Invited to confront the influential architects present in the exhibition Drawing Ambience at the Boyarsky Collection, Montage 1 by Stijn Jonckheere enters a unique dialogue with the work of Lebbeus Woods, itself originally named Montage 1. Woods developed the drawing for the design of the Center for New Technology exploring the drawing in its richest state, shifting from pure abstraction to plan and itself investigating a parallel universe. Following the same creative process Stijn challenges the multitude of dimensions a drawing can inhabit both physically and metaphorically.
How important is the Boyarsky collection as a record of time and discourse?
Beyond important. It’s as if this collection is a series of snapshots, of architects at their most unrestricted, expressive moments, before they go on to influence the discipline as we all know they did today. As if you get to look over their shoulder while they draw down the essence of their architectural vision, in a few determined swoops of the pen. This collection is a sample card on how to communicate an architectural project through the act of drawing. Perhaps most importantly, I feel this collection proves that a certain style needn’t always be connected to a certain timeframe – a good drawing will prove itself timeless.
How and to what extent has the work of Lebbeus Woods influenced you and the way you operate as an architect?
As a kid I wanted to become an artist. I started studying architecture, not being quite sure if it was the right thing to do. During one of my first classes a teacher showed me some slides from Lebbeus Woods’ The New City. They made such an impression on me that I decided to continue my architecture studies, a decision I never regretted. Later I was able to pinpoint why Woods was so important to me: besides the obvious visual exuberance, his drawings showed me that there are ways to be truly expressive in architecture, that you don’t have to rationalize everything all the time to be called an architect. That a drawing could express the essence of architecture much more than any realized building.
Do you share his notion of ‘architectural research’ as a means to engage social and political issues? if so where does this leave you in the contemporary political and social climate?
I like to think I do, yes. Just like Lebbeus Woods I try to use my drawings to make people aware of underlying mechanisms present in our day-to-day society, that go largely unnoticed. I’m fascinated by the unspoken social patterns that people develop based on their built environment. I’ll go to a location that inspires me, note how people interact with their environment, and design my constructions in such a way they highlight these unseen behaviors. I often work around the theme of militarization: how big city inhabitants grow more and more weary of their outside environment and lock themselves in their homes, which they turn into fortified hide-outs.
It’s a phenomenon that is rapidly growing in our cities, making social interaction between its diverse inhabitants all the more difficult. Although there are many forms in which militarization takes place the signs of it happening are difficult to spot, remaining underneath the surface of daily life. Through my drawings I try to make viewers aware of this topic, its causes and its consequences.
In starting a dialogue with ‘Montage 1’ what were your initial goals- what did you want to achieve?
Above all, I wanted my work to pay tribute to Woods, if possible, maybe even to Montage 1 itself: I’m hoping that Woods’ work and mine will enrich each other towards the viewer, thanks to both their similarities and differences. As is written in the exhibition catalogue, Wood’s drawings were never stand-alone, they were part of a whole universe, a universe he deliberately never presented to its full extent to the viewer. Upon reading this I realized my creative process is very similar; I usually sketch out a whole script for each of my drawings, only to present just a very small portion of it in the final work. The backstory doesn’t need to be presented: it needs to be made though, as it provides the final drawing with vital detail. Detail that acts as clues for the viewer to compose that backstory – or their version of it- on their own. When one of both works sparks an interest with the viewer, and they go on composing that underlying universe, I’m hoping they’ll notice the richness of the other piece as well.
Within his Montage Woods challenged conventional representation through the inclusion of a variety of layers-what dictated the choice of the title Montage for your own work? In what sense does it relate to the medium or concept?
Just as the Boyarsky collection, Montage 1 itself is a great sample card on how to present an architectural idea. There’s the abstract expressive piece in the upper half, what looks like a section above it, and a plan filling the bottom half of the work. I liked the contrast between the abstract piece and the more traditional architecture plans especially much, something I wanted to reflect in my piece. I started out by making an isometric drawing, inspired by the cover of my favorite Woods book, Radical Reconstruction. As a second representation technique, I opted for an abstract pattern composed out of details from the isometric drawing. I framed both prints separately, hanging them so close they touch, emphasizing that both frames make up one piece.
Montage 1 was designed for a competition for the proposed Center for new technology in 1985- do you think there should still be space for visionary paper architecture nowadays?
I’m absolutely convinced visionary paper architecture deserves more than just a space in the architecture industry, or any creative industry for that matter, now and in the future. Having worked as a designer in an architecture firm for close to five years, I’ve come to realize that being able to design freely, without any restrictions of sorts, has become a luxury rather than a right. Even if the firm itself will grant you complete artistic freedom, it is the nature of an architectural designer to scale back his creative ambitions in favor of feasibility: after all, the goal is to build, not just to design. Countering this is paper architecture; displaying wild thoughts and creative fury it might deliver unbuildable designs, but it is able to spark multiple ideas at once in the viewer’s mind. Whereas the architectural design process is a careful conversation among many leading to well-balanced compromises, visionary paper architecture is free speech. And there should always be room for free speech.
What is your take on the drawing and representation within contemporary practice?
I’m under the impression that the architectural drawing has lost somewhat of its shine right now. Within the architectural sector it has become dormant in its role as a communicator, there to artificially sell information about whatever project we’re looking at, as if it were an advertisement.
I don’t believe those who claim that digital drawing software is to blame for the this. I’m convinced that a computer is merely a tool, just like a pencil is, and that it shouldn’t influence ideas or imagination. Besides, I hope my drawings can be a testament to the fact that digital tools can deliver great drawings as well. Only recently I realized that most of my inspirations hail from the 1980’s, 90’s. How come our current time doesn’t have a, let’s say, Lebbeus Woods? And if so, you’ll find him as an artist rather than an architect. Of course, there are exceptions: offices like Atelier Bow-Wow or De Vylder Vinck Taillieu that choose to re-validate the architectural drawing. In turn, these offices -among others- have sparked a new generation of architects who share this new look on representation techniques. I guess it’s all a matter of personal taste, or time – I’m just thrilled to see that the architectural drawing keeps on surviving, evolving, decade after decade. And thanks to exhibitions like Drawing Out, I’m honored to be a part of that evolution.
Stijn Jonckheere (°1989) recieved his MA in explorative architectural development in 2012. While working as an architect his personal work gained traction, sparking his career as a visual artist. Monochrome yet visually tense, his work revolves around the themes of memory and alternative reality. Contrasting their minimalistic composition, his drawings often contain a more complex message, presenting a critical look at social behaviour within our built environment. Exhibited throughout Europe and featured in publications worldwide, Jonckheere subsequently ventured into teaching by means of his digital design masterclass and lectures given across architecture universities. He has lent his creative vision to a wide spectrum of projects, ranging from architecture to advertisement for both start-ups and high-profile clients. Jonckheere currently resides in Munich, where he is Art Director at a leading brand activation agency.