Architectural drawing as craft skill

Architectural drawing as craft skill

The distancing of architectural design from the physical labour of the master mason and and the foundation of classical architecture in humanist scholarship (on the text of Vitruvius), antiquarian study (of the remains of ancient buildings) and applied geometry (the science of proportion) helped raise it from the mechanical into the liberal arts. Yet even the practice of architectural drawing itself required the technical mastery of the complicated craft skill. 

Some impression of the complexity and variety of the skills involved can be obtained from a series of videos which accompanied the exhibition at the Museum of the History of Science entitled Compass and Rule: Architecture as Mathematical Practice in England, 1500-1700.

(1) A first video illustrates the most basic procedures: preparing the ink, loading the pen, and drawing a line against a straightedge.

(2) A further series of videos illustrates two different techniques for drawing one simple component (the base of a column) of just one of the five classical orders of architecture:   
(a) Modular drawing, a technique popularised in print from the 16th century onwards; and
(b) Constructive geometry, a medieval technique passed on in the building yard from mason to mason.

(3) The final video illustrates the process in which the architect planned and represented complex three-dimensional forms on a two-dimensional surface, using the example of Christopher Wren's drawings of one small element of the facade of his masterpiece: St Paul's Cathedral in London.

Resources: Anthony Gerbino and Stephen Johnston, Compass and Rule: Architecture as Mathematical Practice in England, 1500–1750 (New Haven, Conn./London: Yale University Press, 2009).