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Betts Project
Current
list Article list

Betts Project

Posted 12.06.2019
By Dr Helen Thomas

Marking the boundary between Clerkenwell and Hoxton, the laconic grace of Central Street is typical of London’s quiet in-between spaces, where secret treasures can be found with a few clues and hints. The modest shop front of number 100 reveals one of these treats through its generous windows. It’s a rare phenomenon – a commercial gallery specialising in contemporary architectural drawings, whose provenance is freshly the architects themselves, mediated by gallerist Marie Coulon.

This is not the first location of Betts Project though, and reflecting on the origins of her venture, Coulon reveals that its earliest iteration was in Dubai during the 2013 art fair, a pop-up exhibition in the domestic rooms of a private house overlooking the sea and revelling in its reflected light. “I wanted people to see that architectural drawings could be on the wall like any other art work,” is her simple explanation of this adventurous move. The show comprised vivid and compelling collages by OFFICE Geers Van Severen alongside photographs by Bas Princen, and was inspired by their installation at the Venice Architecture Biennale, 2010.

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Marie Coulon

A performance artist escaping from Bordeaux to London, Coulon became aware of the potential of architectural drawing through a friend studying at the Architectural Association. Her intuitive appreciation of architectural drawings is not informed through a scholarly knowledge or architectural education – she is quite adamant that she knows nothing about architecture, but through a trained eye and fine judgement that can connect her more strongly with potential collectors, who also perceive the works primarily as visual artefacts.

At the beginning, she put together an informal advisory board that included Hélène Lemoine, Albane Dulliver and Karine Dana, who all happened to be French women with a side-view of architecture – activists, artists, journalists and clients. In a similar move, Coulon did not want to author her gallery, but to find an old-fashioned British name. “I went to a cemetery, that’s the best place to find an old name, and there was Louisa Betts’ tombstone,” she says. Soon dropping Louisa but keeping the more enigmatic Betts, the singular Project is important – “the gallery is the project, and not the works, the projects, of the architects being shown.”

Over the few years since its opening in 2016, Betts Project in Central Street has shown the work of many international architects, including Peter Märkli, Studio Mumbai, Pier Vittorio Aureli, Shin Egashira, Denise Scott-Brown, Caruso StJohn and Alexander Brodsky. The gallery is not just a static repository for objects, however, and it generates a programme of openings and talks by speakers like Assemble and Sam Jacob that contributes to a growing interest in architectural drawing. The small room and the narrow pavement outside means that these are always crowded, and word-of-mouth suffices.

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Peter Märkli exhibition in the basement room
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Studio Mumbai - Bijoy Jain in the upstairs gallery

Who collects architectural drawings? Architects buy one or two drawings by people whose work they like. Artists also buy drawings, and recently curators from institutions like the Victoria & Albert Museum, the FRAC Centre and MoMA San Francisco have visited. From the beginning, the gallery has been followed by collectors. Some are specialists who know about what they are buying, but many are art collectors who “are first inspired by the drawing, they have a love of the drawing. Their interest moves from the drawing to the architect, while for the architects, it is the other way round. They start with the architect and then look for the drawing.”

Betts Project will be at Art-O-Rama in Marseille, 30 August – 1 September 2019.

 

This post forms part of our series on The Architecture Drawing Prize: an open drawing competition curated by Make, WAF and Sir John Soane’s Museum to highlight the importance of drawing in architecture.