In the Archive: OMA, Neutelings, Hejduk, Gowan

Richard Hall and Emma Rutherford

Click on drawings to move and enlarge (fullscreen version).

In this series, Drawing Matter invites visitors to write about material in the archive or the libraries at Shatwell that they have viewed as part of their research.

When faced with a mass of unknown information, one tends to start with things that are familiar. In a room full of closed drawers—with little knowledge of their contents—our interests, enthusiasms and points-of-reference provide a comfortable way in; the beginnings of a conversation.

In our case, OMA became the point of departure for a dérive—gently steered by the drawers Niall chose to open—via Cedric Price, Adler and Sullivan, Karl Friedrich Shinkel, Frank Lloyd Wright, Stirling and Gowan and the New York Five; unexpectedly culminating in a comparison between James Gowan and John Hejduk’s approaches to iteration. The pattern of one thing leading to another had as much to do with loose connections discussed as with any legitimate relationships between the drawings or their authors.

At the end of the process Niall suggests that we partake in an exercise to identify five drawings of particular resonance. Our selection reflects both the first and last drawings discussed. When seen together, the five drawings—ultimately selected through a rapid, unscientific and intuitive process of attraction and elimination—have much in common. This is not only because three originate from one office: in reality the five drawings equate to (at least) five authors.

Rather than discuss these five drawings individually, we have attempted to outline five ideas prompted by their commonalities.

  1. Constellations

Nothing is about one thing. These drawings, like the archive and the estate themselves, are a coming together of differences in relative proximity and intensity. Each, in its own ways, is a kind of urban condition.

  1. Landscape

Architecture delineates an edge, not an end. The world continues outside: beyond the scope of the project, and beyond the edge of the page. Somehow architecture is at its most exciting when it transcends preoccupations with image and object to become topographic.

  1. Places

Despite not containing a single human figure, these drawings are full of life. Each spatial configuration suggests implicit scenarios of use. An ambiguous mix of emptiness and intensity establish the conditions for idiosyncratic and accommodating places. The ambition is not to describe everything or fill every gap. 

  1. Technique

There is no substitute for getting close to real things. The Ambulatory drawing is tiny and precise beyond belief. Hejduk’s lines, fills and hatches achieve a CAD-like crispness. Nothing is evenly rendered, all content is specifically located. The choice of what to draw and how to draw it requires a developed subjectivity, equal in value to technical skill.

  1. Intentions

Some drawings have the capacity to become a distillation of the ideas of a project in miniature. Rather than images for images sake, they capture what is essential. In Gowan’s case, such conceptual clarity is sought through iterative sketches — not as emblems of a moment of genius, but as acts of curiosity.