The Narrative Drawing – Explorations Through the Work of NATØ

Claire Jamieson

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This paper will discuss the potential for architectural drawings to express narrative, through an examination of the work of NATØ (Narrative Architecture Today) – a group of architects who emerged from the Architectural Association at the start of the 1990s. The group are perhaps best known for their dramatic failure in their final year at the school by external examiners James Stirling and Edward Jones, who described their portfolios as ‘little more than a bunch of sketches with a few cartoons at the end.’ Focusing on those drawings, alongside others produced by the group between 1983-87, this paper will explore NATØ’s conceptualisation of narrative and how this was developed and expressed via the drawing.

Inspired by the raw vitality of London during the 1980s, and by urban culture including nightclubs, new-wave fashion, post-punk music and video, product design and subcultural style magazines, NATØ sought a mode of drawn expression that could break from the strictures of conventional architectural drawing. Their perception of contemporary architecture as mute and insular drove them towards architectural explorations that were by contrast highly expressive, exaggerating the present moment through meaning and sensation – an approach they defined as narrative architecture. Eschewing the static architectural orthographic drawing, the group experimented with vigorous sketches, paintings and collages – drawing on influences from video art, painting and sculpture to produce images that were dynamic and temporal.

This paper will present analyses of different types of drawings and images from across NATØ’s oeuvre, identifying the ways in which they departed from conventional architectural techniques and the effects of such approaches. In particular, the paper will examine techniques of fragmentation, deconstruction and montage, and the spectatorial journeys created both within individual drawings and between collections of images. Through these analyses, the paper will reveal how the tools developed by NATØ enabled them to express a form of urbanism that was participatory and purposefully ‘loose fit’ – formed through a ‘collation of incidents and processes’. Framing this discussion within the context of architectural theory on the drawing, the paper will also draw upon theories of pictorial narrativity from narratology – employing terms and concepts from outside architecture to interrogate the ways in which spatial narratives can be expressed on paper.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 24 Nov 2017
EventThe Tools of the Architect - TU Delft: European Architectural Historians Network - TU Delft, Delft, Netherlands
Duration: 22 Nov 201724 Nov 2017


ConferenceThe Tools of the Architect - TU Delft
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