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Category Archives: Architecture

Maximum Pressure Area, Plug-In City Project (1962-64) by Peter Cook (Archigram), Ink and colour on photomechanical print, from McQuaid, M. (2002), Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from the Museum of Modern Art,New York: The Museum of Modern Art

The work of the architect extends far beyond the goal of achieving some programmatic end: their work surpasses the conception and construction of a building as they are charged with the tasks of conceiving of and manipulating space, and thus the experience of that space’s occupants.

Architecture is more than building. The work of the architect extends beyond. The understanding of emotion, occupation, movement, and empathy, set architecture apart from building. Architecture is conscious of its surroundings, the implications of its impact on an area, and its general context. And it is the task of the formal architect to conceive of and implement this grand enterprise. The architect is constrained not only by the limitations of construction and budget, but an inability to realize the project on their own at a 1:1 scale. Thus, they must draw.

Paul Rudophh_Yale Architecture Building

Yale Architecture Building by Paul Rudolph, Ink on paper. Courtesy of dezeen.


It is true that architectural drawing is first and foremost a tool; it has ideas, diagrammatic and analytical information employed for the purpose of coordinating the labor of building a building beyond mere image. This is to say that the architectural drawing is not solely for viewing pleasure, but is a carrier of useful information. This is what distinguishes architectural drawing from fine art. Architectural drawings are systematic, generated using a decodable visual language and accessible to a wide range of audiences. They are meant to be understood. This may be obvious with regard to architect’s technical drawings, but less obvious in the case of drawings where the line between art and architecture is finer.

Edge of a City: Spiroid Sectors (1991) by Steven Holl,  watercolour on paper. Courtesy of


Yet what is the value of these apparently hybrid illustrations? Why do architects often employ artistic techniques of representation in their architectural drawings? In his short essay “What is Architecture? (Art)”, Steven Holl defines architecture under four headings; Abstract, Use, Space and Idea. He asserts that a work of architecture harbours an idea and that “the phenomena of space, light, material/detail …. convey the art, whether or not the organizing idea is fully grasped.” 1

LouisKahn_SalkInstitute Sketch

Salk Institute for Biological Studies (1962)  by Louis Kahn, Charcoal on tracing paper, from McQuaid, M. (2002), Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from the Museum of Modern Art,New York: The Museum of Modern Art

In the above drawing, Louis Kahn was tasked to design a space his client, Joseph Salk “could invite Picasso” to, a place where masters of all disciplines could come and work together.  Though the formal details of Kahn’s design are barely visible, the drawing aptly portrays the building’s grandiose and exhaustive form. The tiny structure commands the page; an empire in the distance.  


As consumers of this piece, we are able to understand this project, untainted by the constraints of construction or any other factors that might come into play as the project moves further along. This drawing is Kahn’s idea, on paper. It is an artifact of his vision, insight into the coda that drove the constructed result. The conceptual drawing is the first object to distinguish architecture from building. It is the carrier of the emotion, occupancy and human empathy that underscore the project and this is what makes it awe-inspiring. 

Architecture must first exist as an idea, and the drawing is its conduit. 


Fast Twitch (1996-7) by Perry Kulper, mixed media on mylar/paper. Courtesy of Archinect.


1 Holl, S., “What is Architecture? (Art?)”, The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture, September 4 2013 (July 8 2016)

We seem to think that Greece and Athens can hardly be saved unless we all cluster round the Acropolis. The most convenient way we seek to give expression to the continuity of Greek cultural heritage is by trying to put up our buildings around the Sacred Rock and to imitate what we think was ancient Greek architecture. In a most primitive fashion we rally around a symbol instead of endeavoring to study this symbol, to grasp its inner meaning and to use it as a source of inspiration.

– C.A. Doxiadis, Our Capital and its Future, 1961Early Athenian High-Rise Neighborhoods

Early Athenian High-Rise Neighborhoods, or “Geitonies”

Athens heavily emphasizes antiquity. Everywhere, relics of bygone days are highlighted. Some are completely accessible, others behind rails, and those that are spontaneously found are covered up with glass. Either way, we feel ourselves in the glorious past, imagining the marketplace where Socrates once roamed or a patio as it would be during the symposia. With these monument-spectacles, we fetishize the ancient, turning it into an ambiguous icon rather than a source of inspiration.

Hordes of tourists daily visiting the Propylaia - the access point to the top of the Sacred Rock

Hordes of tourists daily visiting the Propylaia – the only access point to the top of the Sacred Rock.

