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A fiesta of colour greeted the Eye Line judges for another year of outstanding drawings and remarkable techniques

One that got away: Brick Pavilion by Nicholas Harvey-Cheetham, the University of California, Berkeley.
One that got away: Brick Pavilion by Nicholas Harvey-Cheetham, the University of California, Berkeley.

Our judges were taking no prisoners this year. Chair Hugh Pearman might have been doing his level best to keep hardened critics Will Alsop, curator and writer Jes Fernie and Eric Parry from their most excoriating comments, but it seems that, once started, it was hard to stop the contagion from infecting former winner, Studio Weave’s Amelia Hunter, and Joseph Robson – director of Eye Line partner AVR London. As a result, drawings were dropping like flies at RIBAJ Towers.

Perhaps it’s that the quality of what is being demanded is rising. Most of this year’s 202 entries, whittled down to 50 for the final judging, hailed from UK schools and practices (perhaps accounting for the stylistic similarities through a kind of academic osmosis), with international submissions from east and west US and Australasia – the latter using a formal language possibly of their own academic vernacular.

A significant proportion of this year’s submissions employed chiaroscuro – a technique that seemed to compel and repulse in equal measure. Robson declared himself ‘drawn to the black and white images while trying to resist that urge,’ with Hunter feeling they ‘should almost be judged against each other in their own category’. Hunter, it turns out, was the voice of reason in this regard: Fernie, as an art curator, was prepared to slice through the graphite brigade, saying of one: ‘You could take a wet cloth and wipe it all away.’

But that wasn’t an option with the rest of the submissions, given their complex digitised printing, with the judges seeing a plethora of hand drawn images that had been scanned, rendered and put through V-Ray or Photoshop. The highly complex layering of images in some was impressive but left the judges suspecting a triumph of style over content at times. Alsop, for whom the image is a tool, preferred ‘drawings that look like explorations – as if they are working towards some kind of resolution or clarity.’ Fernie found the overlaying of techniques frustrating, obfuscating the point of the drawing and compromising uniqueness; she was ‘amazed at how uniform some of the stuff is. With all the technology, people [are finding] homogenised ways of presenting different ideas.’  

If there was something the judges could agree on, it was the obsessive drawing, whether or not it proves there was an architectural idea governing it or not. Some drawings had us wondering if we should laud the artist or have them sectioned. Robson asked:‘I can see that it might have taken two or three weeks to do the drawing but you have to wonder what other project discoveries might have been achieved in that time.’ In other words, had digital technology been used to open the project potential up or to close it down?

But these sorts of abstracted discussions are generally the preserve of those judging the quality of output, and it was as high as ever. My regret is only for one or two that missed out. One submission, where a Berkeley student employed an algorithm on his drawing to randomly start erasing it like a digital rubber, resulted in a brick pavilion of a particularly haunting, diaphanous nature. It’s an example of what the judges were looking for; when the technique informs the output – when what is not there becomes as crucial as what is. ‘Technology was used to embody the idea of decay and erosion, rather than just representing it,' said Fernie, ‘That’s what makes it so lovely.’ 

Return to Introduction to Eye Line 2016


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