Pier Vittorio Aureli: Ambiguous Drawings

Paco Alfaro Anguita

For the past two years, our Writing Prize has attracted a large number of thoughtful texts from participants all over the world. This year we partnered with the Architecture Foundation to sponsor one of their three writing prize categories. The Drawing Matter category, titled ‘Architecture and Representation’, invited entrants to submit a short piece of writing on a drawing or series of drawings that they had studied or made.

Pier Vittorio Aureli, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, 2001–2004. Pencil, pen and ink on thick wove paper, 500 × 500 mm. DMC 2068.1.

Sometimes architectural drawings, paradoxically, lengthen the moments of uncertainty during the design process. The drawing is a contract, a step forward, an exercise in commitment. It is a statement of what we cannot grasp; it is free and mutable in our minds. It is an ordering act in which what to draw and what not to draw is to be decided. The drawing acquires its own identity and voice, like an architectural project.

This drawing by Pier Vittorio Aureli is part of a series that explores the possibility of drawing as an exercise of freedom. The drawings are open-minded; they do not confirm intuitions but raise questions. That is why we can call them ambiguous drawings, in a noble sense.

The series consists of a set of drawings of buildings without any specific use on paper measuring 500 x 500 mm.

Each of the resulting building plans then emerges according to the following constraints: choose the simplest geometrical form (i.e. a square) and then work out its further articulation from the logic of the initial form. The organisation of plans and elevations must be the logical consequence of the first step. In addition, the spatial organisation of the proposed building must adhere in all its parts to the logic of the initial form, including its proportion, symmetries and internal relationships. [1]

These drawings, derived from a logical and yet tentative sequence of successive steps, show us – despite their clear formal and discursive commitment – that the design process has barely begun. Although there are walls, are we looking at an indoor space or an outdoor one? You might say that it is a drawing that represents an atrium or courtyard, around which the white extension, which expands to the edges of the paper, represents a mass. The figure is suddenly a void. It is a Magrittian gesture of hollow figures against filled backgrounds where you think of possible rooms hidden under a white ceiling and framed in a 500 x 500 mm building.

The drawing is a place of reverie in which the architectural form is bent inwards, offering an atrium as a protected and sacred place unaware of exteriors. A place where the colour grey and the textures of cross-diagonal lines dominate everything and allow us to contemplate it.

Like an atrium, a place without a specific use is found in Aureli’s drawings – drifting spaces that can host a wide list of activities or can simply be a place of contemplative, timeless and self-referential enjoyment.

Paco Alfaro Anguita is a Spanish architect based in Madrid and Cuenca.

This text was selected as highly commended in the Drawing Matter category, ‘Architecture and Representation’, of the Architecture Foundation Writing Prize 2022.


  1. Pier Vittorio Aureli: https://drawingmatter.org/the-marriage-of-reason-and-squalor/.