Polemicists in pen and ink

Rendering of several versions of Holy Trinity Church, Marlebone, 1824. (Soane Museum)

Rendering of several versions of Holy Trinity Church, Marlebone, 1824. (Soane Museum)

Someone recently twitted me for displaying on my blog beautiful drawings of a proposed new Boston City Hall designed (and illustrated) by Aaron Helfand. My correspondent said the building might not look as nice as the drawing when it is completed. In reply, I reminded him that this concern has been uppermost in my mind now that the graduate-student housing at 257 Thayer St., in Providence, is almost done. It does not look as good as the drawings by Union Studio, which had been hired to design a nicer building than the original one. Given materials and budgets, it may be inevitable that the finished building would look less alluring than the drawing (and for that matter the model). But it only goes to show that architecture is a constant battle between perception and reality.

Oliver Wainwright of the Guardian has an excellent article, “A battle of iron wills: The fracious world of architects versus clients,” describing an exhibit at the Soane Museum, in London, on the polemics of architectural rendering. The illustration above was architect Sir John Soane’s peeved response to the declaration by his client, the Vestry of the Holy Trinity Church, Marlebone, that they preferred a Gothic or Norman-style church to the Classical church he’d just designed for them. Soane’s renderer, Joseph Michael Gandy, painted a hillside with various versions, with the new versions looking slightly ragged. The architect got his way and the classical version – now famous – was built.

I recently visited Boston for a lecture and, after getting off the commuter train at the Back Bay station, left my ancient portfolio, with my half-read biography of Corbusier by Anthony Flint and all my marginalia, plus a worthless but still useful ancient iPod with many score of audiobooks in it. The cloth case was black and orange with an architect’s rendering of the Providence Superior Court emblazoned on it. I got it when I attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Architectural Illustrates held here in 2004. I wonder whether anyone around here has one they can sell me. Or maybe I can get it on eBay.

Architectural rendering is a lost art, it seems to me. Not that there remain no artists who can perform marvelous drawing of buildings. There are some. But it seems that today an architectural drawing aims to disguise what a building will really look like. The more the clients of a modernist architect learn of what the buildings they’ve commissioned look like, the more the client-architect relationship is likely to become a battle of wills.

Well, maybe that’s always been so.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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1 Response to Polemicists in pen and ink

  1. kristen says:

    in response to your last sentence: it has always been so…


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