Architectural drawings: imagining the future
Architectural drawings: imagining the future
There is the iconic Newton’s Cenotaph drawing, the evocative monochrome illustration of Etienne-Louis Boullée. There are the experimental drawings of Lebbeus Woods, evocative urban visions of a distant future. There are also the well-known designs of Le Corbusier’s utopian Ville Radieuse. Drawing, and in turn architectural visualizations, have always been a useful way to contemplate the architectural concepts of the future. It is fascinating to look back at architectural visualizations of the future made in the past.
A prominent figure in the Futurist movement of the early 20and century was the Italian architect Antonio Sant’Elia. Leaving behind only a few constructed drawings, his sketches made between 1912 and 1914 – “Città Nuova” – became his lasting legacy. This series of drawings, known in English as “New City”, were visions of a utopia future as Sant’Elia saw it, populated by intricate towers housing glass walkways that prioritized function.
This vision of the future in 1914 is not surprising. In the throes of Italy’s burgeoning Futurist movement, the glorification of modernity and the marvels of engineering are extremely visible influences in the designs of Città Nuova. From afar, the designs appear to be all about monumentality – monolithic skyscraper structures with minimal ornamentation. What is particularly interesting in these drawings is that this monumentality is coupled with a sensitive urbanism. Circulation is essential in the designs of Città Nuova. Although the city seems closed, moments with nature for its inhabitants are privileged, outdoor walkways and large open spaces allowing common areas bathed in light.
”The pleasure I derive from making buildings is to say: it can be built”: In conversation with Peter Cook
Looking at what the futuristic vision of Sant’Elia sought to solve, we have very similar conversations in the world today. Questions about how to build cities equipped for larger populations, increased land values and new means of transport.
About fifty years after the influential Città Nuova de Sant’Elia appeared an architectural practice with bold ideas influenced by technological inventions – Archigram. The core members of the group – Peter Cook, Warren Chalk, Ron Herron, Dennis Crompton, Michael Webb and David Greene, all contributed to the collective’s impressive catalog of speculative architectural drawings. “Plug-in City” by Peter Cook is undoubtedly one of their most provocative concepts.
The drawings, although relating a complex concept, are simplified by the use of contrasting colors. The complex concept itself can be distilled into something easier to digest – the Plug-in City is actually a mega-structure, a framework into which standardized housing is inserted. Cook’s vision of this future is one where this megastructure would power conical towers that would be connected to it, and where leisure and work would be accessible through transport cranes that would modulate the city according to its changing needs.
This particular architectural visualization of the future is very much rooted in its current context. The ever-changing urban fabric of the post-war period had seen the embrace of a monotonous and uniform suburb in Britain. Cook’s design was, in part, a response to this. The Plug-in City was in a way a provocation, describing how urban design through design should be able to evolve while integrating the essential aspects of urban life.
The 1980s was the decade of postmodernism and, fittingly at a time that saw increasingly complex architectural forms, came the philosophical designs of American architect Lebbeus Woods. His drawings were speculative in nature, musings on dystopian and deconstructivist ideas. In Wood’s catalog of works, it is worth focusing on the “Projects for the reconstruction of Sarajevo”, made from 1993 to 1996.
This series of drawings is not a contemplation of a distant future, but rather what can be considered a utopia Solution to a current and pressing problem. The drawings are hopeful in nature, illustrating how the city of Sarajevo, scarred by violent war, could be rebuilt. Infrastructure that would normally be torn down and rebuilt would instead be filled with “ideologically free” spaces, where salvaged building materials are carefully reconfigured and assembled with a high degree of craftsmanship.
Wood’s Sarajevo series is an excellent example of architectural visualization used to critique societal and political events and to imagine the immediate future.
Antonio Sant’Elia’s designs were key influences for Fritz Lang Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Plug-in City by Peter Cook and Archigram’s body of work in general will serve as influences for the Paris landmark Center Pompidou. Woods Sarajevo series is obviously a manifesto for adaptive reuse. These visions of the future were perhaps too idealistic, but they were useful instruments that critiqued the contemporary architectural standards of the time and put forward ideas that would later be abstracted and adapted to concrete form.
This article is part of the ArchDaily topics: The Future of Architectural Visualizationsproudly presented by escape, the most intuitive real-time rendering and virtual reality plugin for Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, Archicad and Vectorworks. Enscape connects directly to your modeling software, giving you an integrated visualization and design workflow.