Annual drawing competition produces fantastical images with an intense judging process to match
Given the wide range of expertise present in the room, it was a given that there would be as many polarised as converging opinions in this year’s judging process, leading to stimulating discussion, if protracted resolution.
Professor Kester Rattenbury is versed in trends that intermittently rise out of the UK’s architecture schools; recently noting a shift from the fantastical to more surreal modes of representation. Niall Hobhouse’s interests lie nearer the margins of architectural representation; his Drawing Matter Trust ‘collecting drawings in the main because I think institutions collect the wrong ones’; images based more on ‘product’ rather than ‘process’.
Contrast this expertise with Rory Chisholm’s own views; forged in academic study but tempered at the coalface of conservation practice - ‘interested in the primal architectural forms and bringing them into the modern world.’ And Ana Luisa Soares, whose firm Fala Atelier had made a name for itself for its drawings before it had ever built a thing. Developing these skills by pursuing a PhD in ‘frontal framing in architectural composition,’ Soares admitted at the outset that she was ‘more interested in work investigating ‘planar modes of drawing’ than anything else.
As for Adam Turk, CEO of Eye Line sponsor Siderise, used to poring over contract and construction sets, he confessed that, despite his clear enthusiasm for the judging process, this was going to be a baptism by fire.
It explains why the judging morning, usually a ‘game of two halves’ became one of ‘three thirds’, with the student category judging being sandwiched between two practitioner discussion periods while judges thrashed out who the practitioner winner would be. With so many views aired, it felt hard to keep judges to either time or plan. ‘Serves you right for choosing such opinionated judges!’ exclaimed Hobhouse at the end of the morning - and he was right.
As ever, the level of student entries remained high. Rattenbury noted that today’s students are building on generations of developments in drawing technique, resulting in breathtaking levels of skill from some entrants and definite stylistic ‘bents’. One such was student Beth Mogey with ‘Well-Timed Openings’, pale, deftly detached renderings influenced by artists Hammershoi and Johann Erdmann; a clear style emerging from Queen’s University, Belfast.
But with all judging done ‘blind’ and opinions based solely on the quality of the drawn submissions, work is judged on its merits rather than the school it originated from. Students from the UCL’s Bartlett school took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. The accolades come as a damning report was published detailing the toxic study culture and abuses at the school that has seen its director Bob Shiel resign and UCL provost Michael Spence vow to address the issue ‘swiftly and robustly’.
There were strong showings from other schools in the capital, the AA School, the RCA and University of Greenwich which set a high standard. With practitioner winners undecided, the judges returned to them after the student submissions to appraise them again with a dose of salts; not surprisingly, the work in this category tends to be more conventional in nature and channelled by realities of practice. Yet within those constraints they sought out the entries with hallmarks of experimentation or risk; that no one submission ticked all those boxes meant a clear winner proved elusive.
It took the statistician head of Siderise’s Adam Turk to draw the eventual winners out of judges' shortlists; and even then, the act was mediated by Rattenbury’s insistence for the ‘heart’ to rule on what the ‘head’ had realised. This saw another first for Eye Line - a joint second place position - to serve as evidence of those polarised views. For her, not even our winner escaped a caveat: ‘a resonant yet controversial image which both speaks of the positive aspects of architectural practice and the human conditions it must respond to.’
Rory Chisholm 2021 Eye Line winner (practitioner)
Niall Hobhouse trustee, Drawing Matter
Kester Rattenbury professor, architecture and cities, University of Westminster
Ana Luisa Soares co-founder, Fala Atelier
Adam Turk CEO, Siderise
Jan-Carlos Kucharek deputy editor, RIBA Journal, chair