DMJ 21/22 – Drawing Instruments: Instrumental Drawings

Guest Editor: Paul Emmons

This issue of DMJournal considers the role of tools in the conception and execution of architectural drawings. How may drawing instruments contribute to productive thought in architecture? The chiastic title invites moving beyond traditional limitations of approaching technology in opposition to poetics. Rather than the study of architectural tools as an aporia of theory and practice, we will consider how tools themselves encourage or discourage certain ways of thinking and doing. Renaissance frontispieces, for example, show compasses pointing downward to represent practice but the same tool pointing upward represents theory. The circular motion of the tool links both realms. Today, when tools such as computer software programs have very specific functions, how do drafters undermine or co-opt them to achieve their own purposes? In the early twentieth century, drawing handbooks report the questionable practice of bending a T-square on its side to trace a slight curve for the entasis of columns. Conversely, how are things made for other purposes incorporated as drawing equipment? Tools are most meaningful when put into use, but when does the architect use the tool or the tool use the architect? 

Tools are both means and metaphors for thought. Now called ‘drawing instruments,’ they were known for centuries as ‘mathematical instruments,’ yet many originally derive from construction tools. Some tools of construction are also tools of constructive geometry. Where is the causal agency when the operations of drawing instruments contain geometrical and mathematical knowledge of which the drafter is unaware? In drawings of instruments, how are they presented and what role do they play in asserting the authority of the architect? Certain tools once served to identify the architect – compasses, squares and straight edges – that are emblems of the architect’s knowledge and skill. Michelangelo described the seste dell’occhio (the compass of the eye) as an instrument of judgment and reasoning. How have conceptions and representations of the architect changed with evolving technologies such as computational tools?

Drawing instruments provide an opening to the material culture of architecture practice. While the role of certain tools may be considered similar, for example, erasing; penknife, feather, breadcrumb, rubber, electric eraser and delete key also have distinct properties that impact the way erasure is felt, thought and enacted. Changing expectations of exactness and precision are also fundamental to the manipulation and consideration of tools. The widely repeated claims of improved efficiency in drafting with new tools also raises questions regarding who benefits if any time is actually ‘saved’?

The plural necessity of the word ‘equipment’ emphasises the close interrelations of tools and instruments of all sorts. By accepting a broad range of drawing instruments, we encompass not only those media-rich tools that are mark-making and those which guide mark-making but also those tools providing the support and procedures of architectural drawings – the drawing table, illumination and even the studio or drafting room. Examination of architecture drawing instruments from all times are invited, whether operated directly or indirectly with the five digits of the fingers, the binary 0 and 1 digits of computers, or the post-digital. Study of non-western drawing instruments are equally welcome. 

Less than the connoisseurship of tools as static objects, we are interested in the way tools are put to work by architects; how they contribute to the making of drawings and making of architects. Moving beyond the dichotomy between technology and culture, we seek where these two worlds converge with eidetic instruments.

Deadline for receipt of initial proposals: Monday 22 November 2021.

Submission Process

Cover image: Perry Kulper, De-commissioning Domesticity, v.01, 2004. Courtesy of the architect.