Bois/Banham mashup on drawing

“A great modern attainment is to have found the secret of expression by colour, to which has been added, with what is called fauvism and the movements which have followed it, expression by design; contour, lines and their direction.” The problem lies in the phrase ‘expression by design’: not only is there no word in French corresponding to the concept of ‘design,’ but more importantly (since the term could have been used to translate a periphrasis), nothing could more alien to Matisse’s thought. Indeed, the concept of designing presupposes a kind of plastic grammar transcending all genres, all media, a kind of Esperanto allowing for a flatting out of all differences, and an escape from the dictates of materiality: for a ‘designer,’ scale does not count; he sketches a cigarette lighter as if her were dealing with a scale model of a skyscraper, or plans a skyscraper on the basis of a mock-up the size of a lighter. Design is an entirely projective practice (the designer, imitated all too frequently by architects, projects on paper in a priori fashion what others will go on to realise); for the designer, the formal idea is prior to the actual substance: all of Matisse’s art is violently opposed to such tawdry Aristotelianism. ‘Expression by design’ is impossible, a judgement confirmed at the end of the same sentence, where Matisse speaks of ‘contours, lines and their directions,’ in other words, drawing (dessin).”

 Yve-Alain Bois, ‘Matisse and ‘Arche-drawing’’ in Painting as Model


“While we await their eventual revelation, what are we to make of architecture? No longer seen as the mother of the arts, or the dominant mode of rational design, it appears as the exercise of an arcane and privileged aesthetic code. We could, perhaps, treat it as one of the humanities, trivial or quadrivial, since its traditions are of the same antiquity and classicist derivation as the others. We could stop pretending that it is ‘a blend of art and science’, but is a discipline in its own right that happens to overlap some of the territory of painting, sculpture, statics, acoustics and so on. And we could halt the vulgar cultural imperialism that leads the writers of general histories of architecture to co-opt absolutely everything built upon the earth’s crust into their subject matter.

To do so is to try to cram the world’s wonderful variety of building arts into the procrustean mould of a set of rules of thumb derived from, and entirely proper to, the building arts of the Mediterranean basin alone, and whose master-discipline, design, is simply disegno, a style of draughtsmanship once practised only in central Italy. I am increasingly doubtful that the timber buildings of northern Europe, for instance, or the triumphs of Gothic construction, really belong under the rubric of architecture at all. […]

Recognising the very straitened boundaries of architecture as an academically teachable subject, we might deceive and confuse ourselves less if we stopped trying to cram the whole globe into its intellectual portfolio. We could recognise that the history of architecture is no more, but emphatically no less, than what we used to believe it was: the progression of those styles and monuments of the European mainstream, from Stonehenge to the Staatsgalerie, that define the modest building art that is ours alone. […]

We might also be more securely placed to study the mysteries of our own building art, beginning with the persistence of drawing – disegno – as a kind of meta-pattern that subsumes all other patterns and shelters them from rational scrutiny. Even before architectural drawings achieved the kind of commercial value they can claim nowadays, they had such crucial value for architects that being unable to think without drawing became the true mark of one fully socialised into the profession of architecture.”

Reyner Banham, ‘A Black Box: The secret profession of architecture’ in A Critic Writes


I have nothing to add to this. Just think about it. There’s some seriously contentious shit here. Not so much to me, but to most of the profession (practicing and academic) out there.


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