The transition of the city is discernable in scarce, less underscored medieval buildings. But the ignorance and frequent misuse of ancient heritage is evident in the overwhelming majority of construction. The greatest of ruins in Athens is the grey high-rise – the “polikatoikia.” Spread – or rather, carbon copied – over the city, this building type ages worse and has different priorities than the neatly idolized “ruins.”The

The “Polikatoikia”

This haphazard expansion is historically reasonable. While Athens – in fact the Acropolis – has been continually inhabited, it was nothing more than a village, especially after the decade-long revolution. From 1833 until today, the population grew from about 4,000 to almost 4 million, with most growth occurring during the 20th century. Today it is one of the densest cities in Europe.Athens in 1850

Athens in 1850

The prevailing architectural character of Athens is a result of this sudden population surge, lack of building regulation, and neglect for urban planning. In 1922-24, there was a wave of refugees from Asia Minor, following expulsion by Turkish forces and the subsequent population exchange. Athens’ population almost doubled between 1920 and 1928! In the 50s, Greeks began moving from the countryside to the city, and by the 80s and 90s it was foreign immigrants looking for a place in the Athenian metropolis.

An aerial view of Athens today

An aerial view of Athens today

Throughout all these stages, construction was laissez-faire. People built wherever they wanted and whatever they pleased, with attention to private benefit rather than consideration for urban development. Starting from the boom of refugee settlements in the 20s, the “polikatoikia” was born, later rapidly multiplying by the process of “antiparohi”; a process that consisted of a property exchange between landowner and developer – land to build for apartments to live in and off of.

Some early refugee housing on Alexandras Avenue

Some early refugee housing on Alexandras Avenue

Much of Athens was developed in this way, creating space without design. This need for space also created a building culture of repetition, particularly post-1949 after a World War and Civil War almost back to back. Balconies stacked on top of each other dominated the façade, pulling private life out over the street. This porosity is emphasized at ground level, which is typically used for shops and sometimes arcades, allowing the public to penetrate the city block. Thus, besides their monstrous plainness and replication, “polikatoikias” succeeded in providing rapid housing and creating intimate, permeable communities.

A street in Koukaki with the Acropolis hill visible in the distance

A streetview of Koukaki with the Acropolis hill visible in the distance

This place-less, closely-knit scene is reaffirmed walking through neighborhoods like Koukaki that, even though it is by the Acropolis, has an abundance of “polikatoikias” (albeit, some of the nicer ones) and a lack of parking space. But as we continue closer towards Acropolis, we find what might be the most unique area of Athens. Known as Anafiotika, this Cycladic community was built under the rule of Bavarian King Otto by immigrants from the island Anafi. In the mess of Athens – still visible in the skyline – this is exemplary of the coexistence of the picturesque and the grotesque in the city.

Anafiotika, right under the Acropolis

Anafiotika, right under the Acropolis

Continuing the walk around the Acropolis, we reach Plaka, another part of the ‘heart’ of Athens that escaped ruthless development. Moving downhill we spot crumbling and boarded up houses, a reminder of the practical mindset of Athens. These beautiful buildings are expensive and difficult to renovate, maintain, and inhabit so people move to high-rises and the suburbs.

Plaka hillside restaurants by night

Plaka hillside restaurants by night

A Plaka Street

A Plaka Street

The mention of the ‘imported’ King Otto brings us to the very important concept of imported romanticism for Ancient Athens. After the revolution, European nations began imagining reviving the capital to its former glory. Greeks, needing support, complied, even instating a new dialect – “katharevousa,” deriving from ‘clean’ and citing ancient Greek – as the official tongue. Athens began capitalizing on ancient heritage as a catalyst for investment and growth.

King Otto of Bavaria

King Otto of Bavaria

While “polikatoikias” and, even to some extent, the Anafiotika were based on practicality, the attempt to tailor modern Greece to its ancient character was impractical and implausible. As Athens expanded and mercilessly modernized, this double identity became ever contrasting and cumbersome. This illusion culminated with Greece’s entrance into the EU in 1981 with reference to it as the ‘cradle of Western civilization.’ While geographically true, culturally modern Athenians were categorically different.

The Contemporary Athenian Skyline

The contemporary Athenian skyline

It is only natural that Greek identity and architecture changes over time. The change becomes problematic when we obsess over the old and self-impose an illusion of the past. Today, Greece finds itself entrenched in a sociopolitical crisis, partly due to this dual identity. We observe that Athens, dotted with relics of antiquity, has very little to do with Ancient Athenian character. The aforementioned external romanticism and the internal unprincipled modernization are at odds with each other, and contemporary Greece collapses under the weight of its dichotomy. Instead it is productive to consider modern and contemporary Athenian architecture – its popular development, modularity, and challenge of public and private sphere – and draw inspiration and understanding from ancient paradigms, rather than trying to fetishize and relive the past. Athens needs a new urban philosophy for the 21st century.

