STEVEN HOLL'S WORLD OF WATERCOLOURS

 Qingdao Culture and Art Center (2013)

Qingdao Culture and Art Center (2013)

At a time of rapidly changing technology in the service of architectural design, Steven Holl’s watercolours is an important reminder of just how much you can do with the simplest of means.

The acts of sketching and model-making traditionally provide architects with much of their inspiration at the outset of the creative process. However, some move further into the realms of art to help them visualize their concepts, enjoying the fluidity and flexibility of paint and, in particular, the free-flowing qualities of watercolours. One such architect is American Steven Holl, who adopted the brush as an efficient way of transferring his ideas to paper.

Holl’s watercolours has become his signature, a truly unique style of visualization and one that continues to inspire awe among his fellow architects.

 Holl shows off the rich-hued watercolours in his newest paint set, which he discovered at a shop on 29th Street. A gray painting for his Hunters Point Community Library in Queens, which will be completed in spring 2018, sits nearby.

Holl shows off the rich-hued watercolours in his newest paint set, which he discovered at a shop on 29th Street. A gray painting for his Hunters Point Community Library in Queens, which will be completed in spring 2018, sits nearby.

All of Steven Holl’s buildings begin the same way: with an intuitive brush stroke, usually first thing in the morning. “For me, drawing is a form of thought,” he says. “I start every project with a concept diagram. I used to do pencil drawings. Those took eight hours. Around 1979, I streamlined it to five-by-seven-inch watercolours, because they were easy to fly with.”

Holl likens the morning watercolours to a form of meditation. “I play really great music, I have green tea,” he says. “You can have a thousand problems of a particular project—the area, the height, the setback, all those things—and you put them into your brain, go to sleep, wake up, and draw.”

When he creates a direction he’s pleased with, Holl shares the resulting drawing with the design team. “I’ve sent them by iPhone from an airport in Korea,” he says. Once a concept is established, the process becomes, in Holl’s words, digitally “supercharged.” The leap from watercolor to 3-D computer drawing and model can happen literally overnight—or in the time it takes to fly from Seoul to New York City.

Digital tools are, of course, essential to the practice of twenty-first-century architecture, but Holl does worry that architects who don’t draw enough are missing out on the vital connection between hand and mind. “We’re losing the sense of craftsmanship for certain things. We’re losing knowledge,” he says. “Listen, I have a fight with people at Columbia University who teach drawing. They say they don’t want to teach hand drawing anymore. And I think that’s wrong.”

 Tianjin Ecocity Ecology and Planning Museums (2012)

Tianjin Ecocity Ecology and Planning Museums (2012)

I used to do pencil drawings. Those took eight hours. Around 1979, I streamlined it to five-by-seven-inch watercolours, because they were easy to travel with.
— Steven Holl
 Nanjing Museum of Art & Architecture (2002-2009)

Nanjing Museum of Art & Architecture (2002-2009)

 
 Tushino Residental Towers (2020)

Tushino Residental Towers (2020)

 
 The Institute of Contemporary Art Virginia (2018)

The Institute of Contemporary Art Virginia (2018)

 
 Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (1998)

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (1998)

 
 Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (2018)

Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (2018)

 

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