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Joseph Robson

Sketches often capture the essence of a building in a way polished CGIs cannot, and act as a vital part of refining the design, says Joseph Robson of Eye Line partner AVR London

In association with
AVR London’s competition CGI for East Wick and Sweetwater by FCB Studios.
AVR London’s competition CGI for East Wick and Sweetwater by FCB Studios.

Illustrative drawings need to hold just enough information to capture the imagination and to encourage minds to fill in white space with vision. They should always be part of the process of design, expressing the interaction of the hand, mind and eye. Michael Graves once wrote that there are three types of drawings: the referential sketch, the preparatory study and definitive drawings. The referential sketch is not likely to ‘represent reality, but rather to capture an idea’. Renzo Piano’s original sketch for the Shard is perfect in conveying the building’s form and concept, and even more pared back is Picasso’s sausage dog drawn with a single line. 

Drawings serve as memory etchings that record the thought process. Sometimes the best work can result from trial and error, which could clearly be seen in some of this year’s entries. Only drawing can provide such immediacy and opportunity to experiment and build on preliminary ideas. It is a vastly personal medium, as it encapsulates the essence of what one is trying to portray through honest expression. The spitting and splashing of an expressive watercolourist adds texture – sometimes quite literally – and all the randomness that entails.

Joseph Robson, Light at St Saviour’s.
Joseph Robson, Light at St Saviour’s.

During this year’s Eye Line judging there was one particular entry, stylistically unique among the shortlisted ones, which provoked our interest, admiration and conversation: Jonathan Shekon Chan’s sketches of the Hawkins\Brown entry for the Leicester Mainline museum were elegantly drawn in a loose but informative manner – the characters almost as if from the hand of Donald McGill, playful and animated. The scheme is described not just through the proposed built form. Despite their simplicity, the images told a story – a story we wanted to know more about. 

Wilkinson Eyre was the eventual winner of the museum competition, amid some strong opponents such as Grimshaw, Farrells and BDP. However, the online published entries, while very descriptive, were more conventional definitive polished CGIs. Chan’s referential sketches were unfortunately not among them. One can argue that competition images should be looser in style, more evocative, whereas a well-polished CGI may be more appropriate at planning or fundraising stage. 

The annual Eye Line entries provide us all with a remarkable insight into the wide gamut of architectural illustration, and the judging of this demonstrates that which excites us as architects and drawing critics. The illusory, simple abstraction of an idea to make a beautiful image, an image that we find hard to pull our gaze away from.

Joseph Robson is founder of AVR London