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.