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The Routledge Companion to Architectural Drawings and Models:
From Translating to Archiving, Collecting and Displaying
Paul Holmquist


A recent book edited by architectural historian Federica Goffi considers how architectural drawings and models can take new life by virtue of their inclusion within archives. The Routledge Companion to Architectural Drawings and Models: From Translating to Archiving, Collecting and Displaying explores what Goffi calls the “afterlives” of architectural media, adopting a concept from art historian Aby Warburg. The volume gathers 35 essays that examine the many ways drawings and models survive their use for building to become “instruments of imagination, communication, and historical continuity” (i) in new contexts. If the architectural office or construction site is where the productive lives of drawings and models originally unfold, the archive is the primary site of their afterlives. Contributions from architects, artists, historians, collectors, curators, and archivists recount how archives, as structures and sites, allow for interpretive, creative, and ultimately “constructive” modes of engagement with drawings and models to produce new architectural knowledge.

The collection’s shared premise is that places—the places where drawings and models are made, where they guide construction, and where afterwards they are collected and reinterpreted—matter for the potential productivity and meaning of architectural media. In her introduction, Goffi argues that architectural media’s capacity for translation is extended beyond design and construction through their literal translation from one place to another. Relocating drawings and models ex situ to collections, archives, exhibitions, and websites, as well as retaining them in situ within completed buildings or offices after their work has ended, opens different possibilities for architectural meaning and knowledge.

Goffi frames the productive interrelationship of place and media by drawing upon philosopher Jacques Derrida’s elucidation of the archive as a physical locus of memory, history, authority, and power, as well as architectural historian and theorist Marco Frascari’s notion of drawings and models as creative “sites” of embodied imagination and knowledge production—of “constructing” and “construing” in relation to building (xlviii). As contributor Sophia Banou writes, the generative potential of architectural media is “inherited” into the archival places that gather and resituate them within new contexts and relationships (185).

The book is organized into four thematic sections. The first two examine how on one hand the places where drawings and models are produced and used, such as architects’ offices and homes, construction sites, and completed buildings, have become archival sites, and on the other how translation of architectural media takes place within them through practices of collecting, curating, displaying, and exhibiting. Contributions survey archival sites and practices relative to such disparate figures as John Soane, Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, the modernist generation of Brazilian architects, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Alison and Peter Smithson, Carlo Scarpa, Wajiro Kon, Germán Samper, and Renzo Piano.

For instance, curator and architect Alba di Lieto describes how Scarpa’s working drawings for the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona, Italy,form the basis of the growing Carlo Scarpa Archive housed within the renovated building itself. The archive’s drawings, photographs, and other materials illuminate, in situ, the intimate relation between Scarpa’s design process and the building’s construction. Scholarship, exhibitions, and publications using these materials extend and enrich the complex dialogue between past, present, and future within the architecture. The material has also informed new renovation work at the Museum.

Conversely, architect and scholar Sophia Banou examines how the Drawing Matter archive in Somerset, UK, takes on the embodied, interactive, and productive potential of drawings through the features of its architectural setting, in a “merging of drawn and built space specific to the drawing archive” (185). She shows how the configuration of wall and tabletop display surfaces facilitates, through the “(non)method” of the architectural pin-up, the intimate, serendipitous, nonhierarchical, and transcategorical reading of archival materials. Drawings can then speak to each other in new ways about their disparate subjects and the nature of architectural drawing itself.

The third section explores the interrelationship between tools, material, and spatial conditions in both architectural media production and archival interpretation, while the fourth looks at ethical implications and responsibilities of archives in collecting, interpreting, and disseminating drawings and models. Authors examine such wide-ranging topics as the embedded knowledge of drawing tools; the objectivizing function of the archival examination table; the indeterminate agencies of full-scale models and ancillary sketches; the generative potential of digital archives and media; as well as the fraught archival legacies of Jean-Jacques Lequeu, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Luis Barragán; confronting historical injustice at national archives; and the challenges experienced by archival institutions seeking to uphold public trust.

Architectural historian Jean-Pierre Chupin and design theorist Carmela Cucuzzella present their ongoing Canadian Competitions Catalogue, a publicly accessible database of “potential architecture” comprised of over 5,000 entries to architectural, urban, and landscape design competitions in Canada. Chupin and Cucuzzella describe how they create design tools, programs, and events that draw upon the competitions’ ideas, principles, and virtual forms. By these means, community members and other nondesigners can collaboratively propose new responses to urban questions, which are then cycled into the archive.

Historian Émélie Desrochers-Turgeon considers archival architectural drawings of Canadian Indian Residential Schools as evidence of the erased history of violence and genocide in the forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government through the late twentieth century. She examines how racial and cultural ideologies aligned with modernist architectural principles, and how these ideologies were implemented spatially through the design of residential schools in the 1950s. Desrochers-Turgeon reads the residential school drawings in dialogue with alternative narratives by Indigenous artists and scholars recounting their experience of the schools. She argues that the work of these authors reasserts Indigenous agency to reclaim the archive as a site of memory, resistance, and potential healing.

By posing the question of the “afterlives” of architectural media and illuminating their breadth and significance, this collection makes an invaluable contribution to the perennial discourse on architectural representation, as well as to growing scholarship on the nature of architectural archives. The essays address subjects and themes that will interest architectural scholars and practitioners, as well as readers outside of architecture. It is a welcome addition to volumes such as Drawing Imagining Building: Embodiment in Architectural Design Practices (2019) by Paul Emmons; Architecture Through Drawing (2019), edited by Desley Luscombe, Helen Thomas, and Niall Hobhouse; The Architectural Model: Histories of the Miniature and the Prototype, the Exemplar and the Muse (2019) by Matthew Mindrup; and Albena Yaneva’s ethnographic study of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Crafting History: Archiving and the Quest for Architectural Legacy (2020). Ultimately, the Companion demonstrates how the inherently generative nature of architectural representation allows media to engage situations far beyond design and construction, and how important the afterlives of drawings and models are to architectural culture—and to the possibilities for architectural meaning.

Paul Holmquist, PhD, is an assistant professor of architecture at Louisiana State University. His teaching and research focus on the interrelationship of architecture, political theory, and theory of technology, particularly in terms of conceptions and experience of the public realm. His recent research appears in the journal Contour, The Sound of Architecture: Acoustic Atmospheres in Place (Leuven University Press, 2022) and Theatres of Architectural Imagination (Routledge, 2023).