the right drawing for each practice. Sometimes architects were paired with a source drawing they were felt likely to have a particular affinity with. On other occasions, architects were provocatively given something very different to react against. Some architects – such as Tony Fretton and Sergison Bates – are present as both responder and source drawing. Sometimes more than one architect is given the same source drawing.

According to Grootveld, the nature of the exhibition chimes with a recent trend in contemporary architecture. ‘People are becoming more explicit about their references – they are almost scientific in that they really cite a reference in their work,’ he says.

He hopes that the exhibition provides fertile ground for debate and conversations between objects and drawings, and that the resulting architectural models give an insight into the research processes of the architects.

  • Carlo Scarpa, studies for a theatre, 1970.
    Carlo Scarpa, studies for a theatre, 1970. Credit: Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • Hugh Strange Architects, on Carlo Scarpa’s studies for a theatre.
    Hugh Strange Architects, on Carlo Scarpa’s studies for a theatre. Credit: Hugh Strange Architects. Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • Cedric Price, sketch perspective for BatHat Battersea Power Station, 1991.
    Cedric Price, sketch perspective for BatHat Battersea Power Station, 1991. Credit: Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • Witherford Watson Mann, on Cedric Price’s sketch perspective for BatHat Battersea Power Station.
    Witherford Watson Mann, on Cedric Price’s sketch perspective for BatHat Battersea Power Station. Credit: Witherford Watson Mann. Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • John Freeman, design for an archway, Fawley Court, 1735.
    John Freeman, design for an archway, Fawley Court, 1735. Credit: Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • Roz Barr Architects, on John Freeman’s design for an archway, Fawley Court.
    Roz Barr Architects, on John Freeman’s design for an archway, Fawley Court. Credit: Roz Barr Architects. Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
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There is a fantastic diversity of material and form on show here, with a double-sided display installed within an otherwise vacant property on Cork Street. Made variously of wax, tree-root, clay, card, concrete, brick, these make for intriguing objects in themselves quite apart from the architectural games they may be playing.

Each has a story to tell. Caruso St John’s ceramic response to Hans Poelzig’s sketches captures something of the verticality and texture conveyed in the original c1920s drawing. Hayatsu Architects’ spindly bronze model draws the eye – a delicate reaction to Abbé Laugier's primitive hut frontispiece from Essai sur l'architecture, 1753. Wim Goes Architectuur’s response to Cassius Goldsmith’s single storey lodge in cottage ornée style, 1827, is fascinating. This picks up on the two key elements - the pitched roof and tree trunk columns, while dispensing altogether with the building accommodation within. Instead of the tree branches in the original drawing, in the new model, an actual root forms a structure to hold up the roof, its corners weighed down with stones.

Fortunately, there are plans for a publication, which will no doubt do the rich contents of this project full justice.

Some of the models are full of intricate detail, others more enigmatic.

Tom de Paor realises his response to Poelzig’s drawings for Grosses Schauspielhaus, Theater der Massen, Berlin, 1919 using a piece of furled card with a few incisions fixed with a single paper clip. Eagles of Architecture have gone the whole hog in their large scale model inspired by a Superstudio Colosseum drawing by Adolfo Natalini, 1969-70. Ablaze with tiny lights, this is topped with a neon ‘Diner’ sign.

For his response to Le Corbusier’s 1956 drawing for the Bhakra Nangal Dam, near Chandigarh, India, Philip Christou of Florian Beigel Architects used engineering bricks to construct a model that, when liberated from the context of the valley landscape, he noted, looks quite like a Corbusian building. Nice to learn that after the exhibition, he is thinking of using the bricks to build retaining walls in his allotment.

  • William Butterfield, east elevation of No 9 Heath’s Court, Ottery St Mary, 1880–83.
    William Butterfield, east elevation of No 9 Heath’s Court, Ottery St Mary, 1880–83. Credit: Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • 31/44 Architects (William Burges, James Jeffries and Stephen Davies), on William Butterfield Heath’s Court No 9.
    31/44 Architects (William Burges, James Jeffries and Stephen Davies), on William Butterfield Heath’s Court No 9. Credit: 31/44 Architects. Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • HT Cadbury-Brown, proposed extension for the Royal College of Art, Queen’s Gate, 1972.
    HT Cadbury-Brown, proposed extension for the Royal College of Art, Queen’s Gate, 1972. Credit: Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
  • Sergison Bates London (Jonathan Sergison) on HT Cadbury-Brown’s proposed extension for the Royal College of Art, Queen’s Gate.
    Sergison Bates London (Jonathan Sergison) on HT Cadbury-Brown’s proposed extension for the Royal College of Art, Queen’s Gate. Credit: Sergison Bates London. Images Courtesy Drawing Matter Collections
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Alternative Histories is a terrific endeavour that no doubt has been highly stimulating for the participants. If I were to gripe, I’d say that communication of the crux of the project– how the architects choose to interpret their sources drawing – feels a little hampered by the presentation of the models alone in the exhibition, which requires visitors to refer to an exhibition booklet to reveal an image of the original drawing. A brief explanation from the architects on their responses would have been welcome - anyone less than familiar with the architects and sources may find it hard to shake the feeling that there is all sorts going on in these models that they just haven’t got.

Fortunately, there are plans for a publication, which will no doubt do the rich contents of this project full justice.

Displayed four models high, the exhibits nonetheless make for a fine array, and Grootveld is both surprised and pleased with the ‘kaleidoscopic diversity’ of the responses on show.

‘All the architects were making something and thinking on the same subject together. So even though they weren’t in the same room, I really think it was like a dialogue between them all,’ he says.


Alternative Histories, until April 14, 2019 (weekends only, 11am – 6pm), 6 Cork Street, Mayfair, London