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Architecture of Innocence

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A few weeks back I shared my first childhood awareness of buildings from an age when I didn’t even know it was somebody’s job to design them, or that there even was such a thing as architecture. I became curious and started asking other people when they first became aware of buildings and their environment. Here are some of their stories.

Abdallah (Syrian; aged 12, now 22)

I liked being able to fly over places and see and draw everything I liked. There are houses next to towers, gardens across the road from the Eiffel Tower. Town and country are mixed in with curtain walls and wheatfields alongside a souk and sheep and palm trees and pine trees and lakes and lighthouses. I liked to think about how to connect them all. The colour of buildings still fascinates me. 

Abdallah’s drawings are rare. For anyone about 22 years old it’s been long enough for their drawings to be lost, misplaced, accidentally destroyed, discarded or forgotten. It’s also rare for someone that age to have wanted to keep their pictures so they could carry with them the pleasure they had in making them.

It will become more rare. If they’d were five years younger then these pictures might have been posted by them or their parents to Facebook or Instagram and if they’d been ten years younger the pictures may well have been created for that very purpose, thereby making it into a job and the death of innocence.

Nidkalan (Malaysian; aged about 6, and 8 – now 25)

During my young times, I wasn’t that fond of buildings if I am to be honest. I was more into aircraft. I loved them so much that I just dream and dream all the time of flying them someday. Then I started drawing them as though as I breathe them but later on I wasn’t just drawing the plane but the buildings around it, and with figures of stick-men all around. Maybe at that time i wasn’t aware of it. but now, recently, i realized that at such very young age, i have started to understand context. From the plane to the people to the details and finally engaging the people. The learning took place a long time ago, but the understanding came in over at the mid of my 20s. I used to draw what I saw. It was not precise but the effort was always there. I had the most typical thing in mind that everyone has which is a house with two windows and a door. Along with it was a tree with only an apple, and a happy going boy running around. It was about connecting the building to the people and to other living things like trees. It’s quite typical but it brought some serious understanding that what architecture was really about. The bare vision of the relationships forged in Architecture was there but the ability to understand wasn’t. I’m sorry I can’t provide you with any sketches but all the old ones have gone missing in dust.

A few weeks back when I re-created my own formative drawing I knew it wouldn’t have the innocence of the original but I was surprised that the act of recreating it took me back to that time. I asked Nidkalan to recreate his and this is what he sent. 

You were right and it was delightful and upbeat to rediscover them and the fascination. It was good trying to recreate what I did once as a kid, which somehow shows the effort of ourselves to manipulate skills according to situations. After re-drawing them, I just smiled at it and for me that is the important end product, the smile on the face. Remembering who we were once, and not forgetting what we did. If i’m not mistaken, the drawing of the house was when i was 6. and the aircraft at about 7 or 8. That’s almost a 20-year gap there. Thank you for bringing me back the memories of my old times and for wanting to include mine. It is a great pleasure. 

Nid’s two drawings are exactly as he described. In the picture above, house, tree and happy boy are all there in the same picture and equally important. In the later picture, below, the aircraft is still the focus but is now connected with people, vehicles and buildings. Aircraft are the point of airports and in Nid’s drawing, the people on the ground, the people in the terminal and the people in the control tower are all there because of the aircraft. It’s a re-creation but it shows Nid understood how the buildings made this into a place for all this to happen. 

Mohammad (Indian; aged 5-14 – now 24)

I’m sorry I can’t provide any drawings of my first encounters or, more aptly, models of my first encounters. My parents were architectural lovers and we had 20 years’ worth of “Indian Architects and Builders” and “Inside Outside” magazines. These were my first encounter with entrenched architectural Media 😉 quite early too. But more than this, I am a maker since day one of my life, a DIY enthusiast always trying to make tents with friends and cardboard houses in the backyard. I had this urge to make my own lab and loved making spaces everywhere I went, whether it be a tent or some obscure one-room house made out of cardboard boxes. I wanted my own independent space and unsuccessfully tried constructing a tree house. Making places was my main interest and aesthetics (as in composition and not the user experience) was never my forte, much to father’s disappointment who taught me drawing and painting, not that I am a bad artist but I saw it more as an end to a purpose than the art itself. I was interested in making bridges, rooms with pulleyed doors, structurally efficient rooms. I had lego too but even with that I was more interested in making places. There was some absolute beauty and pleasure in imagining myself in those small rooms made of blocks. 

