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Eric Parry: Drawings at the Sir John Soane’s Museum

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A new exhibition explores the role of drawing in contemporary architectural practice through the work of one of Britain’s leading architects

You never quite know what to expect when you head to Sir John Soane’s Museum. The warren of rooms and treasure trove of collections remain the same but any temporary exhibition responds in some way to the space in which it is displayed  – sometimes fighting to be seen, sometimes seeking to blend in, and then sometimes completely distinct in the more neutral spaces of the Foyle space and the exhibition galleries on the first floor.

The current – and large – exhibition of Eric Parry’s drawings, at points, does all three. As you make your way around the dimly lit basement you happen upon display cases with his notebooks open on evocative sketches on different themes such as ‘atmosphere’ and ‘movement’. There are more on the ground floor in the library/dining room. But then in the picture gallery the visitor is confronted with huge prints of photographs by Dirk Lindner of recently completed Parry schemes. These are one of a few ‘interventions’, according to curator Owen Hopkins, another being a film projection of construction in King’s Cross in the Foyle space.

The photographs strike effective notes, making the viewer reconsider scale, materiality, colour, light as so many different facets of how we interpret and understand architecture. It encapsulates all the ways in which the human hand – Parry’s in this case – can capture, explore and interrogate what the camera lens cannot. The photographs only serve to enforce the importance of drawing in practice.

Soane (2)

Soane (2)

And it is a proposition that naturally fits very well with the Soane. Drawing is a fundamental component of Sir John Soane’s Museum, reflecting its importance to Soane’s conception and practice of architecture, and this show of Eric Parry’s work reveals the enduring centrality that drawing has to architectural practice and culture. Focusing on three sections – Observing, Designing and Building – the show charts how, for Eric Parry, drawing is integral to his practice as an architect, not just as a design tool but as a way of conceiving, reflecting on and analysing buildings and the places they occupy.

Across projects as diverse in typology, scale and context as the new buildings at Pembroke College, Cambridge, the Holburne Museum in Bath, the renewal of St Martin-in-the-Fields, One Eagle Place on Piccadilly, 30 Finsbury Square (in the City of London) in Islington and the more recently completed 4 Pancras Square at King’s Cross and Fen Court in the City of London – drawing is always fundamental to Parry’s creative process.

‘Observing’ explores the sketchbooks that Parry first began making in his 20s and which act as a near-continuous record and archive of experiences since that time, including travels in Iran and India in the 1970s. The sketchbooks are displayed in vitrines designed by Parry especially for this exhibition and presented according to themes and ideas that run through them, such as character, analysis and precedent.

Drawing as central not only to how architecture is designed, but to the way it connects to history, memory, people and place

Displayed in the Museum’s exhibition galleries, ‘Designing’ considers the different ways Parry uses drawing in the process of conceiving, iterating and working-up an architectural design. Drawings included in this section of the exhibition relate to buildings of a range of types and scales, from the studio designed for artist Tom Phillips to 1 Undershaft, which, when built, will be the tallest building in the City of London.

Finally, the ‘Building’ section of the exhibition reveals how designs are resolved into computer-generated construction drawings that show with immaculate precision the inner workings of Parry’s buildings.

Owen Hopkins, senior curator at Sir John Soane’s Museum, says: ‘Eric Parry is one of Britain’s leading architects who, like Sir John Soane, sees drawing as central not only to how architecture is designed, but to the way it connects to history, memory, people and place. This exhibition offers a unique and privileged insight into Parry’s drawing practice over the last four decades, revealing its role as both design tool and a way of thinking.’

Eric Parry: Drawings runs until 27 May at Sir John Soane’s Museum, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2. Entry is free.

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