Nicholas Boyarsky writes on the vital role of drawing as his father’s collection of architects’ artworks goes on display for the first time
‘We create a very rich compost for students to develop and grow from and we fight the battle with the drawings on the wall. We’re in pursuit of architecture, we discuss it boldly, we draw it as well as we can and we exhibit it. We are one of the few institutions left in the world that keeps its spirit alive.’
From ‘Ambience and Alchemy: Alvin Boyarsky interviewed’, Architectural Review, October 1983
A new exhibition at the Kemper Art Museum in St Louis, Missouri, nearly 25 years after the death of my father Alvin Boyarsky – chairman of the Architectural Association from 1971 to 1990 – gives us a chance to wind back to an era before hand drawing was almost totally eclipsed by CAD, 3D modelling and the parametric. Brave young architects and teachers at the Architectural Association such as Bernard Tschumi, Peter Cook, Ron Herron, Dalibor Vesely, Rem Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis, Zaha Hadid, Nigel Coates, Peter Wilson, Peter Salter and Chris Macdonald were debating and speculating on futures for architecture and producing unique and individual drawings. Each graphic technique, whether the shaded drawings of Peter Wilson, the applied collages of Rodney Place, the opaque acrylics and projections of Zaha Hadid, the intense linework of Peter Salter, or the impressionistic and narrative pastel work of Nigel Coates, gave space and time for the architectural idea to emerge and gain form.
This incredibly fertile and innovative period in which Alvin nurtured young talent and encouraged it to draw its way out of the impasse created by the spread of the reactionary and backward-looking Postmodernism was unique for a school of architecture at the time – the AA was truly fighting a global battle for a contemporary and forward-looking architecture based on skill, wit and craft. Reinforcements were drafted in and Alvin’s curation of exhibitions and publications created dialogues with the likes of Coop Himmelb(l)au, John Hejduk, Peter Eisenman, Daniel Libeskind, Frank Gehry, Lebbeus Woods, Shin Takamatsu, the Russian paper architects Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin and, of course, Cedric Price, Mike Webb, David Greene and others from the Archigram group – plus artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi and Mary Miss.
It is also important to distinguish that there was at the time a very real divide between the innovative drawings of a school such as the AA and the normative and extremely pedestrian two-dimensional requirements of a professional architecture office. This tension and challenge was something Alvin loved to exploit and provoke to the full. ‘We’re not training them to fill teeth,’ he remarked.
The drawings were given to Alvin, often on the occasion of an exhibition and publication, and this exhibition is the first time they have been displayed together in public. Jan Howard, one of the show’s curators, was fascinated to discover the richness and inventiveness of drawings from this lost period. The exhibition also highlights examples from the publications Alvin produced with Dennis Crompton at the AA in the 1980s, which accompanied exhibitions of drawings by the architects mentioned above.
In the four drawings by Zaha Hadid, for example, we can follow the evolution of her own unique style. The earliest drawing is from Zaha’s first project after graduation, the 1979-80 competition entry for the residence of the Irish prime minister in Dublin. It is an extraordinary drawing with clear Suprematist references, featuring a series of forms that float over and penetrate into the existing walled garden. The second drawing, The World (89 Degrees), assembles seven years of projects – from her fourth year Museum of the 19th Century project to her winning scheme for The Peak Competition in Hong Kong. Here, through the use of multiple isometric and perspective viewpoints, enhanced with both ink wash and gouache, Zaha ‘came to realise that architecture’s role had yet to be fulfilled and that there were new territories that were yet to be fulfilled’ (GA Architect 5, 1986). In the drawing for her Sperm Table (1988), Zaha overlaid bronze paint on to a reversed line drawing to produce a presentation shop drawing that can be read at multiple scales. Her design for the Kurfürstendamm office building in Berlin, also from the late 1980s, shows a building coming to rest as it emerges from its multiple iterations and viewpoints.
Nigel Coates summed up the optimism and adventurous nature of the period perfectly in his 1980 introduction to the show The Villa Auto by his fellow student and teaching colleague, Peter Wilson. ‘Doing it Wilson’s way is doing it with atmosphere,’ he wrote. ‘His existential fortresses swathe themselves in graphite storms and perverse pastel lights. If Boullée is our old friend, some would have [Walter] Pichler as our new. But Wilson outwits either by proving that air itself can be laden with intention.’
Nicholas Boyarsky is director of Boyarsky Murphy Architects. See more drawings online at TheAJ.co.uk
Curators of the exhibition on Boyarsky’s unique collection
It is a wonderful and rare opportunity to bring the Boyarsky Archive to the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis and to the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, and it was a great pleasure to collaborate on this project. With one background in prints, drawings, and photographs, and another in architectural history, our collaboration has brought a unique opportunity to look closely at both the medium and the content of the drawings that collectively constitute one of the most significant collections of early works by contemporary architects.
The collection presents major architectural projects and ideas by many of the most prominent and influential architects and artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin’s competition entry for the Intelligent Market; Zaha Hadid’s Irish Prime Minister’s Residence; John Hedjuk’s Victims; and Daniel Libeskind’s Micromegas and Chamber Works; and OMA and Bernard Tschumi’s proposals for the Parc de la Villette, to name just a few. Each work presents a unique visual language of mark making that was developed specifically for that project. With a renewed focus on hand drawing today, the show should appeal not only to architects but also to anyone interested in the imaginary capacity of drawing.
But equally compelling is the fact that the collection documents a time and a place in which an incredible international group of people came together to study, to teach, to exhibit, to critique, and to lecture during Alvin Boyarsky’s remarkable tenure at the Architectural Association (AA). At the center of this synergy was drawing; drawing was the architecture. That every work in the show was a gift to Boyarsky demonstrates the remarkable degree of respect and appreciation each of them had for him and his deep understanding and support for their work. The collection of people and artworks were equally meaningful to Boyarsky, who thrived on being surrounded by them and with them created one of the most potent incubators of architectural thought of its time.
Jan Howard, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs, RISD Museum
Igor Marjanović, associate professor of architecture, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Washington University in St. Louis
Drawing Ambience: Alvin Boyarsky and the Architectural Association
Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri,
Until 4 January, 2015,