Construction drawings at the RA Summer Exhibition

Construction drawings at the RA Summer Exhibition


For the first time in 249 years, construction drawings are the focus of this year’s architecture room at the Royal Academy of Arts’ summer exhibition, which this year is curated by British architect, Farshid Moussavi.

The annual London exhibition is one of the biggest events in the UK’s art and design calendar, and the largest open submission show in the world. Each year the exhibition displays a spectrum of art in all forms and mediums, an extraordinary mixture of emerging artists and household names. The architecture room is a regular feature of the exhibition, unveiling work from London’s architecture students to some of the world’s most acclaimed ‘star-architects’. Traditionally, the room is filled with elaborate drawings and detailed models, but this year, in a radical move, Moussavi decided to do something different. Moussavi chose to showcase the types of drawings that set architects apart from the artists, sculptors and photographers; ‘construction coordination drawings’, which highlight, in her words, the role of architecture as ‘instruction-based art’.  

“This year, I thought we could concentrate on showcasing what we architects specifically do, distinct from the painters and sculptors, which is to produce a set of construction coordination drawings,” she explained. “Although these are of course drawn on the computer these days, I believe that they are nonetheless beautiful, and show a view of buildings rarely or never seen by the public.”

Moussavi was keen to select work that shows the “full complexity of the different systems and parts of buildings”, ideally colour coded. “I am hoping that the architecture room will show the complexity and richness of buildings beyond their outward appearance… Since at the RA, architects are a different category to painters, engravers, printmakers, draughtsmen and sculptors, we need to continue asking what makes them different rather than similar.”

The technical drawings on display provide instructions for everything involved in a building project: from the façade and structure to heating and cooling, fire safety and sustainability. As described by the exhibition’s organisers: “Standing within a building, or looking up at its façade, most of us are unaware of the conflicts that have needed to be resolved between all the different services and structures that share the space.” This complexity is often hidden from view. “These drawings are not just pragmatic depictions of design and engineering, but mesmerising works in their own right”.

Displayed in a variety of ways, wall-mounted technical pieces surround three central tables containing early stage conceptual hand-drawn collages by Gordon Benson, drawings by Peter Cook, Will Alsop and Trevor Dannatt. These drawings are contrasted by mathematical visuals by Isosaki and Ron Arad. Each wall contains a grouped collection of pieces ranging from layered isometric representations, fragmented technical details following conventional drawing techniques, and more wilful abstractions driven by formal composition. Work includes drawings by David Adjaye, BIG, Frank Gehry, Foster and Partners, and Farshid Moussavi herself.

Moussavi is best known as a co-founder of the former architecture practice, Foreign Office Architects, possibly most well known for their Yokohama Pier design, in Yokohama, Japan. She moved on to found her own office in 2011, and has since completed notable projects including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland and Victoria Beckham’s London boutique.

The Summer Exhibition runs from June 13 until August 20 at the  Royal Academy of the Arts.


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