Denis Andernach, Turmhaus, 2010, Ink on paper, 14 1/8 x 18 7/8 in

Denis Andernach, Turmhaus, 2010, Ink on paper, 14 1/8 x 18 7/8 in

A century on, the compelling idea that Modern architecture emerged like some blindingly white, crystalline and disruptive phoenix from the darkness, death and destruction of the First World War is, perhaps, a familiar one. And, yet, the charcoal sketches and chiaroscuro montages Mies van der Rohe made during and after the epochal competition for the Berlin Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper of 1921-22 retain the power to catch the eye, provoke and disturb in our own era of overwhelming imagery much of it produced by and with computer programs.

What is so very remarkable about these century-old visionary drawings is that they portray a future building type – verging on the ethereal and more or less impossible to realize at the time – in the earthiest of drawing materials. It had been a stroke of genius to use charcoal to evoke an architecture of lightness rising from the embers of the trenches that would revolutionize the way we shaped tall buildings and with them our city streets. Such is the power of drawing by hand.

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