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Jo Coenen, design for the Chris van de Watering structural engineering office at the Frankrijkstraat, Eindhoven, 1982, ground plan.
© Jo Coenen & Co. DOC-C documentatiecentrum, Maastricht.
John Körmeling, Netherlands House in the Clouds, 1986.
© Wiederhall Foundation, Amsterdam, courtesy of John Körmeling.
John Körmeling, Holland Hollowland, 1986.
© Wiederhall Foundation, Amsterdam, courtesy of John Körmeling.
Jo Coenen, French fries restaurant, Almere, 1987, central perspective of the interior.
© Jo Coenen & Co. DOC-C documentatiecentrum, Maastricht.
Wiel Arets and Wim van den Bergh, competition entry for the park of the villa Farsetti, Venice biennale, 1985, axonometry.
© Courtesy of Wiel Arets Architects, Maastricht.
Rem Koolhaas, design for the Dutch Museum of Architecture in the former municipal library, Rotterdam, 1984, isometric floor plans.
© Courtesy of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture.
Kas Oosterhuis, design for the Markerwaard polder, 1986. Ground plan on screen with receding background.


Posted 01 Dec 1987

Joost Meuwissen, 'The architectural drawing today'. [Translated by Ruth Koenig,] Dutch Art + Architecture Today, 22, December '87. Translations by Ruth Koenig ([Rijswijk:] The Netherlands Ministry of Welfare, Health and Cultural Affairs, 1987), 32-37.

The architectural drawing today

Joost Meuwissen

Only quite recently has the architectural drawing been regarded in the Netherlands as an independent phenomenon (separate from the building process). The first Dutch gallery for architecture, the Van Rooy gallery, opened in 1979, to be followed by a few cautious initiatives of a similar nature, most of them in Amsterdam.
Even today, though, there is not really a brisk trade here in drawings and scale models as artistic products, as works of art. Collectors and museums are apparently reluctant to purchase works whose often plain, anonymous lines can easily be imitated and perhaps occasionally are. There are always doubts as to a drawing's author. The architect's studio (or office) employs people to draw the numerous plans and technical details which even a small building requires. Many of these employees are better draughtsmen than the actual architect. Elaboration of big presentation drawings is left to them, as are the perspectives and elevations intended to convey an impression of a building to the public and published in journals. A similar course is adopted in the large-scale architecture exhibitions held in the Netherlands since 1975, in which buildings are illustrated by drawings as well as photographs and scale models. The drawing is exhibited as a document, not a work of art.
Only the sketches drawn by the architect as preliminary studies for a design bear his personal handwriting. These, however, are too ephemeral and numerous to confer autonomy on the architectural drawing, and the architect rarely treats them as artistic products. If they are published at all, it is only in order to illustrate the quest for alternatives involved in the design process, as in the case of Aldo van Eyck, or indeed to record the doubts, as Wim Quist does. In any case the conceptual content is never expressed in a single drawing but invariably in stacks of them. It is certainly possible to intensify the content and image of the architectural sketch in a manner more closely approaching an artistic product, a work of art that convinces as such, as Aldo Rossi has done in Italy, but the young Dutch architects responsible for the latest spate of architectural drawings have opted for a different course, with the exception of John Körmeling.
The actual content of an architectural drawing may be programmatic or systematic, illustrating the idea and not necessarily the final result. An architecture not intended for execution is then conceivable, like some of John Körmeling's major projects, House in the clouds and Holland Hollowland.
The latter is based on the idea that in view of Holland's flatness, the curvature of the earth should be eliminated, giving the country its true, ideal form as implied in the play on words 'Hol-Land' ('Hollow­Land', 'hol' being Dutch for 'hollow'). Text and drawing are of course equally important in this project. Both have the same handwriting. The condensation of the text's content is in keeping with the schematic appearance of the drawing, which is meant to convince by presenting a few primary elements in context: the radii and surface of the earth, the corrected surface and a naive plume of smoke rising from a cottage, reducing the vast exaggeration to human proportions. John Körmeling's linear drawings, usually simple, their three-dimensional rendering often in the form of unconstructed perspectives, are the very opposite of the didactic conceptual sketches and diagrams used in architecture since the mid-nineteenth century, for example by Le Corbusier as a means of putting his ideas across in publications. Reduction of those graphic methods is now used to illustrate how absurd all rules and questions of authorship are rendered by exaggeration. That is also why John Körmeling is usually asked to provide relatifying additions to other architects' buildings. His work is appreciated as a form of applied, monumental art. This year, for instance, he and sculptor Henk Visch provided the facade of the well-known Amsterdam auditorium Paradiso with two perspex torches.
The dilemma of John Körmeling as an artist resembles that of the Van Rooy gallery's policy. At first Luce van Rooy deliberately sought the artistic content of the architectural drawing and scale model in their very systematism. In her quest for images of quality, however, she was soon in danger of being landed with forms of monumental art which comment on the buildings or spaces for which they were intended, whereas the architectural drawing ought really to express those buildings and spaces. In that sense the artistic content of the architectural drawing should perhaps be sought primarily in the special conceptual possibilities inherent in the technical architectural drawing as a graphic code. This is the direction taken by most young Dutch architects in their experiments. They no longer make any expressive distinction between the drawing and the building. The architectonic content of both may be the same, for the substance of a building can be drawn too. These days Luce van Rooy duly presents the architectural drawing as material art and a collector's item. This departure is in line with developments in international architectural training institutions, notably the Staedelschule in Frankfurt, the AA in London and the New York Cooper Union, where the architectural idea is thought to be fully expressed in the design, the drawing and the scale model, little more being added by the actual building. One of the leading Dutch schools to adopt this course is Eindhoven Technical University. As a consequence, properties previously attributed solely to the drawing are now applied to actual buildings. When that happens, the drawing becomes vital to the concept of buildings. Jo Coenen is a good example of this trend.
What is the special characteristic of the architectural drawing? What does its graphic code consist of? Longitudinal and transverse section and plan in any case ­plan not in the sense of a map, though, but of a horizontal section. The section lies on the surface of the paper. The paper coincides with the place where the section cuts through the building volume. It is not necessary to draw things that are not bisected. If they are drawn, however, they are depicted in a different fashion.
The transverse section appears uniformly

