When I was an architectural student the drawings of Birkin Haward, then of Foster Associates did the same in the field of architectural communication. Birkin didn’t draw the architecture, he drew the idea, the activity, the suggestion of what the architecture might develop into from housing these activities. Architecture as a background for people to live their lives. Not that the resultant architecture was reticent, but it was more likely to emerge from the brief, be it Willis Faber in Ipswich or the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. Birkin worked alongside the great Helmut Jacoby and both drawing styles had a huge influence on a generation. Previously the drawings of Gordon Cullen were an
inspiration, making modernism acceptable, stressing activity not architectural style. At Weston Williamson + Partners, this role was, until recently, filled by Steve Humphreys - the most talented draughtsman I have ever met. He knew and practiced what to draw and what to omit, to enable the viewer’s brain to fill in the gaps. For one generation the words “Four hippies in a suit on a zebra crossing” conjures only one image. For another “a baby in a swimming pool photographed from below” conjures another. This is what Steve was able to do in his drawings. Now his role has been taken by others including Pablo Sanz Claramunt, Ash Mathur and others who have similar but distinct styles, to paint a seductive and informative picture.
Of course the ideas then have to be worked up so that there are no surprises for the planning committee; the client and the contractor have all the information they need and we can interrogate for clash detection, view from every angle and even take a virtual reality tour as though the project is complete. The BIM model requires a lot of work and a great deal of information to communicate the vision of the completed project. Its true worth is calculated over the lifetime of the project so long as it contains all the detail about replacement, maintenance and servicing. But it is also a great communication tool, which if used properly will take away much of the distrust and scepticism between community groups and developers; it will be possible to actually visualise what it will look and feel like to be standing in that place, say on June 12 2021 at 3pm.
So there is a place for both. The inspirational sketch marks on paper that served Leonardo’s ideas so well evoke a different sensibility than that conjured by moving a mouse or a stylus. We still need both.
At Weston Williamson + Partners we have life drawing classes every other Tuesday. It is therapeutic as well as creative. It’s as good to revisit old skills as it is to revisit Birkin’s evocative images of Foster Associate projects. They are works of great art. In their case, a six word description “Long silver panelled gallery-glazed ends” doesn’t conjure up an entire story. But maybe Hemmingway could.