ARUP – The Water Cycle

A recent commission, an exhibition & video in the London Head Office – Fitzroy Street


In 2013, as part of a series of projects around Re-thinking Water, Arup commissioned digital artist Ian Mitchell to interpret and represent the water cycle using his unique reductive graphic language. The twenty-four prints exhibited here represent his artistic response to that challenge. The works are personal, connecting memory, feelings and visual expression in response to a broad consideration of water over a nine-month period. Ian worked from photographs and drawings made through extensive travels and daily observations, using a computer to create the final digital vector drawings.

Whilst Ian’s earlier work was concerned with representation of ‘natural’ landscapes, at the time of the commission he was becoming increasingly drawn to the unequivocally human-made: large scale techno-modern infrastructure such as motorways, harbours and coastal defences. These interests emerge as two strands in Ian’s work. The first builds on traditional western conventions of landscape representation and the idea of the ‘picturesque’, reinterpreting British landscape through digitally produced ‘Linescapes’ inspired by modernist graphic and poster design. The second aspect of his work – developed particularly through this commission – tends towards greater abstraction. For this exhibition Ian has created stripped, refined and reimagined responses that capture an essence or idea. They are closer to symbols or logo-types than images in the ‘landscape tradition and in that sense support multiple interpretations.

The emerging tensions in Ian’s work – between built environment and the natural world, between abstraction and place-specific response, between objective analysis and subjective value judgment – underlie many of the design challenges we face. They are particularly relevant to a re-thinking of water at this time. Deliberately open and non-didactic, Ian’s works invite us to reflect on our own interactions with water and the unique the role it plays in shaping our lives and the places around us.