Words:
Jan-Carlos Kucharek

An act of architectural atonement in smeared charcoal and a 'postmodern multilingual' museum for Mies

In association with
Ripples of Letters.
Ripples of Letters.

Practitioner: First winner
Tszwai So/Spheron Architects
An Echo in Time

 

  • The Girl in Red.
    The Girl in Red.
  • The Messenger.
    The Messenger.
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Young architect Tszwai So again fills RIBA Journal column inches since being nominated as a Rising Star in 2016 – this time with his competition proposal for a Pan-European Memorial for all victims of Totalitarianism in the 20th Century, for Jean Rey Square in central Brussels. In his act of architectural atonement, So apparently decided to absent himself from the process altogether, using some of the 40,000 hand-written letters from the victims of such oppression as the building blocks of his architecture. And just as the idea goes from concept to detail and resolution, so too do the graphic techniques employed reflecting that gradual process of concretising.

So used smeared charcoal to register his initial impressions not only of the site, but of his idea. ‘I saw myself as nothing more than a messenger carrying a suitcase full of letters between the victims… and scattering them over the square,’ he explains. 

In the other two images of ‘An Echo in Time’, the development of the idea involves the input of the office and the digital rendering software; as this is honed, so is the concept; the Schindler’s List ‘Girl in Red’ becoming the dramatic protagonist moving the concept forward. It was the second image, ‘Ripples of Letters’, that first drew the jury in – a plan view capturing the solemn stillness of the memorial against the movement of the people, the nuance and detail of this focal image particularly appreciated by Kernan and Gibb. Wilkinson remarked on the progression of the idea, noting: ‘The beautiful individual images are strengthened as a set.’ Petherbridge was struck by ‘the sense of loneliness conveyed on a conceptual level at the beginning that’s explicitly explored in the sequence.’ Together, all the judges acknowledged the triptych as a highly considered mnemonic cartography of both idea and process – and a worthy winner.


 

Student: First winner
Jacob Hoeppner / Timo Hansen /University of Stuttgart
Museum for Mies: Mies with Stirling I, II & III

 

  • Mies with Stirling I.
    Mies with Stirling I.
  • Mies with Stirling II.
    Mies with Stirling II.
  • Mies with Stirling III.
    Mies with Stirling III.
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Stuttgart is the charged territory for Jacob Hoeppner’s investigations into the contemporary architectural condition – home to both the 1927 modernist Weissenhofsiedlung and James Stirling’s 1984 Neue Staatsgallerie, considered by many the apotheosis of European postmodernism. ‘While reduction is regarded as the method of modern architecture, fragmentation is associated with postmodernism,’ argues Hoeppner. In his triptych themed on the creation of a museum to Mies, he starts a new discussion, framing modernism in a post-modern language. 

Wilkinson instantly gravitated towards the drawings, intrigued by the appropriation of their Stirling ‘worm’s eye’ views, countering Gibb’s conjecture that they were ‘pure architecture’ by asserting that in this competition you can never be ‘too architectural’. Gibb conceded that as a set the images ‘would look great on your wall’. In its specific singling out of a time and place, Wilkinson read the group as ‘complex and ironic, despite the use of traditional techniques of architectural representation’. 

Pearman praised the skill of representation, with its ‘recognisable techniques communicating, on the face of it, a real building'. Of its hybrid language, Petherbridge was more circumspect, feeling ‘With its shifted grids there’s something “wobbly” about them, but they’re a set of images that intrigue – like an architectural "in-joke".’ But, she added, it was one that any architect would be party to.

Kernan declared himself ‘very impressed’ with the collective effect of Hoeppner’s postmodern multilingualism. ‘He is a worthy winner, and his winning champions the art of pure architectural drawing to students.’    


 

Practitioner: Second winner
Rory Chisholm/Insall Architects
Temperate House, Kew Gardens

 

In Chisholm’s hands all the elements are there – but not quite.
In Chisholm’s hands all the elements are there – but not quite.

