Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ken Roberts Memorial Delineation Competition 2007: And the Winners Are...

This years' KROB competition featured architectural renderings of exceptional quality and revealed a wide variety of modes of expression. The annual event reminds us of the obvious but often forgotten truth that architecture is as much informed by art than it is by techtonics and function. Before a physical building can make an impact on the passerby, the preliminary rendering of it must move the owner to such an extent as to be willing to pay large amounts of money for the vision presented. Renderings initiate the passion required by the owner to see the building through in spite of the seemingly endless series of hassles during a project's development.

Renderings also expand the scope of how a building expresses itself, emphasizing concepts and phenomena not apparent to the finished product but that is nonetheless crucial in embodying meaning beyond a project's financial and programmatic bottom line. Thanks to the renderer's masterful techniques at his disposal, the vision depicted in the rendering can be so seductive and powerful that often its physical manifestation can seem sorely disappointing. KROB seeks to celebrate this gifted use of technique and composition as opposed to the merits of the architecture depicted, which can transform the most mundane structures into celebrations of the human spirit that overlays what it means to build.

This year's winners exhibit the richness of imagination required to make the simplest ideas moving in their intensity. The Best of Show (above) was awarded to Hernan Molina, whose thesis project as a student at Texas A&M University reveals a grandness of scale, a sunny atmosphere that leads one to recall memories of shimmering waters and infinite horizons. He skillfully composes the image by using the proposed tower as vertical frame that crosses with the horizontal frame of the sky, while using the deep blue-green field of the water to make his waterfront design appear to float in space. And still, his design seems to grow out of the existing city scape convincingly, avoiding the common tendencey of merely pasting over a photograph. Molina would also win the category of best Digital Hybrid entry at the student level as well.

At the professional level, the best digital hybrid entry was awarded to Brendan O'Grady, whose image describes the concept of a dwelling built behind a highway billboard. Whatever one may think of the actual merit of such an idea, it is difficult to dispute O'Grady's instincts in the sensitive use of colors and tones in composing a richly patterned background which help to convey an other-wordly quality to his building. The layers of jagged shards complement bio-morphic character of the his "aeroform" dwelling, and the light that emanates from behind adds a slick and subdued texture to its surface.

Robert Berry's lyrical and organic sketch of a classical building corner won over the jury for best hand delineation by a professional. Produced as part of an exercise where one simultaneously observes the subject while drawing without ever glancing at the paper, repetion of the same profile appears to create sort of richly articulated architectural space (I thought I was looking at just a typical quick sketch of a historic street corner with lightly traced facades). In a way, this is drawing in its purest form, in that the connection of what one sees and how it is translated by the hand not interfered by our mind to "correct" what we observe in order to illustrate something more intelligible. It is an exercise dictated by the senses, and therefore lends something sensual to the sketch.

The winning entry for the best hand delineation by a student went to a work that was rendered in a style for unusual for a modern tower wrapped in a glass wall. Mark Getty's impressionistic treatment of the tower runs counter to the tradition of expressing the reflectivity and tranparency of glass towers with mirrored reflection and colored gradients. This kind of painterly technique, which seems to have been made with dabs of paint applied by knife, allows the tower express itself in a radically different way: a pattern of light boxes that radiate warmth with a quilt-like variety and texture. The faint lines and scratches, the soft edges and random speckles of color generate an atmospheric effect, but it also animates the building as an object that displays ongoing activity in time and space. Glass towers are often portrayed as crystaline monoliths in the landscape, not containers of activity, animating boards for street nightlife. There isn't a cutesy banality common among watercolored illustrations, but rather a liveliness and dynamism that makes the building breath the life within as opposed to standing as a sober and austere statuesque backdrop. Clearly this rendering is my personal favorite, which means I wouldn't mind hanging it in my house as art.

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