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Category Archives: Design

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)

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


Electric Pet Shop Boys Poster in Hong Kong

On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of seeing the Pet Shop Boys live. I had never seen them live. Now that I have I feel that it is only when one sees them live that one can appreciate the full spectrum of the experience that is the Pet Shop Boys. For to listen to their music without the visuals that accompany it is akin to watching an opera with one’s eyes closed. Of course it is possible to enjoy it, but the full story only unfolds when one’s eyes are open.


Zaha Hadid’s Design for the Pet Shop Boys, 1999

I was told by my trusty companion (my husband) that this particular concert had a lower budget than past concerts, so I can only imagine how visually spectacular those were. Of course, I was always curious about Zaha’s work for the Pet Shop Boys. And it has always been obvious to me that graphics are important to the PSB. Any album cover shows that. But what really intrigued me most about this concert were the extremely high quality motion graphics and the way they were all perfectly synchronised and choreographed with all other aspects of the performance. The show revealed the intense ambition of the PSB, not to be ‘popular’ necessarily, but to be true to their aesthetic in everything they do. (Any hardcore Pet Shop Boys fan would know more about this than I do.) Their aesthetic was everywhere; in the lighting, the dancers, the voices, the keyboards, and the aforementioned motion graphics. Never before had I seen such a commitment to an aesthetic and it was truly inspiring.


Pet Shop Boys – Electric Concert

I have seen motion graphics accompany theatre and dance in recent times and I have never been convinced by them. But these graphics were different. They revealed more about the music and the makers of the music. They weren’t there to make the PSB ‘seem current’ for they have been doing this for a very long time. And it all makes me want to be truer to my aesthetic as well as revisit experiments with motion graphics.


It’s always great to see great collaborations between creative people and the creative minds of Es Devlin, Rob Sinclair and Treatment Studios working with the Pet Shop Boys and their dancers achieved creative perfection or at least something very close to it.


Electric – Pet Shop Boys Album Cover

This month, I am producing a new set of circle brooches. The brooches are abstract representations of three of my favourite physical activities; swimming, tennis and dance. They will be available soon on my online store, Scaffold and Lace. Here are the preliminary sketches:


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.



Lately, I seem to keep noticing circles and squares, but not on their own, rather circles within squares. They somehow seem to be a recurring theme, in my jewellery design and photography and I keep imagining them as larger scale structures. I have seen a lot of circles within squares around me, or perhaps I am just noticing them more. Here are a few I have been playing with:


Guava Tree, Fisheye, 35mm, an almost-circle in a square


Sketch for jewellery


Ring and Bangle

What if this bangle and ring were models for larger scale structures? There are often circular windows in square buildings such as The Maritime Hotel in Chelsea, New York


And of course you see this recurring in album covers. It makes perfect sense, referring back to the circular object (the LP, the CD) within a square (ish) sleeve like this EP Cover for Tennis’ Petition/My Better Self


Now, onto my next circle/square project.


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.



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)












Paul Smith Tshirt



ImageLACMA Proposal by Peter Zumthor




Serpentine Pavilion by Peter Zumthor




Survey drawing of The Mayur



Lasercuts for jewellery 


Well copy

Well, lomograph, 2011


JasMB Bag copy

Jas MB Bag


FDR Park Dedication

Four Freedoms Park designed by Louis Kahn (recently completed)


Library of Bagel

Illustration from Borges’ Library of Babel


Vampire-Weekend-MVOTC copy

‘Step’ by Vampire Weekend