Roberto (Brazilian, aged 8 – now 25)

As a child I grew up in Brazil’s northeast region, which is one of the poorest and dryest of the nation, my father was an engineer in charge of irrigation projects in the countryside and we used to travel a lot. My first interest in the built environment came through these experiences – I remember I used to draw the Brazilian desert and its animals in school and so on.
I began a major in Civil Engineering, only to drop one year and a half later, I guess I wanted to design and create things. Since then, its been 6 years in Architecture and Urbanism course in Brazil and one year in the UK. What caught my attention was how the teaching is virtually the same throughout the world. I miss solutions closer to the reality in which I’m inserted. I’m graduating this year and for my final project I proposed a prototype rural school for settlements of landless workers. 

Viktor (Russian; aged about 11–16 – now 26)

As a kid I was hauled ridiculous distances on a tram to a kindergarten one hour away because that was where my mother worked. I always looked out the window and wanted to know why we sometimes crossed the river twice and sometimes never saw it when going to the same place. I discovered maps could explain it for me. I could draw so I was put into an art school run for kids by an architecture institute. I was there until I was about 12.

I realized that the trains in summer that we took to have me spend time with grandparents when I was of an age to do so, were basically upscale trams in terms of providing a landscape in motion, and that with trains you pass through wicked underbellies of cities and towns that lay concealed and rarely crossed while yet in their very hearts. I also remember the train rides to the family dacha, hence these locomotive drawings from when I was 10-11.

My father had inherited a lot of old russian hobbyist modelmaker/machine builder magazines from his former acquaintances. They had drawings of planes to carve models of alongside drawings of ski aero sleds to build full-size. It taught me that technology was real and not just what you bought. My grandfather was a huge master and he ran a university workshop at dad’s hometown, where he did mechanical work and designing lab units along with the professors. My father inherited the skill and I saw him build and repair things too. The magazines made me thirst for this building experience and my parents found an aero model club that was an offshoot of the soviet after-school system. In 2004 through luck I won a city level tiny glider championship. We launched our gliders on frozen ponds and sometimes the ice was thin and really scary. I was in the club for 3 years and when I was 14 shifted to a math school nearby that promised a future in aerospace. I was invited into the science club and did some research on airplanes. I drew a thin giant plane that resembled the Sukhoi T4MS concept from a 1975 competition. 

These next two drawings of Viktor’s aren’t just about planes but about flying over vast map-like landscapes.

The trains and planes came first, and then came aerospace. About 1975 Moscow architect Boris Bernaskoni said that “Architecture is an interface to space”. To 15-year old me reading this in a lifestyle magazine it seemed really cool and fresh. He made me think architecture was a fascinating thing to do. He always sported some sick track suit cyber–aristocrat style I wanted to aspire to.

Then came a realisation art was apparently more supreme than pure design and something design-like seemed the best option as it was the most abstract. At university I first enrolled in an industrial design course but withdrew and switched to maths and at the same time discovered some buildings in the city that thrilled me directly and was shocked such things existed. I understood the idea of avant-garde and how Boris Bernaskoni’s interface statement fitted in.

Maps, flying over landscapes and being able to see the bigger picture appear again in Viktor’s student years.

I’m now employed at a company with the same name as the brotherhood of people [OSA] who designed those first buildings that thrilled me. The company office is in a building called the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Centre that was re-designed by Bernaskoni.

Joshua, (Australian; aged 10 – now 26)

This is a photo of a drawing I did of a farmhouse, a windmill and some power lines. I was maybe 10. Almost immediately my mum had it framed and it’s been hanging in the lounge room of the family house ever since. I remember trying to make a small scale model, complete with power lines. It’s an imaginary scene of a colonial-style rural dwelling often found in Jindong in Western Australia where, two years ago, I designed a farmhouse and managed its construction. Next month I sit my registration exams.

• • • 

To all you young architects out there,
wherever you are,
misfits salutes you!