These images, drawn from from Chapter Two of The Death of Drawing: Architecture in the Age of Simulation, illustrate some of the myriad ways drawing has shaped architectural thought and practice. Drawing and architecture have been intimately intertwined since the modern practice of architecture was codified by Leon Batista Alberti in 1450 in his treatise On the Art of Building in Ten Books (De Re Aedificatoria)
The essence of drawing’s role in architecture is its nature as representation. Representations are always acknowledged to be partial reflections of an idea. In the case of architecture, a drawing is a partial reflection of ideas in the mind of the designer. These ideas, although fluid and imprecise, are nonetheless established by drawing as the actual design. The design, in other words, is ideal and drawings are imperfect yet meaningful interpretations of this ideal.
One consequence of this is that drawings need not refer to an actual or contemplated piece of construction in order to contribute to architectural discourse. Since the true architecture is understood to reside in the architect’s ideas, it does not matter whether drawings have a concrete referent or not. When I was in architecture school in the 1980’s, so-called “paper architecture” had a greater influence on our thinking than current building practice. In retrospect, we might have paid more attention to building, but the fact that drawing allowed us to be engaged in a centuries-old discourse about architecture was very exciting and motivated some very interesting projects. This is sadly missing from a great deal of current architectural education.
The interaction between the qualities of a particular drawing and the architect’s thinking is crucial to understanding drawing and architecture. The manner in which a drawing represents an architectural idea has reciprocal effects on the architect’s thinking, since he or she needs some kind of concrete representation in order to develop their ideas. A drawing selects among the many aspects of an architectural idea to bring certain questions to the fore. It may focus the designer’s (or viewer’s) attention on overall form, spatial relationships, light and material or seemingly extraneous ideas that somehow inform the architect’s thinking (see for example the drawing by Alvaro Siza titled “Sketch for Case Baia” in the accompanying image gallery). The wide variety of drawing types and techniques included in this gallery show the power of drawing to shape an architectural idea.