The Sketch_A Tool to be Present Here and Now
Who influences you graphically?
Curiously, I have several different influences which are almost opposing in terms of their graphical territory. Peter Eisenman’s early studies have influenced me – the search for the visual tools to enable the discourse on the interiority of architecture, the remarkably descriptive language of Aldo Rossi’s drawings from the late 80s, which are very much interested in the periodical essence of either: space or place. I am also certainly influenced by Steven Holl’s graphical language, the distinctive sense of balance in his compositions, their domination by the ground and the sky, which are fundamental to graphical thinking about an architectural object as belonging to something beyond itself.
Another influence, which I came to appreciate much later, belongs to what I would call the use of the drawing as a scenography of urban narratives. Rem Koolhaas and Frits Palmboom are my key inspirations in this territory. It is the urban notion of architecture that became fundamental to their graphical expression, the overview of the larger field, the perspective bird’s eye views on infrastructure, on the natural landscape, and on the social side. This kind of approach insists on architectural elements in the drawings to remain generalised rather than specific.
Perhaps one slightly less graphical and more perceptive source of influence is coming from the non-architectural territory, the work of the artists such as Stanley Donwood, David Hockney and Jennifer Bartlett. I see their work as engaged with the patterns of everyday life and with the physical environment in its great detail. It is their personalised reading of the surroundings and the re-introduction of what often remains unnoticed or disregarded by us for being banal.
What is your work process? (hand drawing, photoshop, bamboo tablet?) and what is your preferred tool?
The starting point is always the same – I use different hand drawing techniques to come up with the initial concept or line of thought, which can later evolve into a different one. The critical aspect is that the work process has to be set in a way that would allow for the drawing to lead me in a direction of the theme, rather than acting as a representation of the predefined one. I later use Photoshop to make some final decisions on composition, to reinforce the key aspects of the drawing, to collage or to deconstruct the scene, or to test the possibilities of transparency, repetition, size and scale, light and colour. My preferred tool is always my Moleskine sketchbook and my ink pen or pencils which I rarely leave at home.
What dictates your colour palette and the absence of it in certain images?
My colour palette changes frequently. I often prefer the absence of colour, which brings a less graphical and a more vailed or indeterminate essence to my drawing. However, when colour is used, it is normally the result of several different palettes being explored in sets for the same single drawing.
How vital is the use of sketches in communicating an idea/ concept? And how important is it on the other hand for you as a tool to understand the surrounding environment and structures?
I would argue that sketches are vital and irreplaceable in communicating ideas, but even more importantly, in developing them. The process of architectural design often too quickly leads the designer to concrete conclusions, and they are not necessarily the result of a wider exploration of imaginable approaches and opportunities. The dialogue with colleagues is often grounded in the ability to visually elaborate on the options, questioning the challenges and the opportunities of each alternative with the use of sketches. Moreover, if we aim to work with any client as a collaborator, then the sketches are there to quickly clarify intentions in a more material manner than in verbal communication, which can be often misleading, personalised or ambiguous. Sketched ideas allow for a degree of abstraction and openness, and are immediate in their instrumental treatment of the constraints of the brief.
I am an obsessive sketcher, using the drawing as a tool of “being present here and now”, it is about taking time to look and to notice, to fall in love and if lucky to even sometimes truly understand what I see. There is something about hand drawing as an exploratory tool that gives the freedom to constantly engage with the environment by asking “What If?” and questioning the very essence of the predetermined, approaching the perceived reality with the perhaps not always conscious, yet strong intention to review it.
To what extent has the Architectural Association had an impact on your artistic vision of architecture and our environment?
I guess my case was quite unusual in this sense; I progressed into architecture following my first true passion – fine arts. I have been professionally trained in painting, drawing, composition and sculpture as well as the history of art and design since I was 9 years old. I started my art education in the Ukraine, in a school that followed an extremely strict technical training methodology. Six years later, in Israel, I was offered a place in The Fine Arts Department of Charles E. Smith Jerusalem High School. This art education was fundamental in various ways to my eventual choice to study architecture, and it is what in many ways shaped my artistic approach to the field.
When I came to the Architectural Association for the MA studies in Housing & Urbanism, I was already an architect. I was driven by a strong passion for what I can today define as “Architectural Urbanism” and by my deep belief that architecture as a visual field has a lot to contribute to the strategic thinking about cities. What was and remains fundamental about the Housing and Urbanism programme is the way in which it positions the theoretical debate on city planning and spatial strategies in the socio-economic and cultural context we witness. I was given the freedom I needed to develop my own themes and interests, and in many ways to find out where I would like to see my future work in the field. The programme helped me to focus my learning on the changes in the contemporary urban condition and pushed me towards further investigation of how an architectural intelligence helps us to understand and respond to emerging trends.
Anna Shapiro is a visual artist, architect and urbanist, currently living and working in London. In 2006, she graduated from Tel Aviv University with BArch in Architecture and Urban Planning, and in 2010 she completed an MA in Housing and Urbanism at the Architectural Association School, London. Anna is a practising architect and tutor in architecture. She is an initiator and an active member of “Collective Formations”, an international design research group focusing on the architectural challenges of Bigness – spatial models emerging globally and shaping the contemporary city. Anna also is an exhibiting artist and illustrator. She is involved in various printed productions and design initiatives. She uses her drawings and paintings as an exploratory tool – driving and formulating the communication process, rather than the final moment of any specific body of work.