A new exhibition curated by Jantje Engels and Marius Grootveld, in collaboration with Drawing Matter and the Architecture Foundation. Acknowledging that architecture is a corpus of inherited ideas, “Alternative Histories” invited more than 80 contemporary practices in the UK and Europe to imagine an exchange with architects from the past.
23 March – 14 April, 2019
Cork Street Galleries
6 Cork Street, Mayfair, London
Each office was assigned a different drawing from the collection of Drawing Matter – from the from the frontispiece of Abbé Laugier’s 1753 Essai sur l’architecture, to Erik Gunnar Asplund’s 1917 plan for the Villa Snellman, to the 1970 studies for a theatre by Carlo Scarpa. The architects were then tasked with making a model that not only responded to what they saw, but also envisioned an alternative future for the original drawing while adhering to the constraints of the project: although comprising different materials and scales, the models had to be transportable, and their footprints had to fit within the surface area of the historic drawings. A large white van then crisscrossed the UK and the Continent to collect these enigmatic objects to be exhibited in London.
Seen together, the models reveal a spectrum of interpretations of historical reference, insights into design methodology and the intertwined processes of thinking and representation. At once an exhibition of new architecture in Europe and an enquiry into how it is now being made, Alternative Histories presents a shared past and present, both kaleidoscopic and undefinable, where there is always room for more and different points of reference, and expansion.
Drawing Matter is a public forum for examining the architectural drawing, not only as an object or means to an end but as an active way of thinking about, expressing and making architecture. We seek to nurture a culture – through writing, thinking, drawing, making, exhibitions, workshops, events, lectures, teaching and archive visits – of understanding the drawing as a practice of looking, and a form of endless enquiry.
At the core of these activities is a working collection of many thousand drawings, sketchbooks and models, dating from the sixteenth century to the present. Established 25 years ago by Niall Hobhouse, the collection preferences material that reveals the conceptual processes of design – the first thought before the presentation drawing; or the unbuilt (or unbuildable) dream over the technicalities of the building process. The description of these drawings is equally multifarious; catalogue entries are never definitive but are works-in-progress, to be expanded, enlivened, often contradicted.
This approach extends beyond the collection, into the editorial, curatorial and educational projects of Drawing Matter Trust, which was set up to explore representations of the architectural drawing, through this online journal, publications, exhibitions and workshops. Like the collection, these activities prioritise discussion, juxtapositions and associations over conventional models of examining the architectural drawing. Space is made (and encouraged) for the literary, non-definitive and pluralistic ways of thinking about architecture, as opposed to the technical, the accepted or the singular point of view. This approach is intended to reflect, and to expose, the myriad ways architecture itself operates – through many forms and lexicons.