Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–1978), Untitled (Drawing for the Judson Memorial Poetry Reading #7), c. 1973. Ink and felt pen on wove paper, 317 × 1400 mm.
A plan chest that is twinned and turned up vertically: through a window in its side the first drawing is visible, scroll-like, in an elongated drawer, while another drawer, removed altogether, contains the scroll’s counterpart. This cabinet begins a rumination on one of the most essential elements of architecture.
Two pairings stand out: in the first Gordon Matta-Clark’s scroll-like Drawing for the Judson Memorial Poetry Reading #7, done during a poetry reading at St. Mark’s Church in New York's East Village, in which he traces the evolution of architecture, from tent to primitive hut to temple to the ionic capital, and with the fluidity and poetry of arm, hand and pen: movement transcribed to a torn-off piece of butcher’s paper. This is paired with a drawer that is removed and placed atop the chest, containing Schinkel’s design for a capital for the Tilebein House. Schinkel’s contract with the private client required him to produce a fully buildable scheme in five drawings, and so the architect prepared details of the capital and entablature at full scale to ensure the accuracy of the architecture through its detail, knowing that he would never visit the site himself, and ‘leaving the rest of the architecture to reside in the imagination’.
Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841), Design for entablature, Tilebein House, Sulechów, Poland (formerly Stettin, Prussia), 1806. Black ink, grey wash and pencil on paper, two sheets joined, 1015 × 605 mm.
The detailed drawings show the influence of Schinkel’s Grand Tour in Italy from 1803 to 1806, and the capital, it is said, was borrowed from the work of Durand, but compressed, such that ‘it remains still in the spirit of the ancients’.
Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841), Design for a pilaster capital for main floor Tilebein House, Sulechów, Poland (formerly Stettin, Prussia)., 1806. Black ink and wash on paper, 625 × 1060 mm.
The second pairing likewise remains visible: Hitler’s 1934 sketch for the interior of the German Pavilion at the International Exposition in Brussels, and above it Mies van der Rohe’s 1935 study for a courthouse. Hitler’s blue-crayon sketch shows the robust symbolism of the column in a strongly centred and symmetrical composition, a seeming response to a brief that encompassed ‘generic program needs as well as specific representational requirements, most prominently the inclusion of the new regime’s symbols, including the swastika, [insofar as] the building would represent the German government’s international interests in political and economic terms’. This contrasts with the immaterial slenderness of the Miesian courthouse column, also drawn in perspective, but situated obliquely, to the left side of the page: the column grounds the drawing and perspective in empty space, with only an implication of structure. Though the Mies was at one time thought to be much later than the Hitler – a teaching sketch – the two drawings are in fact nearly contemporaneous, which suggests a further association: Mies had entered the competition for the 1934 exposition, sponsored by the National Socialist government, and it is possible that Hitler’s drawings were a reaction to Mies’ submission, which supposedly ended up on Hitler’s floor.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), Courthouse study, c. 1935. Pen and India ink on wove paper, laid on board, 215 × 298 mm.
Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), Sketch for German Pavilion, International Exposition, Brussels, Belgium, 1934. Blue crayon on paper, 285 × 422 mm.
From here, through the opening and closing of drawers, one wanders far, to the c. 1720 rococo fantasy of Oppenord’s capriccio, which conveys depth and light in sanguine and brown ink: in which Oppenord ‘merges architecture and ornament’ to express ‘belief in a practice of architecture that is indistinguishable from drawing’. We find ourselves in no particular time or place: Diana, Goddess of the Hunt sits with her hounds before an overscaled and partially ruined Roman Doric fountain, set in a Virgilian landscape. In the corner the figure of Atlas adorns the fountain, flanked by two pilasters, his left arm bent back to support the cornice, conveying the anthropomorphic and structural elements of the column. Below the Oppenord hangs Eisen’s Frontispiece of Marc-Antoine Laugier’s Essai sur l’architecture, showing a primitive hut in which the column and ideas of trabeation are proposed – contrasting with the sphere and dome, elsewhere in the exhibition, with their implications of the cosmos.
Gilles-Marie Oppenord (1672–1742), Capriccio Landscape with Figures and a Fountain, c. 1720. Sanguine, black ink and pen on ten sheets of joined paper with an addition on the bottom, 865 × 550 mm.
Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen (1720–1778), Frontispiece of Marc-Antoine Laugier's Essai sur l'architecture, c. 1754. Pen and ink and grey wash on paper, 210 × 147 mm.
Coming now to the fullest drawer, pulled out to the left and disclosing a plethora of columns: among them the earliest sketches from the workshop of Sangallo – in which again, the detail, proportion, curvature and lines are carefully measured – and the language drawing of Peter Märkli, which speaks to the primacy of the column in his work and to the naiveté of the sketch.
Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (1484–1546), Survey drawing of column, c. 1540. Pen and ink on laid paper, 300 × 215 mm.
Peter Märkli (*1953), Untitled, c. 1990. Charcoal on tracing paper, 295 × 240 mm.
From Cedric Price’s proposal for Battersea, which attempts to clear the swath beneath the power station, resulting in what appears to be a tabletop with inverted columns, through Aldo Rossi and Salvador Dali to Rousseau’s drawing from the Colonne Nationale, which served in post-revolutionary France to commemorate national interests, to ‘honour the soldiers of revolutionary wars and to assert the idea of national unity’(A Civic Utopia, p. 3).
Cedric Price (1934–2003), Battersea Power Station, c. 1990. Red pen and coloured crayon on sketchbook sheet, 203 × 253 mm.
Salvador Dalí (1904–1989), Building Study, 1939. Pen and ink and pencil on lined laid paper, 258 × 210 mm.
Pierre Rousseau (1751–1829), Proposal for the Colonne Nationale, Paris, 1800. Pen and ink and pencil on printed headed paper, 202 × 257 mm.
Nearing the back of the cabinet one arrives at Nigel Coates’s 1988 Café Bongo in Japan. This expressionistic drawing, done after the project’s completion, explores an open, urban structure – somewhere between café, landscape, and architecture – in which an airplane wing is supported by a pilaster, and movement is expressed as much in the stroke, figures and colour as in the diagrammatic arrows that encircle the space.
Nigel Coates (*), Caffè Bongo, Tokyo, 1988. Graphite, acrylic and oil pastel on paper, 420 × 590 mm. © The architect.
From the seemingly real constructions of Coates and Schinkel to the rich fantasies and caryatids of Oppenord’s Capriccio, through the stage sets of Bibiena and Dalí to the open sketches of Märkli and Gordon Matta-Clark, we find the column and its derivation – and architecture, it seems – poised somewhere between the poetic and the pragmatic.