Donald Insall Associates has just completed the restoration of the 1899 grade I listed Temperate House at Kew, allowing the world’s largest Victorian glass house to be reopened to the public; and Part 2 architectural assistant Rory Chisholm found himself fascinated by Decimus Burton’s ingenious high-level glazing actuators – so much so he set pen and brush to paper to record them. In the moisture soaked bleeding of the two, Chisholm’s sketch enthralled the judges. Gibb commented that ‘it may look like it’s been done quickly but he seems to have captured the both the volume and the nature of the space – you can feel the movement of heat and water.’ Petherbridge was struck by its understated delicacy and proficiency, despite the fact it’s unfinished: ‘yet there’s still a sense of the leaden, soaked air, the transparency, vegetation and the volume itself, all alluded to but not quite resolved.’ Pearman declared himself ‘keener the more I look at it; its languid feel’. 

Wilkinson, however, needed more convincing. While admitting that it showed ‘skill and immediacy’, his view was that the drawing ‘stopped too soon – I wanted it to be as much about the arched volume as the detail.’ All however conceded that in its incompletion, Chisholm’s sketch expressed some intangible aspect of Decimus Burton’s architecture that would have been virtually impossible in the polished digital render. ‘For some, with his conscious decision to not take it further, the drawing might be a flawed thing,’ remarked Petherbridge, ‘but I think of all of the ones we’ve seen today it opens up the question of what a drawing can be.’ 


 

Student: Second  winner
Lucinda Anis/University of Cambridge
Studies of the Mokkatam Cliffs in Cairo

 

  • Life and Death of the Cliff, ink and pencil on paper.
    Life and Death of the Cliff, ink and pencil on paper.
  • Conversation with the Cliff, hand-drawn in ink, computer manipulation.
    Conversation with the Cliff, hand-drawn in ink, computer manipulation.
  • A Street of In-Betweens.
    A Street of In-Betweens.
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Acknowledged but then overlooked in the initial trawl through the entrants, Lucinda Anis’ studies of the Cliffs’ Coptic Zaballeen Community in the end reasserted themselves with the judges to win her a worthy second place in the student category. 

Subject to struggles of land ownership, Anis’ drawings seem to make no distinction between the buildings of the community and the landscape they are part of. In the different forms of representation, the three drawings, the result of surveys and intense observation, while proposing nothing on paper, nevertheless seem to become highly propositional as studies in their own right; each seeming to sublimate built form with territory.

Wilkinson was impressed with the skill of various techniques, their analytical nature combined with formal beauty – and the clear dexterity with which Anis moved between them. Seilern was struck by the drawings’ emotional component: ‘The drawings seem to refer to a city in decay, each using distinct techniques that allude to this.’

Anis said the work sought to ‘depict a beautiful, organic topography that itself experiences transition, disintegration and renewal' and Pearman agreed: ‘In pen, pencil and watercolour we’re presented with palpable sense of a Coptic landscape and its occupation. With genuine skill she’s communicating the mood of the place; it’s blinding sunlight and deep shade.’


 

Practitioner: Third winner
Alan Power/Alan Power Architects

  • Exterior: Late Afternoon.
    Exterior: Late Afternoon.
  • Interior: Late Afternoon.
    Interior: Late Afternoon.
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In his portrayal of a house that the practice has under construction in London’s Whitechapel, architect Alan Power used the medium of oil on canvas in his study of ‘how the fall of natural light affects the volumetric impression of the space’. Power visualised a late afternoon in early summer ‘when the sun has almost disappeared but where the sense of light remains vivid’. In this way, he felt, ‘the tones and colours are pushed towards a sense of geometric abstraction.’ 

His considered, measured study of the qualities of this possible space won enthusiastic support from the judges. Petherbridge in particular enjoyed its ‘consciously distorted qualities of light and shade’. Wilkinson considered its effect better than any CGI, noting: ‘It’s amazing as a painting. The author has abstracted the image to direct the viewer to what he wants them to concentrate on.’ In its reduction of light and shade to oblique planes of flattened white and pastel shades, it was felt that the reality gap allowed a form of delicious artifice to make itself evident. ‘In a way the veracity of the architectural space has been subsumed into something else,’ concluded Petherbridge. ‘The painter’s resolution of the shadows has created an aesthetic logic all of its own.’ 


