In the Archive: de la Fuente, Unknown, OMA, Ellwood and Ponis

Sarah Hearne

Click on drawings to move and enlarge.

In this series, Drawing Matter invites visitors to write about material in the archive or the libraries at Shatwell that they have viewed as part of their research.

I first found myself at Drawing Matter to view the voiles produced by the Chilean architect Jullian de la Fuente under the direction of Le Corbusier for a stadium project in Baghdad (DMC 1185). This project had first crossed my path months earlier when consulting the online database for the Canadian Center for Architecture as part of research into architectural printing procedures between 1945–1990. One item apprehended my attention, it appeared to be a photograph of an electrostatic print sitting on a cardboard backing. The finding aid described this document as a ‘template’. The historian Nicholas Olsberg noted in a letter to Niall Hobhouse in 2006, regarding further documents from this project, that they are not templates because they’re not produced ‘at scale’. [1] This categorical error, however, relates to how printing and copying procedures are notoriously destructive to scale, shattering our trust in the depictions in front of us, and perhaps even creating mistakes in our understanding of the drawing itself. This scalelessness is one of the many phenomena related to prints and duplication methods, particularly in the mid-twentieth century to the 1990s, that I am currently researching. Printing processes—from office xeroxing to working drawings on diazo print to mechanical documents—reveal an alternative history of photographic entanglement in twentieth-century architecture, bound to the technical and material questions of production. Rather than tracing the lineage of photography via the ways it framed buildings and events, this lineage turns toward the materials and technical spaces of production, incorporating fields such as cel-based animation and magazine culture.

This ‘problem’ of printing and authenticity was one of the primary observations made by the curator of the RIBA drawings collection in the 1970s, Margaret Richardson, as she sought to establish terms for cataloguing in 1983. Sifting through the variety of materials used and types of drawings produced in the architect’s office, she sought to restore order and value to the categorisation of drawings related to the importance of aura, authorship, and place and time of making. In other words, she measured her models of understanding based on the model of originality. The problem in all of this was the influx of drawings that were produced with what she called the ‘regrettable’ practice of redrawing, tracing, and delineation. Drawing by others was already considered ‘less sensitive’ than the architect’s hand. Even more egregious to Richardson was the use of reprographics involved in producing drawings for publication. She seemed to address those who made mechanical drawings and mechanical vantages directly:

‘…they often present their work in axonometric which have been specifically redrawn to a reduced scale for publication or exhibition, choosing to redraw and present their work by sharper, newer axonometric which reproduce well but lack the style and subtlety of the year in which they were first conceived and drawn.’ [2]

What can we learn from this vexing category of prints? First, an unwieldy field of reproduction techniques presents some difficulty for conservationists and curators. Looking at printed copies requires us to think differently about drawings. We focus less on questions of singular authorship and design thinking, and more on the technical and sometimes bureaucratic aspects of running a practice if we consider, for instance, the anonymity of an item found in Drawing Matter’s collection: a drawing made by the most ubiquitous of early office mechanisation, the typewriter, an apparatus that produced a miniaturisation of the printing press to the typist’s desk (DMC 3286). In 1932, when this document was made, the typewriter worked hand-in-hand with various duplication techniques to reproduce correspondence for various audiences, often with colour-coded papers and other methods of systematisation. The anonymity of this document and its administration context are both significant, for instance, in the context of Archigram’s famous zines in the 1960s. The first paper made and printed in the context of an office environment revealed that there was an overlap between the bureaucratic mimeograph machines and typists. This includes Eveylyn Tupler, who is credited for text layouts for Archigram 2 but is less associated with the group and perhaps separated out precisely by the nature of this administrative form of labour.

Just as the typewriter miniaturised the logic of the printing press, by the 1970s, the supplies of architectural drawing production also included technologies, such as Letraset letter transfers and contact halftones, so intrinsic to visual image work. These letter and contract transfers were part of a broader transformation in the printing industry. They included machines such as typewriters, typositor and photo compositor machines, which shifted the locus of the printing industry and made in-house more viable. To that end, there is an interesting marking on this black and white print from the OMA Voluntary Exodus project held at Drawing Matter (DMC 3151.6). The reverse side reveals the stamp placed there by the National Graphical Association, dated 1977. [3] The logo indicated this ‘camera-ready’ artwork was printed at a unionised company in London. The significance of this marking in this time relates to the push context of production, questions of labour in printing with miniaturising print technologies, and the development of supplies such as Letraset that transformed the printing press into more personalised forms of production. These activities reflect the intense print and graphic-orientated culture that arose related to the proliferating consumer market around the gizmos and gadgets of image-making supplies. In these material and procedural decisions is a backdrop of tensions that would erupt in union activities and strikes throughout the 1970s and 80s.

In many ways recognising the significance of printing in architectural drawing archives seems as essential as the attachment to originals. First, we might consider the technical structures around revisions, and how to show voluminous information across many pages. And then address the strange sets of documents sometimes referred to as ‘second-originals’ —that result from annotation and overlays—to communication over printed drawings, to patches and erasures and printer marks. [4] In other words, the original was a floating concept related to the most up-to-date drawing, a constantly shifting terrain of versions rather than a valued singular item. Moving toward a discussion of printing cultures and working procedures may shift us toward technical areas and also unearth a more fulsome picture of the collaborative effort of architecture. Finally, we might grapple with the ways that architectural drawings commonly come to us in sets, that are made to be duplicated for a variety of stakeholders (DMC 1840.A20).

Perhaps our discussion might move from the first sketch as a corollary of the first thoughts and toward a more forensic tracing of hands, erasures, over-drawing, annotations and markups. As in the case of Alberto Ponis’ Yacht Club plan, which is a series of printed drawings overlaid with a variety of coloured markers (DMC 2921.1). Ponis, who is aware of the layered and atemporal nature of drawings, describes the conversational process of drawing between himself and the builders in Sardinia, a negotiation and encounter with the conditions of place and economic realities that arise in any construction project. He has described these overlayed prints as a ‘report’; a term that suggests a ‘coming after’, and a form of documentation. Ponis describes these documents as living items; folded in pockets and splattered in the rain during site visits. It is this conflation between the paper’s material delicacy and resilience as a record that is intrinsic to the history of modernised printing in the architectural office. Contemporaneously with Ponis’ visits to Sardinia, companies like Xerox and Kodak advertised their printing devices as preservation machines. These adverts undermined the seeming stability of paper as a recording device with a variety of office dangers and proposed the perpetuity of duplication information from one page to the next.


  1. Found in the Voiles files at Drawing Matter.
  2. Margaret Richardson, ‘Architectural Drawings: Problems of Status and Value’, Oxford Art Journal 5, no. 2 (1 January 1983), pp.13–21.
  3. For more on the history of this organisation see, John Gennard, A History of the National Graphical Association (London, UK: Unwin Hyman, 1990).
  4. Kodagraph Advert, Progressive Architecture, October 1970, p.165.