Colorful Condensations: Mikkel Frost’s CEBRA Toons

by | 06. Aug 2015

Article | Studio

CEBRA, 2012 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

CEBRA, 2012 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA
By Martin Søberg

Can a single drawing sum up the complexity of a sizable built project? In his hand-drawn Toons, Mikkel Frost, one of the founding partners of CEBRA, amalgamates various drawing techniques into playful architectural sonnets.

Watercolor rendering is of profound importance within the history of architecture. Masters such as Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Charles Rennie Mackintosh explored it to levels of exquisite refinery. But what role does such a traditional tool have in architectural practice today, if any? In the CEBRA Toons, Mikkel Frost demonstrates the abilities of analogue drawing to condensate the ideas and intentions of a project. He scrutinizes drawing as a tool for reflection and creative communication.

A drawing of a classic 60’s pin-up featuring the text “I © CEBRA” anthologizes a selection of the office’s projects: The bikini girl is tattooed with pictures of buildings and she is surrounded by apparently floating scale models and hearts incised with the initials of CEBRA’s founding partners Carsten Primdahl, Kolja Nielsen, and Mikkel Frost. Like the teenage fantasy poster-girl, the drawing speaks of self-confidence and playful casualness. Architecture’s standard human body – the Vitruvian man – is recast in female form with a beehive coiffure.

Sometimes when l’ve finished a project I sit down and paint a cartoonish concept drawing with water colors. It is sort of a visual summary that describes the idea of the whole project in just one small piece of paper. I usually say that if you can’t tell the story in an A4 sheet (21 by 29.7 cm) you are either doing too much or too complicated stuff. 
Mikkel Frost,
Nye - suburb of the future, 2012 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

Nye – suburb of the future, 2012 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

Street Dome, Haderslev, 2012 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

Street Dome, Haderslev, 2012 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

Some of the Toons do indeed look like posters or covers of comics, like the one called “Trasher” relating to the Street Dome in Haderslev, an urban arena for unorganized sports. The CEBRA Toons communicate the insistence on a room for optimism, playfulness, and vigor in contemporary architecture. Just alone by announcing it a discipline sets the scene of architecture as a serious business: caught up with rational capacities such as durability and credibility. Yet these need not be architecture’s only qualities, let alone foundational traits.

Frost’s watercolors render architecture in precise lines and fields of color. They present narratives of architecture, linking the world of building to a vibrant culture of signs, images, and feelings. These conceptual drawings merge various perspectives, plans, diagrams, sections, and elevations, with narrative elements and graphic devices such as lettering, structuring lines, and surfaces. Are we in a children’s world, a phantasy of fun and color?

CEBRA - Skolen_ved_Buelowsvej.jpg

Bülowsvej School, Frederiksberg, 2010 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

The CEBRA Toons are not merely the ghosts of physical buildings, but suggest prospective situations and the unfolding of various programs. They pinpoint spatial relations, human interactions, and possible levels of meaning and attitude. Not simply sketchy proposals, they are interpretive of existing ideas, potentially leading to new.

So the “Toons” as I call them are not sketches. They are done after the sketches when most of the architectural decisions are made. In this sense they serve as reminders of what the project is all about. Sometimes we tend to forget that when we start building and then going back to look at the Toons can be very helpful.
Mikkel Frost,

Center for Early Childhood Development, Abu Dhabi, 2014 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

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Children’s Home of the Future, Kerteminde, 2013 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

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Fuglsang Cuts, Herning © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

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Grundfos Dormitory, Aarhus, 2010 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

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HF & VUC Fyn, Odense, 2012 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

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The Iceberg, Aarhus, 2012 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

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Rebildporten, Rebild, 2011 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

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UDK Holstebro, Holstebro, 2011 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

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Væksthuset, Botanical Garden, Aarhus, 2008 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA

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Virginiavej, 2011 © Mikkel Frost / CEBRA