-Guest Post by Aris Constantinos Minaretzis Tsionos

As architects we are involved in the process of cladding buildings, but many of us also take the process of cladding ourselves quite seriously. The word ‘architectural’ is somewhat overused in fashion, but there are a number of designers who do produce clothing, accessories and shoes that have a very strong relationship with architecture due to their geometry and detailing. As well, there are architects who design clothing, accessories and shoes.

One of the better known architects designing shoes is Rem D. Koolhaas, nephew of the Rem Koolhaas and also an architect. He founded United Nude some years ago and Zaha Hadid recently designed 3D-printed shoes for United Nude which are now available. They are ‘slightly’ beyond my budget. (We’re talking about a  ‘new laptop vs Zaha shoes’ dilemma.) The mainline includes the amazing Eamz shoes that I have written about previously, based on the Eames‘ chair.


United Nude x Zaha Hadid shoes

I haven’t been able to determine if the designers behind the label Building Block are also architects but the influence is pretty clear in both the name and the construction of their handbags. Focusing on pure geometry, the bags even have geometric names like cylinder and square. The branding is also very architectural; bags are photographed against white walls with different textures or taped to a black background with coloured and metallic tape.


Building Block cylinder and square bags

Miansai‘s cuffs and rings use screws and hinges and they look like they could be used for construction. They kind of make me want to reconsider always using silver-coloured screws for construction. Rose gold screws anyone? Interestingly, not everything they produce is as architectural.

Miansai Squared Ring, Modern Screw Cuff Ring and Modern Flat Ring

Reed Krakoff‘s jewellery also involves screws but its architectural quality is also evident in the use of grids. The ‘machined cuff’ is like a rolled up architectural facade.


Reed Krakoff Machined Two-Tone Cuff and T-Bar Drop Earrings

Like Miansai, In God We Trust have a range of items and they’re not all particularly architectural, albeit very cool. I did get pretty excited seeing a pair of earrings simply called Bauhaus Earrings. I recently entered a competition for the design of the new Bauhaus Museum in Dessau so I have Bauhaus on the brain.


IGWT Bauhaus Earrings

Halston Heritage has been around for a lot longer than some of the other brands mentioned above and have a very wide range of products, but their shimmering rectangular minaudieres fit the architectural profile.


Halston Heritage Lucite Minaudieres

Maryam Nassir Zadeh has been getting noticed a lot lately and her collaboration with MAKE cosmetics is exciting both for its architectural appearance and its source of inspiration. It was inspired by Antonioni‘s film Il Deserto Rosso. Though it may not be obvious, Antonioni did form part of my architectural education. It’s the branding that first caught my eye as the packages are presented as if they were a model of a city.


MAKE Cosmetics x Mariam Nassir Zadeh Celeste e Verde collection

Like Rem D. Koolhaas, I have also applied my architectural training to design products. My own design store, Scaffold & Lace also focuses on pure geometry like Building Block. Our new collection is on its way but in the meantime, here are our geometric bamboo, walnut and felt brooches.


Scaffold & Lace geometric brooches

In order to design buildings with a sensuous connection to life, one must think in a way that goes far beyond form and construction.” – Peter Zumthor Ever since I visited Peter Zumthor’s Serpentine Pavilion in London in 2011, my view of what architecture can achieve has changed. A humble structure, Zumthor’s pavilion was transformative. It is not so much that it was capable of transforming place, but rather it was capable of something far more difficult and risky; transforming people. It is hard to put into words what it felt like to walk through the space. It was all about experience. Walking through the a dark corridor into an open air space filled with light and colorful flowers and then out through a dark corridor again, I felt like I understood birth, life and death better. Zumthor must be experienced. It is not enough to just look at his work in a book or online. ZumthorSerp

Serpentine Pavilion (temporary, London), Peter Zumthor

I can’t wait to experience Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus Field Chapel. The result of an incredible experiment with materials, the inner space was packed with trees, and concrete was poured around these. The trees were then set on fire, leaving a bare space with incredible charred concrete on the inside. Zumthor is known for his large and detailed models. I wonder if he modeled the process of the burning of the trees inside the concrete. ZumthorChurch Bruce Klaus Field Chapel (Mechernich, Germany), Peter ZumthorBruceKlausFieldChapel Sketch for Bruce Klaus Field Chapel Zumthor’s proposal for the LACMA is just one example of an amazing model produced in his studio. LACMA1 LACMA Proposal (Los Angeles), Peter Zumthor I hope that my studio looks like this one day. His models are so large that they need their own tables. PeterZumthor_Models Zumthor combines the desire to build with the desire to transform. He is an artist and an innovator. There is a humility to his work. It takes time to experience and understand it. Now I’ll go back to dreaming of architecture.

