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A
Z
Architectural Drawing: States of Becoming
Current
2020
list Article list

Architectural Drawing: States of Becoming

In the 20th century, the collection of architectural artefacts centred on drawings and models and, occasionally, fragments. These were objects typically made by hand and, at least in the case of sketches, most likely by the hand of the principal designer. Photography too, of course, had its place; if only as many a seminal structure is recognized, and achieved its influence, less by renderings or maquettes than by an iconic photographic image.

As suggested by Malraux with his musée imaginaire in post-war France, photography offered the prospect of an encyclopaedic inventory, an ambition even more current in today’s era of museum websites and the internet. The Virtual presents something of a conundrum, however, as everything featured on a website is in a sense a photograph. A contemporary photographer can supply a file; the architect or model maker seldom follows suit.

In earlier times, the plaster cast played a key role in architectural culture. Banished by the later orthodoxies of Modernism, the cast was part-souvenir of the Grand Tour, part-pedagogical aid to perfect ornament and detail. The primacy of Modernist drawings and models has in turn been challenged by the recent digital revolution. What and how should a museum collect in the era of ubiquitous computerization?

Curiously, the plaster cast and the digital drawing have some shared characteristics. They subvert notions of originality such that 19th century advocacy of the multiple (as evidenced by the Cast Courts at London’s V&A or the Hall of Architecture deep inside Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museums) has unexpected echoes in our global hypermarket of instantaneous imagery. Unlike plaster casts, many of these new images are essentially anonymous.

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The Heinz Architectural Center at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art

My first acquisition for the Heinz Architectural Center, the Carnegie Museum’s architecture department, was a set of ink sketches by Álvaro Siza Vieira. Like many Siza drawings, these bird’s-eye and worm’s-eye views of the Galician Center of Contemporary Art (CGAC) evoke context and topography. The viewer discerns a spatial designer testing options for the intersection or overlapping of architectural volume.

Siza communicates the process of design in action. This is also apparent in two other sets of acquisitions: hand-drawn plans plus one long working drawing by Peter Salter of his Walmer Yard housing in London and initial sketches by Tezuka Architects of their Fuji Kindergarten in the Tokyo suburbs. With Salter, there is an intimate connection between specific spatial detail and the very act of drawing. With Tezuka, the drawings reveal a synthesis of hand and brain in search of figurative and structural resolution.

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Front Concrete Facade, Walmer Yard Housing, London, England, 2008, Peter Salter. Image courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Moving to the digital, drawings now appear in multiple ways. Edwin Chan of EC3 printed sectional drawings of True North, a family of tailored Quonset huts in Detroit, onto brushed matte aluminium. For a Paris exhibition in 2014, Jakob MacFarlane selected images from their working files to make bold, colour-saturated prints with printmaker Studio Bordas. Such digital products can be produced in limited editions, consoling perhaps to museums with traditional categorisation protocols.

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True North, Detroit, Michigan, 2019, EC3. Image courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
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Pavillon Nomade II, 2014, Jakob + MacFarlane. Image courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
 

Thom Mayne of Morphosis was one of the first established architects to embrace the digital. Already known for meticulous drawings and prints, like the serigraphs of his own Sixth Street House in Santa Monica, Mayne has in recent years experimented with what he calls combinatorial form, using digital means to create complex 2-D and 3-D objects. These prints and models are 21st century drawings, layered experiments which may, potentially, inform physical structures in the future.

The old classifications of drawing are being challenged and shuffled. Mayne’s new work – produced with former Morphosis employee, Mike Nesbit – is inextricable from current digital capacities. This work is reproducible within its own parameters yet feels much less fixed than the Victorian plaster casts. On the contrary, it manifests a sense of action and chance in common with many vital works-on-paper from previous eras.

 

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. Entries for 2020 close 16 October.