In the 20th century and throughout the history of the discipline, drawing has been the
dominant means of architectural communication and is considered to be the “language”
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of architecture. Through drawings, an architect can record new ideas, concepts, and even
visionary projects in addition to projects intended for construction. To facilitate this
communication, a number of drawing conventions have evolved.
Orthographic Projections
The most commonly used projective drawing in 20th-century architectural practice is the
orthographic projection. The primary orthographic projections are plan, section, and
elevation views in which the observer’s line of sight is perpendicular to both the drawing
plane and the surfaces of the building viewed and in which the drawing surface is parallel
to the principal surfaces of the building. The floor plan and building section are both
sections, or cuts. The floor plan, a sectional view looking down after a horizontal plane,
cut through the building with the top section removed, typically shows the location of
major vertical elements and all door and window openings. Building sections are
transverse or cross sections or longitudinal. A transverse section is created by cutting at
right angles to the long axis, and conversely, a longitudinal section is an orthographic
projection made by cutting at right angles to the shorter axis. Elevations are drawings of
the exterior of a building and are labeled north, south, east, or west for the direction from
which you see it (which is also the direction it faces). As no single orthographic
projection can communicate all aspects of a threedimensional object, the drawings must
be considered as a series of related views. The advantage of an orthographic projection is
that the faces of an object parallel to the drawing surface are represented without
distortion or foreshortening, retaining their true size to scale, their shape, and their
Pictorial Projections
This type of drawing shows the three dimensions of a building simultaneously. They are
generally divided into parallel and perspective drawings. The most common parallel
drawings are oblique and isometric. Oblique projections can be further subdivided into
plan and elevation oblique projections. The plan oblique, or axonometric, is the most
popular of the parallel (or paraline) drawings. A scale drawing of the plan is tilted at
either a 45-degree angle giving equal views of two perpendicular planes or a 30/60-
degree angle giving emphasis to one plane over the other. All lines parallel to the three
main axes are drawn to scale.
Perspective drawings employ various techniques for representing three-dimensional
objects on a two-dimensional surface in a more realistic manner than paraline drawings.
All points of the object are projected to a picture plane by straight lines converging at an
arbitrary fixed point. In a one-point perspective, a principal face of the object is parallel
to the picture plane. Vertical lines remain vertical, horizontal lines remain horizontal, and
lines perpendicular to the picture plane converge on a vanishing point. In two-point
perspective, vertical lines remain vertical and both sets of horizontal lines converge on
their own vanishing points.
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 104
At different points in the 20th century, preferences for various drawing types and
rendering techniques have been inextricably linked with artistic movements. The birth of
the Modern Movement early in the century and the influence of Cubism resulted in the
rejection of architectural perspective drawing in favor of the more analytical and
objective axonometric plan projections, which were considered more appropriate for an
architecture cubic in nature and devoid of ornamentation. In fact, several movements in
the first half of the century were known primarily through the production and circulation
of architectural drawings and not as a result of built works. The break with tradition that
characterized Modernism was also evident in the graphic representation of the movement.
One of the early 20th-century movements that was expressed primarily through
drawings was Futurism. The theoretical focus of Futurism, the Italian architectural
movement founded in 1909 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944), was made
manifest through graphic representations of industrial buildings, skyscrapers, and
Utopian visions of the city of the future. These images glorified technology, machines,
speed, dynamism, and movement. The fact that drawings of futuristic cities by architects
such as Antonio Sant’Elia (1888–1916) do not include plans underscores the notion that
they were never intended for construction.
Architects of the De Stijl movement (1917–28) relied heavily on the use of
axonometric projections to illustrate the development of spaces. The antihistorical
movement advocated a clarity of expression through the use of straight lines,
decomposed cubes, pure planes, right angles, and primary colors. These qualities were
effectively represented in the orthographic projections, which were repeatedly published
and exhibited.
Similarly, Russian avant-garde architecture of the revolutionary era (1917–34) is
known principally through drawings of work that, in many cases, was neither structurally
viable nor ever intended for construction. The new relationship between architecture and
the plastic arts that was central to De Stijl was also prevalent in the Russian architectural
drawings. The formal language of the architecture followed explorations in the fine arts.
Visionary drawings by Iakov Chernikov (1889–1951) celebrated technology and
demonstrated the possibilities of constructivist design to contemporary and subsequent
generations of architects.
The Expressionist movement, affected by unstable conditions in Germany after the
First World War, is characterized by drawings that emphasize force and massiveness.
Buildings were conceived in terms of volume, and drawings by Erich Mendelsohn
(1887–1953) and others were devoid of the detail found in earlier architectural
In 1975 an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York of drawings from
the archives of the École des BeauxArts exposed a new generation of architects and
designers to the meticulous watercolor renderings that had been supplanted earlier in the
century by axonometric projections. The contemporary Postmodern once again used
historical forms as a source of design inspiration and the movement was characterized by
a resurgence in the Beaux- Arts style of rendering and the architectural drawing, as objet d’a rt,
became important in its own right removed from the context of built work.
With the advent of Deconstruction late in the 20th century, the language of technology
was concerned with breaking, splintering, diagonal overlapping, and superimposition of
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elements, and again, as in previous periods, these formal aspects of the architecture were
reflected in the drawings of architects such as Bernard Tschumi (1944-).
Undoubtedly, the method of graphic representation that will have the greatest
influence on the future generation of architects is that involving the use of the computer.
Computer-aided design, three-dimensional modeling, and programs allowing a client to
“walk through” a space that does not yet exist in reality are revolutionizing the way in
which architects conceive of and represent space. Computers have transformed the design
process into one of continuous and nearly limitless experimentation.

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