Painting Is Alive And Well In Architecture

To depict fantastical architecture of the future, these architects look to the techniques of the past.


Over the centuries, architects have developed arresting–and often technically challenging–techniques to help people see what they envision and sell their ideas. In the past, it was all about hand drawn renderings, but today, we’re more likely to see high-tech visualizations via virtual reality, computer renderings, and animated fly-throughs. Yet while T-squares and drafting pencils will never be the first thing most architects reach for to communicate their ideas visually, the hand-drawn renderings of the past are far from extinct.


The annual Fairy Tales architecture competition, which invites architects to write and illustrate fantastical stories around architecture, just announced the winners of this year’s contest. And two of the finalists–including the winner, Ukrainian architect Mykhailo Ponomarenko, and third place finalists French architects Ariane Merle d’Aubigné and Jean Maleyrat–used painting to depict their narratives.

1stPrize: Last Day, Mykhailo Ponomarenko.

“Many of the entrants gravitate away from doing pure architectural renderings, or solely relying on them: we usually see a lot of hand-drawings, paintings, collages, mixed-media experiments,” says Francesca Giuliani, a co-founder of the competition organizer Blank Space alongside Matthew Hoffman. “We think the competition offers designers an opportunity to reclaim some of the creative skills they don’t get to employ in their day to day, because of time constraints, or constraints related to a client’s specific needs and expectations. As a matter of fact, many submissions aren’t even about buildings in the narrow sense, rather they are self-sustaining storytelling and visual universes, environments with their own sets of rules which are entirely up to the participants to define.”

Ponomarenko’s story centered around landscapes embedded with sci-fi megastructures. Rather than use rendering software to depict this alternate reality, he used paintings that recall the photorealist work of artists like Robert Bechtle. Meanwhile, Merle d’Aubigné and Maleyrat submitted a story about refugees building structures in the clouds–and to illustrate the concept, borrowed from 17th-century French landscape painters like Nicolas Poussin.

3rdPrize: Up Above, Ariane Merle d’Aubigné and Jean Maleyrat.

They’re a reprieve from the too-perfect high-res renderings that make everything look slick. However, that’s not to say a fine-art intent can’t accompany high-tech techniques. Blank Space encouraged entrants to use non-traditional tools, like Unity and Unreal–software typically reserved for video game design. We’re just excited that painting can peacefully co-exist with these programs and not feel like an anachronism. See the artworks in the slideshow above.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.