Drawings are an indispensable tool in designing buildings. For historians or for anyone interested in architecture, architects’ drawings offer insights into the design process and into the evolution of architectural thought, as well as providing records of buildings that may no longer exist. The archives of Historic New England contain a treasure-trove of drawings of New England buildings and collections of drawings by New England architects, from the 18th century to the present.
We were thrilled when Historic New England accepted our offer of the archives of our firm Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects. Included are thousands of drawings, along with other documents. We have so far given documents for 180 projects, both built and unbuilt, covering the period from 1969, when the firm began in New Haven, Connecticut as James Volney Righter Architects, through and slightly beyond 1980, when the office moved to Boston. Another group of projects from the 1980’s is soon to follow, and we plan to continue transferring materials from the 1990’s, when we assumed our current partnership Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects, and onward. The bulk of our work has ranged across the New England states and adjacent New York, and has drawn inspiration from the rich and varied traditions of New England architecture.
Architectural drawings fall into several categories and serve different purposes. The earliest drawings in a project are rough diagrams with which we try out relationships of rooms to each other and to the site. Next, still in rough sketch form, the diagram takes shape as a building, in three dimensions. At this stage many aspects of the design--the experience of arriving at and moving through the building; how daylight is admitted; and what the flavor and materials of the building may be--are in our heads but not necessarily intelligible to others. Drawings that follow allow us to get these ideas down on paper and show our clients. We later move from sketch form to drafted drawings, showing at each step more detail, for presentation to regulatory bodies, for pricing by contractors, and finally for construction. We often revert to freehand sketches, even during the construction process, to work out details that need further consideration.
Each type of drawing has its own interest. But as we look back over drawings we’ve done we’re most strongly attracted to the early sketches, which reveal the germ of an idea. Even in our more developed presentation drawings, such as John Tittmann’s watercolor interior perspective, we try to capture the spontaneity and unselfconsciousness of the early sketches to convey the mood of the building.
Our archives, beginning with work from the mid-1990’s, also contain untold megabytes of computer drawings, and they are what we spend by far the most time on today. But we still start designing every project by hand. As partner JB Clancy says, the hand is an extension of the brain. The computer seems to put the drawing at a farther remove from the brain. Those of us schooled in hand drawing feel that this is a loss, though a younger generation may find new opportunities in computers.
The first soft-pencil doodle for a new house starts in plan as a bubble diagram and begins to take shape as a building. Basic relationships of rooms are established, with thought to the way you move through the site, from cars at the road, through a gateway, into a garden, and through the house toward the water.
A floor plan, roof plan, and thumbnail bird’s-eye perspective on one page describe an early scheme for a house that pinwheels around an octagonal tower. The barn-like vernacular of the design incorporates a reference to the turrets of our client’s grandparents’ Victorian seaside house that had been lost to fire. As with most of our work, the roof plan is a key to figuring out how the design works in three dimensions.
In the late 1970s we, along with others, were excited to discover the Classical tradition, which had been suppressed in architectural education in the post-World War II period. We set out to educate
ourselves by studying and drawing the Classical Orders and putting names to all the parts and pieces.
An interior elevation helps us figure out how to make a coherent composition of the various elements—doors, windows, or stairs—on each wall. For this renovation of an apartment with a high living room we introduced a grid in which some of the sections are solid wall panels, some are cabinets or bookshelves, and some are open to a partially concealed stairway.
The road-facing elevation sketch shows the idea of the “gate lodge,” which centers an otherwise asymmetrical composition, gives more presence to a small house, and enhances the experience of moving from public toward private spaces. References to the American Shingle Style blend with nods to Edwin Lutyens, whose work was receiving renewed attention with an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London at the time of this design (1981).