David Kohn Architects
Gateway to Hounslow

David Kohn Architects, Hounslow Pavilion, 2013 IN SET – Drawing Matter

David Kohn (*1972), Hounslow Pavilion, 2013. Pen and ink and colour pencil on paper.

David Kohn Architects, Hounslow Pavilion 2, 2013 IN SET – Drawing Matter

David Kohn (*1972), Hounslow Pavilion, 2013. Pen and ink and colour pencil on paper.

Between 2012 and 2013 we worked with the London Borough of Hounslow and the Greater London Authority on a programme of improvements to the local high street and surroundings. The high street was pedestrianised in 1994 and decorated with a giant paisley pattern in 1996. By 2012, shops were leaving the area and the environment was considered a contributing factor. Our proposal looked to turn the street from an undifferentiated space that spanned between shop fronts into a destination in its own right. This included a new town square with a performance space, a new street market, several pocket parks and a church square. New paving, lighting, seating and planting were designed to support these new uses.

The sketches I produced accompanied a brief we proposed for a new pavilion to stand at the head of the high street and in front of the newly constituted town square. It would act as a city gateway to Hounslow, much like the gates that once surrounded the City of London such as Aldgate, Cripplesgate and Ludgate. As an Outer London Borough, there seemed to be a coming of age story of Hounslow achieving the symbolic apparatus of its older and wealthier relations to the east. The tripartite division of the base with a tower room on top refers to the composition of classical triumphal arches, while the east-facing raked seating offered the town square up to performance. A frieze of dot-matrix displays would announce the events programme in the manner of Times Square’s stocks and shares ticker. The tower room would be decorated with a mosaic of aeroplanes climbing through clouds, acknowledging the high street’s position under the Heathrow flight path and the local area’s ongoing prosperity being tied to the airport.

Most of the drawing I do is while talking to colleagues and on whatever is to hand – the back of a print-out, a strip of tracing paper or the corner of a drawing pinned to a wall. In these cases, the subject is usually a fragment and the exploration limited to one issue such as a detail, a space or a sequence. The drawing and conversation are intertwined, so the communicative value of the drawing often diminishes as the conversation fades from memory. Our team will subsequently make analytical pieces of work that test the sketches’ suggestions, so there’s no need to erase anything, and no requirement to finish either. I very much enjoy this kind of working and it can feel as though lateral connections within a project are made in real time. I also appreciate the freedom that comes from knowing our team will join the dots and take the project forward.

These two drawings of the Hounslow gate, however, belong to a different kind of drawing, which happens less frequently, possible only every few months. It often happens at a moment in the design process when progress is slowing, the range of issues we are exploring seems too restricted, a sense of playfulness too distant. Such drawings are made in isolation, on blank pieces of paper, usually after I’ve organised my week and then my desk. There’s a scale ruler and a Tipp-Ex pen involved; an expectation of precision, at least in terms of proportion, the hierarchy of parts and the role each element will play in the composition. The whole is sketched out lightly and the primary divisions follow. Then I will likely work through scales, from the bodily to the decorative, from texture to colour. Perhaps most importantly, the stages of the drawing reflect the range the architecture is expected to cover, the different scales, elements, technologies, materials, craftspeople and traditions. 

Unlike the conversational sketches, these drawings are more like rhetorical statements. They describe wholes and not fragments. They anticipate being seen in isolation and without commentary. They establish the relationships between all the parts, and their usefulness is long-term. They might be relevant to a project for months and they might occasionally be relevant to a period of work within the practice spanning years. I feel uncomfortable starting them, I agonise while doing them and I feel tired when they are finished. Thinking about it, I can’t say I enjoy doing them that much. 

Afterwards I feel relief and the occasional sense of achievement. The drawings’ relative structure and precision are reliable, their synthesis anticipates construction and therefore closure, their wholeness stands in defiance of discourses that claim architecture can be neither monumental nor autonomous. The contingency of the contemporary world is not reflected in the instability of the architectural form, but rather in the ambiguity of its symbols, the incongruity of its materials and the bathos of the hand-crafted surrounded by the machine-made. In their small way, these sketches assert contemporary architecture’s freedom to appropriate from history, to experiment with technique, to redefine what is sacred and profane. The constraint that the work imposes on itself is that it should be synthesised, that it should be whole and more than the sum of its parts.

– David Kohn

WE SUGGEST

On sketching, our line of enquiry on Sketchbooks; on the detail or fragment, as opposed to the whole, Tony Fretton Lisson Gallery Sketchbooks, both as an iBook and as a publication; on tippex and sketching; and on urban design, a bit of play and civic depth, Patrick Lynch; and on urban variety, Change Alley.