Drawing by Xavier Donnelly

Drawing by Xavier Donnelly

Cities—from ancient Athens to Oz to Dubai—capture the imaginations of artists through the ages because of their complexity and creative use of color, form, space, and scale. We asked Xavier Donnelly, 2010 Portfolio Gold Medalist and this summer’s art intern at the Alliance, to elaborate on what draws him to architecture and the urban environment.

Habitats for Humanity: Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by cities and the environments that humanity has designed for itself. All of my artwork – whether it is drawing, sculpture, or other mediums – is highly influenced by architecture and the spaces I observe around me. One of my favorite aspects of architecture is that humans have constructed their own landscape and it is one that is constantly evolving. I love to watch the evolution of architecture as designers create fantastic and unorthodox forms and spaces for us to inhabit.

Size Matters: Architecture is an exciting practice because it has the potential to be realized on a scale that most other art forms don’t achieve. However possibly the best thing about architecture is that the meaning of the term can be as specific or general as desired, especially at the first conceptual stages of design. Thinking outside of the box leads to innovative and surprising forms, and finding a structure or organization in unexpected objects is a great way to begin thinking about how to design spaces.

Walk on the Wild Side: Experimentation is a necessary part of the evolution of architecture. For example, big name architects such as Zaha Hadid and Renzo Piano are designing cutting-edge structures with some really wild forms inspired by architecture observed on an organic and even molecular level. Frank Gehry famously begins many of his designs by crumpling a sheet of paper and observing the form that creates.

A skyscraper by Zaha Hadid

A skyscraper by Zaha Hadid

A preliminary sketch by Frank Gehry

A preliminary sketch by Frank Gehry

Draw on your imagination:  Architectural ideas can be explored in nearly any artistic medium, and at any scale. Drawing is great not only because of the long tradition and history of architectural drawing but also because of its immediacy and its inherent creative possibility.

The Material World: Another way to express your ideas is through materials or objects, especially those that are not typically associated with architecture. Think about mundane or common objects and how their form can be repurposed or deconstructed to create something new. Also, consider the modular or structural possibilities of objects or materials- something that may seem insignificant alone might be more substantial as a multiple.
Free Your Mind: Thinking about architecture conceptually provides a lot of freedom because you don’t need to worry about things like window sizes or bathroom layouts. Instead you can think about how form, space, color, and scale can enhance an architectural experience beyond the obvious aesthetic influence.

Be inspired!: I think it’s always important to look for inspiration in what others are doing in your field of interest. There are so many fantastic architecture blogs and publications, but a few of my favorites are Mark Magazine, drawingarchitecture.tumblr.com, and archpaper.com, all of which focus on cutting edge design, innovative projects, and up and coming architects. Some upcoming events around the country are the Architecture and the City Festival in San Francisco during the month of September, and Archtober in New York City in October.

Share your world view by submitting to our Architecture category for the 2014 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Registration opens September 16!

And be sure to check out a selection of past winning works in this category here.

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