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And yet it moves: ethics, power and politics in the stories of collecting, archiving and displaying of drawings and models

Special issue guest edited by Federica Goffi (Carleton University, Canada) 

Architectural drawings and models are instruments of imagination, communication, and historical continuity. The role of drawings and models, their ownership, placement, and authorship in an age of incessant digital reproduction deserve careful consideration. Despite them being the first handiwork of the architect, not enough attention is given to discussions about the sites of drawing activity, or to the matter of housing them after construction, which is essential to the active relations between drawing and buildings, building and drawings in the edifying process that takes place after the buildings are built.1

Robin Evans outlined the translational gap between drawings and buildings.2 Yet, translation does not end when buildings are built, and drawings and models are transferred to the places where their afterlives unfold. Importantly, what then emerges is that the epistemic relations that take place in the thereafter of construction are context dependent. This call asks to reflect on the role, practices, power relations, political negotiations and agency of archival locations as sites of knowledge construction and cultural production questioning the lives of drawings and models after construction. Considering that the Latin word translationem indicated a physical transporting, this call questions the relevance of ‘translations from place to place’ —when mobile architecture media move between offices, buildings, archives, websites and exhibition spaces finding renewed significance;3 these planned acts result from decisions leading to changes in meaning.

The relevance of the presence and location of drawings and models within the buildings that they represent, their transporting from one place to another, from the places where they have been made to where they are kept during construction, or to designated archival locations and possible web- dissemination in the thereafter of fabrication processes deserves scholarly critical analysis.4

Where architecture media dwell in relation to buildings, impacts their seminality and potential future translations, from drawing to building, building to drawing. In this process of multi-directional and multi-temporal constructions, who has ownership of the drawings and models, and where do they belong? Siting architecture media is an act of designation with cultural, political, geographic, and economic implications defining unique ethical conditions of access and power relations.

The digital age is characterized by a ubiquitous site of drawing production and archival. Even though it is now possible to reproduce digital drawings and models in multiple originals, facilitating the construction of a twinned theory and pondering its significance, digital drawings and models might not remain fully accessible long into the future due to the rapid obsolescence implied by software development. Nowadays, archives are hybrid digital/physical constructs faced with the challenge of what and how much to preserve and how to regulate privilege and access.

These questions have become urgent considering that the age of digital production and reproduction is reconceiving Western media and the modes of archival access on a global scale. The new ubiquitous digital media is entangled with software, which makes it de facto inseparable from it, and possibly configures the software as ‘site of archival,’ implying that future accessibility may be affected by software obsolescence.

The significance of the history of continuity and contiguity of drawings, models, and buildings establishing meaningful on-site relations, versus off-site archival, has yet to be acknowledged. Architects, scholars, design practitioners, archivists, curators, museologists, cultural critics, archivists, etc. are invited to consider questions informing the future planning of archival sites in becoming — pondering how past and future are to engage in meaningful, inclusive and multicultural relations. A new criticality in the digital age requires moving beyond the either/or option of the office, the laboratory, the factory, the on-site and off-site storing of media as separate fabrication and archival sites. The contemporary architect moves between them looking for a critical presence before, during, and after construction.

Contributions should address one or more of the following themes:


The Drawing, The Office, The Construction Site, the Laboratory as in-situ Archives

When kept in-situ after construction ended, the continuity and contiguity of drawings, models, and building may define an extended site of knowledge construction with a dual nature of cultural recollection and fostering of future imaginings. The storytelling of architecture media kept in-situ extends in meaningful ways beyond the end-of-construction, which is deceptively perceived as the end-to-translational relations. Even though architectural drawings sustained higher status and availability than engineering drawings, surveying drawings, or other drawn visualisations, today the attention to maintaining drawings in buildings shifted to working drawings kept in mechanical rooms on-site. The contemporary conditions of co-production and multi-disciplinary authorship defining the ‘sites’ of architecture production and communication raise questions of what autonomy/differentiation does ‘architectural media’ have from other media and disciplines?


Archiving, Collecting, Display and Exhibiting off-site

Nowadays, architectural drawings often reside in private,5 or public archives, at times linked with academic institutions with an educational mandate,6 and in museum collections housing the body of work of individual architects.7 This is the case with many collections, including the works of the Modernist masters of architecture.8 Archives are progressively making their physical collections digitally accessible online facilitating research and potentially having a tangible impact on the future teaching of architecture.9 The politics, power and culture of architecture media raise questions of research and wider cultural value/agency in a digital, transnational condition. How are the techniques and the cultures of archival technologies affecting/affected by changing modes of architectural production and media?


Authorship, Ownership, Copyrights and Rights to Copy

The siting of representation media (whether ubiquitous or not) has an impact on the construing of culture. What are the curatorial choices of inclusion/exclusion, omission/promotion, or the lost and found materials in archival collections? Knowledge construction is context dependent, and thus archival locations, ownership and accessibility, copyrights and rights to copy impact the relevance, the readings and the uses of media and what they yield in terms of cultural imagination, collective value, and differentials. What are the ethical responsibilities in finding the proper placement of drawings and models, and how does accessibility, reproducibility and access impact the economic, cultural and political role of architecture media?

Submission guidelines

Deadline for submissions: 30th June 2020

Expected publication: Volume 9, Issue 3, July 2021.

For author instructions for how to format and submit your paper, please go to Instructions for Authors.

Upload submissions via the journals Online Submission System,

If you have any queries, please contact the Guest Editors:

Federica Goffi: [email protected]

Submit a manuscript

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