A while back, I took some fisheye photos in in Lucknow. I have written a few posts about Lucknow, but this one is all about the snaps. The titles of the photographs come from real memories of my ancestral home but I also think they sound like they could be names of perfumes. (Smell and memory are, of course, closely linked, and recently I have been reading a lot about fragrance.) For example, ‘Happy in the Annexe’ refers to tenants who lived in the annexe whose son’s name is ‘Happy’ and ‘Home For Morris’ refers to my grandparents’ vintage Morris that sat in the garage.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH   Where Once Was A Fiat Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Mali’s Garden (Mali = Gardener in Hindi) Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH   Happy in the Annexe Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Guarding the Garden Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Bananas on the Side Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Tricycles in the Drive Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Door Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Guava Tree Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Home for Morris Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH   Taar (Taar = Wire in Hindi) Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH   Shadows in the Aangan (Aangan = Courtyard in Hindi)

My latest newsletter takes you on a visual tour through natural photography, architecture and fashion. Stops on the tour include London, Singapore and Montego Bay.



The new iPad Air ad got me very excited, but not for the reason Apple is hoping to get me excited. The visual centerpiece of the video is the pencil, the humble pencil. I have had a passionate love affair with this tool since at least 1995. But alas, the fantasy, the set up of the pencil as the centre of our universe, is destroyed by the retrieval of the iPad Air from behind the pencil. The premise? The iPad Air is as thin as this pencil. Like I give a f***. I am more interested in the pencil. I really mean it.

In 2007, a former professor enticed me to take his studio with one simple act. He picked up a pencil and held it in the air. He made it the centre of our universe. He reminded us that this was the forgotten tool that had been at the origin of so much great architecture. That we needed to go back to basics. That we needed to reconnect the mind with the heart with the arm with the hand with the pencil. The physicality of this tool is what really turns me on. But also the impermanence. We use it to jot down our ideas. These traces fade over time, but if we’re lucky enough, the real deal might be built by the time the pencil drawing fades. There is poetry in this. The dream slowly fades as the real, physical form manifests itself.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-tech. I am both lo- and hi-tech. My students know this well, and that’s my point. Why wouldn’t I still use a pencil? Why can’t I use both my pencil and my laptop? We’re extremely privileged to have the opportunity to use both, all, in fact. And does Apple really think that I am going to get more excited about their iPad Air and laugh at the humble pencil? Sure, it’s good that tech-tools are getting lighter, but I still want lead. And the pencil is still smaller, lighter, and more likely to make it to a deserted island.

This year’s Architecture Through A Mixed Media Lens short course at Ogilvy & Mather’s Chocolate Factory this August had some literary inspiration. Each student was assigned a short story from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, asked to come up with a sketch of their interpretation. They then brought in a found object and took a Polaroid snap juxtaposing the found object against the sketch. And finally, they were asked to produce architectural models and/or drawings.

Here are the results in alphabetical order by first name


Christine_FoundImage_Landscape copy     ChristinePolaroid

Sketch & Polaroid


Final Axonometric


Donna_FoundImage         Donna_Polaroid

Sketch & Polaroid


Final Architectural Model


Josh_FoundImage      JoshPolaroid

Sketch & Polaroid


Final Plan/Partial Axonometric





Photographs of Found Object/Image (Whole and Core)


Ottavia_FoundImage     OttaviaPolaroid

Sketch & Polaroid


Final Section



Sukkah entered for the Sukkahville competition: aerial view and view up to sky 


View of proposal in Mel Lastman Square

Sukkahville 2013 Exhibition, Mel Lastman Square, Toronto, Canada, September 22



Student Work 2012, Christine Gros & Donna Kelsh

Architecture Through A Mixed Media Lens, Ogilvy & Mather, The Chocolate Factory, New York, July 31, August 2, August 5, August 7, 630pm-930pm



Tools: A Sunograph series, continuing on from my earlier series



Carven shoes with the new nail polish by Nars X Pierre Hardy. An awesome collaboration between my favourite makeup brand and one of my favourite shoe designers


Zaha Hadid United Nude

Total architectural shoe design: Zaha Hadid designs these shoes for United Nude, owned by Rem Koolhaas’ nephew, also an architect

(courtesy United Nude)


DSB copy

Denise Scott Brown and Lu Wenyu: give them their Pritzker Prize! Equal recognition for female partners in practice

(courtesy Architizer)

I will be running my course, Architecture Through A Mixed Media Lens, this summer at Ogilvy & Mather, New York, commencing July 31.

4 Sessions, 630-930pm $200

Wednesday July 31

Friday August 2

Monday August 5

Wednesday August 7


Christine Gros, Student, ATMML 2012

Bring a fresh perspective to your work by exploring creative processes, developing your lens and experimenting with media. This course will bring architecture into focus through the lens of mixed media that are used for architectural representation. Designers, artists and those who are new to the arts alike will find their way into architecture using mixed media and the mechanism of scale. The course is deliberately structured to escalate from images to objects to moving images (2D to 3D to 4D).

 Open to both Ogilvy & non-Ogilvy students