Saturday, April 19, 2008

Architecture and nature

click photo to enlarge
I have a particular fondness for architectural drawings, and my shelves hold a number of books showing wonderful examples. The original purpose of these drawings (and I'm not talking about technical plans and blueprints here) was to help the architect to visualise his building, and to show it to the client before it was built. All this can be done through computers today, but the art that they produce rarely has the qualities of pen, pencil, crayon or paint on paper.

When you look at architectural drawings from across the centuries you realise that the architectural skills of architects like Wren, Boulee, Adam, Street, Mackintosh, Voysey were complemented by stunning draughtsmanship. In the twentieth century the range of architectural drawings widened. The visionary Italian architect, Antonio Sant'Elia (1888-1916) drew his modernistic fantasies in stabbing black ink and pencil, showing acute angles and strong symmetry. Tony Garnier (1869-1948) represented his blocky suburban houses in pen and soft pencil set among stylized trees and relaxed people. Soft pencil was also used by Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) for the wonderfully detailed aerial perspective of a school he designed in Michigan. And Rudolph Schindler's (1887-1953) Californian beach house, drawn in coloured crayon, sets its blocky shapes among outlined trees and planting. In fact, as you move through the twentieth century, looking at architects like Venturi, Lloyd-Wright and many others, you find the sharp shapes of modernism softened and broken in their drawings by the irregular outlines of trees and shrubs. It's as though they recognised that people don't want to live in an angular, urban environment without the softness of plants also being present. Either that, or they knew they couldn't sell their architectural visions if they were presented in the raw! Or perhaps they simply liked the art that comes from presenting hard geometric lines against soft, wilful nature.

I was reflecting on this as I prepared the photograph above. The irregular stems and flowers of these dried plants look like the pen-drawn trees of some architects' drawings. They have a slightly Art Nouveau-cum-Japanese quality that the conversion to high contrast black and white only serves to strengthen. There's maybe a bit Charles Rennie Mackintosh about them. Whatever it is, I liked their linear quaility, and placed them in front of paper against a window to achieve this effect.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f16
Shutter Speed: 1/8
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off