Voice 12 - Andy Zahn - Architecture and Painting

/ Andrew Zahn / City & Land

There is an analogy between architecture and painting. In one as the other, one imagines spaces and forms with qualities such as rhythm, texture, composition and line. Perhaps then there cannot be good architecture without the architect demonstrating an understanding of this shared syntax – a kind of aesthetic frame on which we hang our architecture - or one might even call it a set of visual rules that need to be deeply understood, even if the intention is to ‘break’ those rules.

Similarly, in architecture as in painting, it is sometimes necessary to ‘turn the canvas upside down’ in order to render the familiar remote once more to clearly see the composition, arrangement and understand what must be changed. By doing this one might cool off temporarily the narrow-focused eye which is stuck in a small space and free the brain up again to the whole giving the hand back its wider scope. The happy accident (a rare but essential thing) is more likely the more one pursues this “dislocation” idea so that by giving up degrees of conscious control one might find oneself imaginatively lead directly by the subject.

There is also that great tradition of the architect-painter, testing ideas, motifs, shapes and forms in paint before and alongside rendering it solid and manifest in architecture. This is a tradition that runs throughout architectural history, gaining a new-found prominence during the Renaissance with Michelangelo, through the Modern Movement most notably with Le Corbusier, through to the present day with proponents such as Zaha Hadid. Another example is Charles Rennie Mackintosh who managed to successfully fuse his art and architectural practice into extraordinary creations which continue to reveal new layers, such as we are finding with the Glasgow School of Art Restoration.

Similar to painting, it is crucially important as an architect to know when to stop - there is a desired moment between too much and not enough that is just perfect. Sometimes otherwise good buildings are let down by an architect not knowing when to stop – when the palette is too broad, the ideas too many, the forms too cluttered. A well-known quote from the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery comes to mind – ‘perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’ This is a sentiment that gained prominence during the Modern Movement with Mies van der Rohe’s approach of ‘less is more’ – sometimes it is better to leave enough space for the observer to breathe, wander and let their imagination fill in the gaps.

Personal Painting