Miasmas and echoes of prog rock in Eye Line 2017

Trend spotting in RIBAJ's annual architectural drawing competition

Outside Suzhou, China’s ‘Venice of the East’, is where shortlisted entrant Laurie Chetwood imagines a new, ecological, international university on the city’s edge, surrounded by waterways. A biomorphic development that promotes the flora and fauna it emulates.
Outside Suzhou, China’s ‘Venice of the East’, is where shortlisted entrant Laurie Chetwood imagines a new, ecological, international university on the city’s edge, surrounded by waterways. A biomorphic development that promotes the flora and fauna it emulates.

There are fashions in architectural depiction as there are in everything else, and after five years of running our annual Eye Line competition for what we loosely call drawings (any medium or combination of media allowed) I feel like I’ve seen them all, though I undoubtedly haven’t.

Dark, rainy dystopias gave way to colourful, pop imagery. The style of graphic novels and comics got steadily more popular. The placing of the architect-artist in their own drawings – their hands, arms, even on occasion complete figures as god-like beings manipulating their manufactured worlds – became a thing. 

Photo-realism appealed to some, almost total abstraction to others. Multi-point perspective has its adherents. And the fantasy kingdoms of TV series and films have much to answer for. I’m seeing drawings now
that look a lot like 1970s prog-rock album covers. 

Then there are the obsessives, the Where’s Wallyists, those who clearly lose themselves, doubtless for months, in their steadily more minutely detailed designs. The kind where you can take a square centimetre, expand it to full screen, and see more and more open up. Worlds within worlds. And always, there are the bird-lovers.

We passed peak birdflocks about three years ago but they are still there. I shoulder an imaginary shotgun

We are all familiar with the birds, are we not? Fact: most architects and architecture students want to design everything in the drawing and the sky is no exception. It can’t just be sky. There has to be something IN the sky, and artful clouds or a cartoon smiling sun are not enough. 

It’s always been this way – hot-air balloons, airships and helicopters were routinely pressed into service in the past. 

We passed peak birdflocks about three years ago but they are still there. They’re harmless enough I guess, and if the drawing’s good enough you don’t really care but – when I see them I shoulder an imaginary shotgun.

Mists, fogs, miasmas, they’re another thing. The ghosting of the image, the fits of the vapours, drifting between you and the drawing. Again, I wonder if this consciously or unconsciously comes from steampunkish drama series. 

Of course there are still old-school plans, sections, elevations and perspectives, soft-pencil sketches and watercolours to be found and this year – I silently cheered when I saw it – a proper measured drawing of a historic building, just like they used to make. 

And finally – the drawings done with a few lines and splashes of colour, deliberately naïve perhaps, which can be an object lesson in how to communicate much with little. 

Every year it’s a real pleasure to see the incredibly varied ways you communicate your architectural ideas, so thank you to all who entered, thanks to our judges and to our sponsor AVR London. 

You’ll find the results on the website over the next few days. And next year? Something wholly unexpected I’ll be bound. Maybe even bird-free.


 

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