Sir William Chambers

Sir William Chambers, Somerset House, plan of a lower level, c. 1776 SM_41_4_24

But perhaps more important was the contrast between an exterior that appeared to have a regular order and pacing, and an interior that seemed, in first draft, rambling if not a bit chaotic – for Chambers had to respond to what became an intense competition for the best and most space among the offices. Drawings in this sense acted as a form of contract. In the Soane collection one can trace the process from the earliest ledgers of space allocations to the first sketches in Chambers’ own hand – generally drawn and noted in sepia ink – showing the intensity, complexity and irregularity of the dimensions in the allocation of space; to those hard-lined in black ink by an assistant in the office, with Chambers’ accompanying notes, again in sepia ink; to those which, being finalised in presentation-style drawings, now replete with a coloured wash, were signed and sealed to indicate an agreement on the allocation and design of the space. – Tina di Carlo

Parataxis

Otto Wagner, Capuchin church and imperial crypt, 1898, DM 2879 IN SET

At various stages of my stay these upholstered boards displayed, starting from the far end of the room, portfolio drawings taken by Mies to an interview for a professorship; drawings for the façade of the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano by Luigi Vanvitelli; three sheets of model dwellings in Bruton with a particularly clear depiction of their sanitary provisions; a small and precise ground plan by Otto Wagner, on a square of paper, possibly for publication; a frontispiece from an early edition of the ‘quattro libri’, engraved by a Dutchman; a perspective of an unknown subject, by an unknown draftsman, for a project in Paris. – M. J. Wells

Anthony Salvin

Anthony Salvin, Spire of St Mary Magdalene, Torquay c. 1854, DM 2728 IN SET

Before the original went off to Torquay from Salvin’s Office at 20 Argyll Street, the assistant placed a piece of paper over the contract drawing and traced this copy. He was clearly bored by having to make the same drawing again: the handwritten annotation is quick and impatient; there is evidence of a straightedge, but much of the detail has been made with indolent linework that refuses to connect smartly at the intersections between lines. Despite this casualness the drawing exhibits signs of conversations in the office. In the upper-right corner one of the pinnacles has been drawn in soft pencil in an examination of its formal presence at the perimeter of the tower, whilst in the complete section pencil again has been overlaid to test a different configuration for the large windows at the second level of the tower. In these moments the sheet becomes something more than a facsimile of instruction: all quickness and lucidity, the act of drawing stands out as a form of thinking about buildings. – M. J. Wells

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