A large, red ‘Hello!!’ and attribution to ‘Gowan, James’ is all I can see, at first, of image 3157.3r in Drawing Matter’s online archive. No date, no caption. The greeting is enthusiastic enough to stop scrolling: ‘Hi there, James!!’ I think. But when I zoom in, it’s not him at all.
This friendly ‘Hello!!’ is from someone called Iwona, urging me to ‘treat yourself to a clean house – you deserve [sic].’ There’s nothing linking the advertisement to Gowan’s scribbled diagrams or the cryptic lines ‘AB ALS / AB / Thurs, 17 / 10am / Renato’.
Renato, Iwona, James. For a small scrap of paper, this mystery has a cast of characters.
Playing detective, I discover that ‘Renato’ must be Renato Rosseli: Gowan’s partner on a series of health projects in northern Italy. Sometime around 2006, Rosseli calls Gowan. Gowan grabs something to record the time and date of their next meeting. He sketches some ideas for an extension to their Istituto Clinico Humanitas teaching hospital (1995), capturing the jaunty angle of the auditorium roof on approach. ‘AB, AB’ might be shorthand for the repeated articulation of the hospital blocks. He might be designing a ward for ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). It could all be a personal abbreviation, gibberish to anyone else. Architectural mystery solved.
Iwona, though, stays mysterious. Maybe she arrives from Poland – her English good, but not perfect – and tries to make a new life in London working as a cleaner. She designs the flyer herself, deciding where the text should be red or bold. The effect is simple, but it was effective enough to catch my eye, Gowans too. Does it get her the job? Or did it only win her a place as Gowan’s unknown, unattributed collaborator in this serendipitous high-low culture mashup?
The sketch is an oddly literal allegory of something we know but easily forget: architects ‘draw’ on nameless labour to maintain their buildings and clean their studios. It’s only by archival accident – the happenstance of Gowan sketching over her advertisement – that we know Iwona by name this time.
Hamish Lonergan is a doctoral student at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta), ETH Zurich.
This text was entered into the 2020 Drawing Matter Writing Prize. Click here to read the winning texts and more writing that was particularly enjoyed by the prize judges.