“Our time has produced a need for contrast. This has been achieved not only in the external appearance of plastic expressions of color and matter, but also, and chiefly, in the tempo of life and in the techniques related to the daily, mechanical functions of life; namely standing, walking, driving, to lying and sitting – in short, every action which determines the content of architecture.” – Van Doesburg

Nan Luo Gu Xiang by Drawing Architecture Studio

Nan Luo Gu Xiang by Drawing Architecture Studio

There was an exhibition in Beijing recently that caught my eye and has provoked much thought. A small, but talented team of architects and artists known as the Architecture Drawing Studio put together a couple amazing drawings to illustrate the vibrant urban energy happening in Beijing.

Details of a Qingming scroll depicting "Along the River During Qingming Festival"

Details of a Qingming scroll depicting “Along the River During Qingming Festival”

"A Little Bit of Beijing" by Drawing Architecture Studio

“A Little Bit of Beijing” by Drawing Architecture Studio

The drawings are uniquely rendered as isometric projections, each enthusiastically and intricately depicting the detailed and spontaneous daily events happening at a specific moment in a Beijing day. The modern illustrations seem to reference the perspective and rich colors of the traditional Chinese painting, Along the River During the Qingming Festival.

You could easily navigate through the drawings, reading every interesting detail, all the while observing the overall relationship and interaction between different sections. Isometric, is the key.

Isometric diagram of a urban live study studio, by Yiran Wang

Isometric diagram of a urban live study studio, by Yiran Wang

Isometric projection is a method for visually representing three-dimensional objects in two dimensions in technical and engineering drawings. It is an axonometric projection in which the three coordinate axes appear equally foreshortened and the angles between any two of them. – Wikipedia

When I was studying civil engineering back in college, we used to draw isometric diagrams regularly. We learned this skill to depict accurate dimensions and to convey interlocking structural details. Different from perspective drawing or plan drawing, isometric illustrations are best when individual parts need to be clearly visible and delineated with depth, something real world perspective hides away in its accuracy. Isometric diagrams in architecture, landscape, and urban studies are a wonderful tool that help reveal spatial relationships without adding too much decorative details. Simply put, isometric drawings are informative, yet pleasantly abstract.

Made in Tokyo  by Junzo Kuroda , Momoyo Kaijima

Made in Tokyo by Junzo Kuroda , Momoyo Kaijima

Isometric drawings once played prominent in both the worlds of architecture and art, most notably casting its shadow across the De Stijl (“The Style”) movement. The two famous 1920’s isometric architecture art drawings Contra-construction / Maison Particulière and Contra-construction / Maison d’Artiste by Theo van Doesburg and Cornelis van Eesteren illustrate two different architecture design and construction forms. The minimal use of color combined with Cartesian logic make the drawing as informative as an architectural diagram/rendering and as abstract as an art painting. The visually floating faces, invisible interior detail, and clean color palette ended up influencing many architects, including Le Corbusier.

Contra-construction / Maison Particulière

Contra-construction / Maison Particulière

Contra-construction / Maison d'Artiste

Contra-construction / Maison d’Artiste

The underlying geometrical nature of isometric projection makes it easily translatable to the digital world. It has been widely used in the flat design trend. Many games utilize this method in model making (actually axonometric, to be precise). Monument Valley is an example of this gaming environment perspective, notable for its stylish graphic execution and harmonious color palette. More and more games are utilizing the isometric model because of the popularity of titles like Monument Valley – a perspective which works well communicating simple gameplay, quick interactions between player and environment, and offers an aesthetic presentation.

Screens from the iOS game, Monument Valley

Screens from the isometric iOS game, Monument Valley

Popular architecture blog, Divisare hosts a collection of renderings called, Isometric. Desire of Abstraction. The clean linework makes all the drawings communicate quiet and solidity, each section functioning like a gear in a machine. Yet, each of the drawings still read like an intricate art piece. This is the magic of isometric drawing.


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