Conceptual expression and depictive opacity: Changing attitudes towards architectural drawings between 1960 and 1990

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Kim, Hoyoung
Bafna, Sonit
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This dissertation is a study of a remarkable change that came about in the kind of drawings that architects used to present their work between the decades of 1960 and 1990. Drawings in this period, visually rich and compositionally complex, seemed to mark an entirely new sensibility towards their function; their goal seemed to be not so much to clearly depict the forms of a proposed building, but to instead focus on its conceptual aspects. In fact, in several cases, drawings seemed to be treated as graphic projects in their own right, over and above the work they presented. This trend was accompanied by two other developments. Around the same time, there was a sudden increase in theoretical interest in drawings within the architectural community leading to a flurry of published articles, essays and books on the topic. And all this happened to coincide with the time that the Postmodern movement came to dominate architecture. The study aims to understand the relationship between these trends, and to develop a better understanding of the reasons for these changes to have occurred. It does so by, first, developing a theoretical framework to help understand the nature and impact of the changes in drawings. Next, it presents a detailed historical account of these changes. This is followed by an in-depth study of a single architect, James Stirling, to show how the new types of drawings were not simply a means to present ideas, but played a formative role in design as well. Apart from developing a contextualized historical account of an important development in contemporary architectural history, the study also finds that the change in the drawing practice and the theoretical interests were not simply an outcome of Postmodern cultural theory of the period, but were instigated by concerns that arose from within architecture itself. It thus offers a useful case-study on how changes in disciplinary practice are brought about.
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