over the entire plane of the drawing; this need not be the case with prospects seen between the cut planes. The paper underneath now appears as an unfathomable depth in the space surrounding the building, or as a rear wall in a room in section, and at the bottom as the thickness of the ground on which the building stands. The bisected elements are usually envisaged as perpendicular to the paper plane, but this means that in the actual section the beginnings and ends of these elements cannot be rendered perpendicular to the drawing, but only in another section, to which the ground plan in turn is perpendicular. The drawing is always a partial version of the building, and the different kinds of drawing (horizontal and vertical sections) are graphically interdependent.
The background is articulated, but not drawn, because it does not belong to the system of the section. The appearance of the building in section, and the effect that this is usually expected to have in presentation drawings, are based on this image of a space which can only be achieved by technical means, due to the fact that no one drawing can do without the other, a space composed of convex and concave and far and near, feasible only in an architectonic construction.
In their spatial version Jo Coenen's early architectures adhere to this complex pattern of a space defined by several different sections and by a pattern of convexities and concavities to be combined on the facade. The middle and end of a space usually belong to different sections. The three-dimensional experience of a building like this is rich, but its true logic can only be reconstructed from the idea of the drawings.
This accounts for the development in Jo Coenen's recent work, which returns to the basic reason for the section drawing: to cut through the material elevation of the building. The cut body is made of brick or wood, at any rate material. And this material, in its vertical elevation, has a logic of its own. The accent is now more on the material shell of the space, on one section, or on a series of sections defining the same space. This method was prompted by dissatisfaction with the indecisive materials used in much present­day architecture, and is modelled on the experimental and didactic sections of gothic cathedrals in the books of the nineteenth-century rationalist Viollet-le-­Duc. The presentation of spaces like Jo Coenen's french-fry restaurant in Almere (1987) is thus no longer a section with an indistinct rear wall but a central perspective in which the space is enclosed and defined by the articulation of the material used for the side walls.
The drawing is therefore vital for comprehension of Jo Coenen's work, but perhaps it fails to achieve true autonomy for that very reason.
The same graphic code has not only been used throughout the ages for construction drawings but also to depict buildings in publications, in woodcuts, engravings and later lithographs. Architectonic picture­ books, like printing in general, boomed in seventeenth-century Holland. Unlike pen-­and-ink pictures drawn by hand on paper, this form of printing was governed by an economy which limited the number of drawings and pictures of a building to a certain extent, calling for comprehensive, synthetic images. The architectural drawing as an autonomous work of art currently appears to be largely based on this printing tradition. The revival of construction models of important modern buildings may be mentioned in this

connection, likewise the new architecture magazine Wiederhall (Amsterdam 1986), which is devoted exclusively to drawings of architecture instead of adopting the familiar pattern of copiously illustrated texts.
Nonetheless the architectural drawing as an autonomous work of art is straitjacketed by mechanical line drawing. Even when a complex composition of elevations with oblique projections and their inversions are presented, the problem remains. The solution is sought partly in a graphic saturation of the planes by blackening, greying or hatching them, as in the pen-and-pencil drawings of Wiel Arets and Wim van den Bergh.
This method is modelled on drawings by the Italian rationalists Aldo Rossi and Giorgi Grassi in the early sixties and stems,

by way of Italian abstract painting, from the Cubists. Elsewhere there are endeavours to intensify the architectural drawing's own code, as has been done since the sixties in London's pop culture by its architectonic representative, the Archigram group with its ‘radical architecture'. Extremely oblique projections give the spatial depiction of a building a frontal character. Volumetry is returned to the flat plane, but the architectural structure is preserved.
This means that the contours of the plane can be omitted, releasing areas of colour from constricting outlines. The method, recalling Casimir Malevich's Suprematism at the beginning of this century, has given the architectural drawing an iconic, albeit fragmentary and facetted look, facilitating appreciation of the similarly fragmentary character of the designed buildings. In the drawings of Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas the building thus becomes highly distortable.
Such is also the case with the computer drawings to which many young architects resort. The first simple drawing programs showed the contour of a building in perspective from every conceivable angle, but transparent, as if the building were entirely of glass. In order to depict the building properly, architects were frequently forced to use extreme vanishing points. The transparency and lack of viewpoint led in many cases to a more sculptural approach to architecture. Computer systems have since become more sophisticated and can also be used artistically to cope with problems of architectural drawing. A good example is provided by Kas Oosterhuis' radical experiments in the direction of architectural drawings without a background, which is conceived as a curved plane at some distance from the plan or elevation. It is only visible because of the shadow cast on it by the drawing. The line/ground problem of the line drawing on paper, created by the graphic code of the elevation in architecture, has given way to the immaterial appearance of the design on the monitor.

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