Congratulations to the winners and all submissions in RIBA Journal’s prestigious Eye Line drawing competition – which prompted questions and suggestions for the judges and profession
So many questions this year! The judging session was dominated by a debate on AI in architectural representation, spurred by a number of AI Eye Line entries for the first time. Ultimately it led me to the strange and obviously rhetorical inquiry: ‘How good an architect could Martin Amis have been?’ But in a way, even that was only a counter point to a much earlier question, posed by an entrant on RIBAJ’s Twitter account, which had asked whether AI submissions would be considered. ‘Why not?’ I had thought at the time, ‘After all, how would we even know?’
And that sense of not knowing was expressed by (almost) all the other judges. By Rana Begum, noted artist working in the ‘real’ visual and spatial realms, independent curator and writer Jes Fernie and 2022 Eye Line Practitioner winner Alan Power, an architect clearly at home as much in front of an easel as a monitor. Only Hamza Shaikh, architect at Gensler, architectural podcaster and author of the book Drawing Attention, which analyses the cutting-edge drawing techniques of students and architects in the profession, seemed to be able to offer the AI insights we all needed.
The potential of AI image generation to transform the profession seems excitingly, scarily, within reach
Shaikh was there at the beginning when AI platform Midjourney had only 5000 users, when the prompt notation for renderings was still in gestation and producing limited outputs. Now there are 1.5 million users and with its ’diffusion model’, Shaikh tells us, which draws on image sources from across the web, the potential to generate AI images of incredible complexity and nuance is now possible. But there’s one caveat, he adds – as long as we know how to ask for it.
‘Simply typing in a prompt isn’t good enough,’ explains Hamza. ‘The skill is in developing the prompt notation – which could be hundreds of words – and it needs architects to understand how and where it is used in the order, which changes the nature of the output.’ Confused? We were.
And it turns out that it was not just an image he was looking for but how other techniques and skills might ‘hybridise’ the drawing to make it something unique and of the artist. ‘I’m interested in processes and medium and pushing the boundaries of that, using AI but in combination with other techniques.’
If that sounded like a tall order, it was. None of the three AI submissions, two of which you see here to consider yourselves, made it past his critical eye. But in seeing the compositional beauty even of these examples, the potential of AI image generation to transform the profession seems excitingly, scarily, within reach.
Perhaps the vastness of that potential drew us all momentarily to the solace of Simon Crockford’s pen-hatched ‘Prisoner of the Mind’, a contemporary reimagining of Piranesi. For Shaikh, it seemed ‘to resonate with the idea of the isolation of social media,’ but it transpired that those of us still at the social media base camp of LinkedIn failed to connect to that idea. And with judges still working, in articulating 3D, real, space, perhaps that accounts for the eventual winning entries in both categories.
But with the hybrid AI art era looking like it is visible on the horizon, it felt that this year we had hit a kind of watershed moment. What sort of architects will we be in the near future, and what skills will we need? Shaikh thinks architects will need to learn to articulate better with language and notation. ‘So will architects have to become wordsmiths?’ I ask. ‘Perhaps,’ he answers, ‘and what if you ran a prompting competition instead?’ The questions keep coming.
Rana Begum RA Artist
Jes Fernie Curator and writer
Alan Power Architect and Eye Line 2022 practitioner winner
Hamza Shaikh Architect and podcaster
Jan-Carlos Kucharek, Deputy editor, RIBA Journal