 

Student: Third winner
Chris Hamill/University of Cambridge
Armagh Gaol/Building Skill Training College

 

  • Perspective Section 2 – Cell Block A, repurposed as temporary storage and loading dock.
    Perspective Section 2 – Cell Block A, repurposed as temporary storage and loading dock.
  • Constructing Insulated Workshop within Temporary Shed.
    Constructing Insulated Workshop within Temporary Shed.
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The traditional, drawings-based approach of Cambridge’s output has paid dividends this year with two Eye Line winners. Here postgraduate student Chris Hamill tries to deal proactively with the airbrushing of Northern Ireland’s Troubles. He puts the former Armagh Women’s prison, set to be turned into a luxury hotel spa, to more effective use as a building skills training college; and here the medium conveys the message. Hamill was inspired by John Soane’s apprentices, who learnt to observe the act of building by drawing perspectives of the master’s designs in construction. In Hamill’s skilled cut perspective sections, it is the process of building, not the finished article, that stars. Seilern was impressed by ‘the core understanding of the techniques of construction that were integral to the creation of the image.’ Gibb, meanwhile, was taken by how Hamill had ‘immersed himself in the compositions; in their beautiful treatment of light’. Pearman was enamoured with its historic associations, its ‘Soanic didacticism’.

For Wilkinson, Hamill’s use of mixed media, Photoshop and pen line-work made the construction of the drawing as adept as his proposed construction methodology for the gaol. ‘What the project might lack in originality, it makes up for in pure skill.’ 


 

Student: Commended
George Allen/Royal College of Art

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

It gives a real sense of place and occasion. It’s very dramatic and he’s put real effort into every character

Carried out in the weekends over three months, using three Rotring pen line weights, and inspired by the frivolity of Heath Robinson’s work, this long section through the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is nothing less than a labour of love by Part I assistant George Allen. The drawing, he says, ‘depicts a calamitous opening night of Pan the Musical, marked by a rampaging elephant, a capsizing ship and various instances of drunkenness, thievery and infidelity.’ While Petherbridge struggled with its ‘contradictory, mechanistic mode of working; its banality’, she found herself in the minority. Gibb thought ‘it gave a real sense of place and occasion. It’s very dramatic and he’s put real effort into each and every character.’ Seilern enjoyed its comedic references to cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé and Wilkinson praised ‘its obsessive, pictorial nature.’ Pearman commended the evidence shown here for the possibility for architects to move into the realms of illustration. Nobody could dispute Gibb’s assertion that ‘the more you zoom into it, the more you realise that each and every person he portrays has an imagined life.’


 

Student: Commended
Caroline Barnard/Kingston University

The Storage House.
The Storage House.

Caroline Barnard’s proposal to ‘occupy’ the self-storage centres that proliferate on our city edges beguiled and amused the judges, her work showing an irony that they didn’t fail to pick up on. In addition to its prosaic function the self-storage is now complemented by an array of community functions and new public space. Petherbridge was an instant fan, taken by the image ‘of the two beer cans that rucks the symmetry of the whole thing…taking something so banal and ennobling it is somehow intriguing’. Seilern was less convinced of its propositional nature but Wilkinson enjoyed the texture and grain of the images and felt they should be commended. Behind the simple graphite representation lay something more complex, argued Barnard: ‘The Storage House responds to its domestic context at civic scale, playfully dancing between the two.'


 

Practitioner: Commended
Jolene Liam/Studio Egret West

 

My Flat, As Lived.
My Flat, As Lived.

Liam’s done the opposite of architecture, but in doing so has thrown light on the nature of inhabitation

'In my daily work I draw hundreds of flats for thousands of people,’ wrote Jolene Liam, supporting her three 0.38mm ball-pen drawings. ‘But I wanted to imagine the contents of my own flat in a different way: this is a response to traditional depictions of architecture.’

In a sequence of three drawings, the first is a roughly executed plan sketch of her flat as it was moved into, the last a curious inventory of everything in it, lined up in size order; from bed to cupboard, vacuum cleaner to socks. For the judges the former was mute, the latter close to obsession, with Petherbridge calling them ‘an exercise in banality’. But ‘My Flat, as Lived’ worked on a different level. In it, Liam divested the space of all the architectural appurtenances, leaving only the objects and personal effects within it. 

Seilern remarked that it ‘was all the stuff where the architecture isn’t. I’ve never seen a plan defined through a reading of the things that sit within it.’ Wilkinson meanwhile was reminded of Michael Landy’s ‘Break Down’ installation of 2001 in its ontological nature. Kernan felt it ‘beautiful…heavy and telling, yet nimble.’
‘In this one image, Liam’s done the opposite of architecture,’ concluded Pearman, ‘but in doing so has thrown light on the nature of inhabitation.’