Essex Coastal Cornice: Ex-Mould

By Charles Holland

Ordinary Architecture (Charles Holland and Elly Ward), Essex Coast Cornice, 2016. CAD drawing. © Ordinary Architecture.

The cover of early editions of John Summerson’s book The Classical Language of Architecture features a curious drawing of a Doric entablature. To all intents and purposes the profile of the entablature is correct, but it has been extruded through the method of oblique projection. It is as if we are looking at the entablature from below and the lines of the mouldings are sliding away from us and off the edge of the page.

It is a striking image because it turns the classical language of architecture inside out. The drawing employs a form of projection familiar from early modernism and uses it as a mirror through which classicism is distorted into something else. While Summerson’s book describes the origins of classical architecture, its cover seems to be taking classicism somewhere else, sliding off into the future perhaps. 

The Essex Coastal Cornice drawing consciously evokes the cover image of Summerson’s book. It depicts a moulding extruded using the same technique of oblique projection. But the profile of the moulding is based on the coastline of Essex, a county with particular biographical significance. If the entablature is in some sense a representation of human proportions, here it is stretched to describe a kind of self-portrait. The infinite estuarine edge of Essex is also generalised and shrunk, like a map, to become a sardonic joke on the function of the cornice to shed water.

The capacity of the profiles of classical mouldings to carry meaning is here taken to an extreme, as if their curves, arcs and indentations can tell a personal story. The fact that the profile describes a coastline at a vastly removed scale makes these lines both specific and highly abstract. The method of projection further removes the cornice to become a pure drawing, or a drawing of a drawing.

Essex Coastal Cornice was originally drawn for the Origins exhibition held at the Royal Academy in 2015/16. The exhibition was designed and conceived by Ordinary Architecture and curated by Owen Hopkins and Kate Goodwin. 

Cover of John Summerson’s The Classical Language of Architecture, 1963 edition. It was designed by Omnigraphics, Inc. for MIT Press.