I have been following the work of illustrator Nigel Peake since I published his student thesis in the Scottish architecture magazine Prospect just before he won a Silver Commendation in the RIBA President’s Medal in 2005. Since then he has created a number of studies of vernacular architecture as well as thoughtful illustrated analyses of how we perceive the world around us. I wrote an essay in his book Maps in 2008 and loved his later work Sheds. However I think his most recent book Bridges – a series on the Bridges of London drawn is his best work yet. Its publication gave me a chance to talk to him about the way he views drawing, its relationship to architecture and more importantly the city.
When did you the Bridge drawings?
The drawings were made last year, after summer and into autumn. They were drawn by hand and in sequence to how they appear along the river.
You have abstracted the bridges into comparable frames and sizes: which did you have to abstract the most? Or was it an even process?
I am not sure if I thought of it as abstracting. I was really just looking at the bridges in terms of their structure, form and their inherent rhythm and song. So perhaps I was abstracting them but not to make it more interesting, just as a way of understanding and drawing that process. For me, drawing is a way of working out an idea or place and so the book is a document of that.
The Bridges of London are very much ignored even though they are essential. Why do you think that is?
I am not sure why. They are wonderful elements and when you are in London you use them all the time. It is normal now not to look or observe. Cities are incredible places that hold all this movement, colour and noise that happen all at once, but not many seem to notice.
Could you live in London?
At the moment, no. I like it very much and always enjoy being there, but if find it exhausting as a place and that is not great for my work. I like to take time and look at things, some cities permit that (Paris, San Francisco, Edinburgh) but I always think I am getting in someones way if I pause in London. Cities are really intriguing places for me and one walk down a street is enough for me to draw for weeks, but for now it is better to live by the sea and visit them when I need to for work.
Could you design a bridge?
Possibly. I did design a bridge for my thesis project on Istanbul, that was a rejuvenation of the Galata bridge. I find them incredible feats especially when I see photos of bridges that are in the process of being built and they appear to be cantilevering over the water or gap, this great weight hanging.
Which of the bridges do you / have you used the most?
In my life? Probably George IV Bridge in Edinburgh [which spans from Princes Street to the Royal Mile over Waverley Station]. I’d use it going to the architectural studio on chamber street from a copy/coffee/stationary/music shop.
What is your favourite bridge?
I am fond of inhabitable bridges but a lot of thosee existed in the past and have been replaced by more ‘practical’ bridges. Beyond that, it is the idea of crossing that is really interesting to me and most bridges make this possible.
What do you think of the Shard?
Last time i was in London was December 2011. I cycled through the city at night with a friend. We had no particular place to go but we ended up following the Shard until we where below it. The modern day Polaris. It was surrounded by fog and the top part was hidden and glowing in the gloom and empty. At that moment I thought it was beautiful. I sometimes prefer incomplete buildings because they still allow you to imagine a different outcome.
Before you have been working very much on vernacular structures (sheds) or personal visions of discreet landscape, there seems to be a greater interest in deliberate structural form. Is that fair, and if so why do you think that’s the case?
I draw and paint things that are interest to me at that moment. But I have been spending more time in different cities and so that probably has affected me.
Which building in London addresses the river the best?
Walking along the Thames, it is almost as if a lot of the buildings along it ignore the river, as if it was a banal street. I do like it when the tide is high and you can look across with a flattened view if is as if the other side is an island.
Do you ever want to build anything?
Yes, at first I would just like to build a wall. Sometimes I think of drawing as a lot like building. It is made up of layers, and slowly you add to it, until it needs nothing more.
You can buy the book here.