Swiss-German artist Paul Klee spoke of the relationship between the buried roots and the visible crown of a tree, suggesting that nobody expects them to be identical. As one strolls around Gallery 1 AQ in Delhi, this statement seems to pronounce itself in the drawings and sketches of architects. On display are the primary sketches of iconic projects and the final building on the ground. Every now and then, one might see a glimpse of the finished structure through a drawing, but most of them only present the germ of an idea.
The “Voice of Sketches” exhibition, curated by Delhi-based architects Verendra Wakhloo and Rachit Srivastava, takes a look at the primordial spontaneity of sketching, the first impulse for most architects and designers. Hosted at the India Arch Dialogue, organised by FCDI, a FCML Design Initiative, last year, there were models of projects on display. This year, over 20 international architects, many of them Pritzker Prize winners, present their exploratory sketches for their landmark buildings.
“For an artist, the hand is the head; with it, he explores unknown areas. The exhibition title tells that sketching is a voice — the voice of the imagination,” says Wakhloo. That sound emerges in utter stillness in the spiral drawing of Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto’s design of the Musashino Art University Museum & Library. “Fujimoto’s library is like a mandala, it is an ordering principle. In his diagram, you can interpret where the openings could be, the circulation — you see the potential of the space,” says Wakhloo.
As British architect Peter Cook says, “A sketch allows one to battle with the line as it changes a corner, get behind a wall, see light filter through the trees, and even watch its shadow.” If in Portugal-based architect Manuel Aires Mateus, one sees strict compositions, in Swiss architect Mario Botta’s sketches of the TCS building in Hyderabad, one sees the monolithic structure scooped out in the centre, with sharp, clean edges. Kengo Kuma’s pineapple cake shop in Tokyo takes the shape of a bamboo basket, while Jordanian architect Rasem Badran’s realistic watercolours are an ode to local themes and materials.
As psychologists of space, architects are known to daydream through sketches, speculate, manipulate, and sometimes even posit an argument. Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas shows it well in Fiera Milano. In his sketch, the fabric-like quality of the glass canopy takes flight in shades of grey, as they swing in and out of folds. He shows light flooding the central spaces in white, giving the appearance of grey birds above white clouds.
In inconsistency lies the merit of a sketch. “Very often a drawing doesn’t materialise into a finished project, and it affords the possibility of the ambiguous. While a computer-generated drawing expects definitive measures, a hand drawing can go wherever the mind wanders. It’s often an oscillation, a dialogue one has with oneself. It has a generative power, which is lost when a project is drawn on the computer; that is assemblage,” says Wakhloo.
The sad reality, though, is that most Indian architects do not sketch. Except for a few exhibits that have project drawings, the others are computer renderings or finished projects. “One cannot find fault. Indian architects don’t sketch because they can’t build them,” says Wakhloo. He points to Fujimoto’s library project with its double-height bookshelves that climb 9m high, and says, “If in India, one were to do this, the client would object, since it’s space ‘wasted’. Architecture in India is often limited to operational needs,” he says.
At the enclosure erected for the exhibition in the gallery courtyard, the sketches and projects of Indian architects and designers line the make-shift walls. During the exhibition, there are talks, workshops and jam sessions between design studios.
This show is a first in many ways, where referential sketches have been exhibited as a dare to dream, where one catches glimpses of an architect’s thought through the sharpness of a line or the twist of a contour, and where you get the closest to the actual building in its rawest, newest and purest form.
‘Voice of Sketches’ at Gallery 1 AQ closes on February 21. For details: fcdi.co.in