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building exhibitions

December 3, 2013

pitzanger vestibuleThis week I am installing the SVA Interior Design Student show. This year we hoped to illustrate how the program is poised in the overall design debate of is the floor plan useful? Are three dimensional renderings all we need? To answer these questions I looked closely at the writings of one of my teachers at Bennington, Robin Evans, a brillant historian and giving educator; he really has defined what a drawing means in the built enviroment. To follow is my exhibition essay. Let me know what you think. Annie

Architectural historian Robin Evans first contention in his ground breaking essay Figures, Doors and Passages, was that the floor plan was a narrative devise. Marching the reader through a building designed by Raphael and discussing his paintings side by side with the spatial ideas, Evans orchestrates an argument that the floor plan should be read as a form of social mapping; privacy, etiquette and intrigue can be read in the plan. The placement of the doors in particular is a tool for examining social constructs. This essay is true to Evans’ training as an architect, proclaiming that the deep renaissance poché is where the meaning of the space occurs. It’s not until his essay The Developed Surface that he betrays the dogma of architectural theory and speaks about the furniture in the room. Evans charts the movement from the furniture being drawn as a wall construct, a developed surface that is part of the singular wall composition. He says that by the 1820’s the furniture had floated into the room and was beginning to be described as a consequence of the floor rather than the wall.  In Evans’ essay The Developed Surface: An Enquiry into the Brief Life of a Eighteenth-Century Drawing Technique, he points to Sir John Soane’s Pitzhanger Hall and announces what will be the 20th century’s great spatial struggle.  The drawing has the mannered plan at the center, elegant elevations with deep shadows rendered for spatial articulation surrounding the plan, and at the top a perspective rendering that Evans proclaims: “The pressure to gain full-bodied three dimensionality is so strong that the section on the fourth side thrusts back into perspective.”

Evans activity as a historian in these two essays ushers in the next 20 years of design debate. If this need to draw inside the space like a computer rendering is so primal, so evident as early as the renaissance, AKA the invention of perspective, why did modernism kidnap us into the room of abstraction?  What Evans illustrates is that this new mode of drawing – the hyper rendered perspective – is actually centuries old.  Sir John Soane wanted to render the exact built environment as much as avant garde architect Neil Denari (who tried to draw with the precision of a computer, computer well before the computer was thus capable).

Interior design is the discipline most primed for Evans’ posture. Illuminating Evan’s argument is an attempt at assessing the work at SVAID and illustrating how the pedagogy is precisely current as well as deeply rooted in tradition. By distilling the students work down to two elements in this exhibition, the plan and one rendering, I have revealed the plan to be of Evans social mapping and the rendering to illustrate the aspiration of the space. This pairing of drawings (as with Sloan’s composite drawing) also maintains that the two are to be read together as a conversation. Without one there is a danger that only the image or surface of the space will be built and as Evans contends, drawings requires some  “extra ingredient of utility or function.” The students work shows the deep commitment of the plan as the social map or as Corbusier opaquely contends, “The generator”, and therefore it’s these future interior designers who can aptly orchestrate the “full bodied three dimensionality” that is illustrated in  Evans’ historical arguments.



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