Before it was a building, it was a drawing...


. . . or rather it was hundreds of drawings, even thousands of drawings, most of them black ink on white paper, some drawn directly by hand, many more drawn on computer screens, the result of a million mouse-clicks. Regardless of their precise nature, whether colourful, monochrome, rendered on a supercomputer or sketched on the back of the proverbial napkin, all of these drawings are vital, each and every one of them, like modern-day spells, conjuring matter into useful, beautiful form.


Drawing is the key that unlocks the mysterious difference between architecture and the more general art of building. As Reyner Banham explained in his last essay, Black Box: The Secret Profession of Architecture: ‘Even before architectural drawings achieved the kind of commercial value they can claim nowadays, they had such crucial value for architects that being unable to think without drawing became the true mark of one fully socialised into the profession of architecture.’ In short: if you don’t explore your ideas for a building through drawing, then what you’re designing isn’t architecture.


But what about the computer-generated publicity image? Does that even count as an architectural drawing? Cooke Fawcett Architects, whose built work (including for Herzog de Meuron, where founder Ollie and Francis met) has a painterly feel, thinks so. Sort of.


‘Our competition-winning entry for a public art commission in Barton Park, Oxford,’ explains Ollie, “demanded a different approach”. It was clear that neither the typical computer-generated architectural render or the hand-drawn ‘architectural sketch’ wouldn’t work here.

Cooke Fawcett’s design includes two components – Village Green, a planting strategy to introduce local species of flowering plants and hedging to Barton, and Green Room a new outdoor community facility at the heart of the Barton Park development. For Barton we wanted to find an evocative way of describing Green Room against the backdrop of Village Green. We needed a technique which spoke about layering new planting, activity and colour across the whole of Barton to describe the project and to test whether we felt the proposal was convincing and achievable.


The result? Images created by applying painted layers to existing photos of Barton and the developer’s aspirational computer-generated images. Then, some playing around - desaturation; with colour re-introduced in a deliberately abstract, painterly way to “evoke potential without committing to specifics”. Layers are manipulated in Photoshop and other techniques, collages and photos of large-scale hand-made models add to the sense of vigour Cooke Fawcett bring to the stock PR ‘render’.


Ollie Cooke will be at Citymaking Sessions at Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park, Bold Tendencies on 27 June

Full programme 

Tickets £5