"A drawing of a tree shows, not a tree, but a tree-being-looked-at"
John Berger, 'Drawn to that Moment'
When Project Context was initially made public in May 2011 in the form of a blog, and opened with a quote by art critic John Berger on drawing (and revisited by architecture critic Juhani Pallasmaa in 'The Thinking Hand'), the wheels of a very interesting process were set in motion. Guided by the intention to be an alternative (re)view of architectural education, Project Context was launched with an ambitious task to visit and review end-of-year shows throughout dozens of schools of architecture in the UK and Ireland. This critique soon revealed the potential to welcome the participation of students in the form of submission of drawings to be exhibited and published for public dissemination.
As an initiative developed and maintained by graduates of architecture, Project Context benefits from having an independent voice that remains, nonetheless, positively inquisitive of the benefits of architectural education and supportive of the talent of students. Even if they receive the logistical support of a few schools of architecture and architecture organisations, the individuals behind the project (Max Gane, Seán McAlister, Ian Pollard, Cameron McEwan, Gregor Tait, Ada Jusic, Graeme Coupar, Sharmelan Murugiah, and Christopher Pendrich) prefer an independent approach to the analysis of student work. Instead of relying on uncooperative methods of creating hierarchies and divisions of talent, Project Context focuses on interpreting and sharing outputs of architectural education from a clever and constructive point of view.
The enthusiasm for creativity and productive discussion by these graduates of architecture evokes of a passage by James Joyce in Ulysses: "Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences. The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring. The painting of Gustave Moreau is the painting of ideas. The deepest poetry of Shelley, the words of Hamlet bring our mind into contact with the eternal wisdom, Plato's world of ideas. All the rest is the speculation of schoolboys for schoolboys." In the way that it appreciates and critiques architectural education and the role of drawing from a neutral and intelligent viewpoint, Project Context is far from being "the speculation of schoolboys for schoolboys". This was best demonstrated in the way that it has strived to generate a platform for students of architecture throughout the UK and Ireland to submit drawings to be selected by a panel not to receive an award but to represent the diversity of architectural drawing as a creative process.
Over 100 students responded to this appeal; a terrific response for a first-time initiative. Of these, the selection panel of Project Context (comprising professionals and academics involved in architectural education) selected 21 entries to include in a forthcoming publication and exhibition. Prior to this, the panel had been asked to make a pre-selection of seven drawings that they felt best related to three pre-established selection criteria: influence, intent, and process.
At a difficult time in higher education in the UK, where students are faced with a significant increase in fees, and graduates get increasingly demoralised in the face of high unemployment rates while being accused of not possessing the best skills for the professional world, this initiative reminds everyone that students and graduates can develop and offer a tremendous wealth of talent to society. The entries ranged from traditional hand drawings to intelligent meta-commentaries on the process of drawing, and included pencil drawings on paper, elaborate collages, watercolour renderings, and sophisticated films. In all the entries submitted, students revealed outstanding control and knowledge of different media to create narratives about architecture.
The next steps for Project Context remain ambitious and upbeat. Despite their limited resources, the organisers are intent on developing a publication and an exhibition for this year, and continue the project in future years. Because initiatives that nurture creativity and talent should be encouraged, all the talented students and graduates involved in the very worthwhile initiative that is Project Context deserve the best of success.