Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Arnold Pacey, in his book Medieval Architectural Drawing, (Tempus Publishing, Gloscestershire, 2007), identifies the scale drawing as being the ‘break with the past’ that allowed buildings to be designed on paper, leading to a ‘separation between those who did the drawing and those who did the building,’ allowing ‘architecture to become a gentlemanly profession.’

p. 225-226
To sum up, although the practice of making full-size drawings persisted long after the Middle Ages, with some of the drawing instruments that had been employed by medieval craftsmen still being used, the advent of new attitudes to measurement, and of scale drawing, marked a major break with the past. One of its effects was to make it possible for a design to be completely worked out on paper, away from the site, leading to a greater separation between those who did the drawing and those who did the building. That, in turn, allowed architecture to become a gentlemanly profession separate from the work of craftsmen. However, there was not a sharp transition in which everybody changed their ways at once. Except for a minority of high-status buildings, craftsmen continued to play the major part in building design using a mixture of traditional and modern methods. Timber-framed buildings continued to be built by carpenters with hardly any use of the new drawing methods nor any involvement of architects. John Abel in Herefordshire and the younger Dale in Cheshire were carpenters who may have begun to function rather like architects but, in general, medieval methods, including setting-out techniques, persisted among carpenters until after 1700.

Arnold Pacey. Medieval Architectural Drawing. Tempus Publishing. Gloscestershire, 2007

It is an interesting observation that Pacey bases on the medieval craftsman’s use of full-size drawings. In his book he identifies various techniques including the plaster tracing floor, (in Wells and York cathedrals), where full-size details were set out for pattern making. Drawings of windows and arches are seen as scratch marks, albeit in a rather piecemeal shambles of lines that he has interpreted. The argument does beg the question: while it seems clear that some details might have been drawn for either clarification or construction - both? - just how was the building itself conceived? The complexity of a cathedral seems just too complicated and coherent for it to be worked out as it is constructed. Some communication to establish the intent and its organization must have been required prior to starting work on site.

Pacey glosses over the larger scale of things, mentioning merely the ad quadratum and ad triangulum techniques of proportion, but these are very schematic in the order of things that can be involved in establishing exactly what has to happen in a proposal, and being able to communicate this, first to the client and then to the workmen so that what is being anticipated actually comes into being. Surely it was not all one big surprise? The concept was planned; it involved precise prior thinking. We know that those who were illiterate had better memories than ours and related to the world differently, but still envisaging a complete cathedral seems to be a ‘big ask.’ What really went on?

Using the idea that things could not be too different to how we might manage matters today given the same situation, we should be able to gauge a strategy for our review. This will have to be explored later in another piece. Today we still see contractors setting out awkward parts on site to full size, on both floors and walls; and, of course, building anything is a ‘full-size’ enterprise. While paper or parchment might have been rare in medieval times, chalk and charcoal must have been common; even ink was known. Scratching in the dust seems to be just too romantic and imprecise an idea. Something must have begun the process - an outline; a model; a variation to a prototype? If drawing was so unusual, was there a copybook from which variations were made? There is the statement that Rheims cathedral became the model for cathedrals in that region of France, and even in nearby Germany; but where did Rheims cathedral come from? It is almost a chicken-egg situation.

Consider men sitting around a table organizing things; consider the ordering of materials; the management of men; the construction management; consider the first setout on site - see  There must have been more than ambitions, thoughts and words coagulating in some sharing of mind. Were precise dimensions and levels established ad hoc on site? Was it all trial and error, a starting and discovering enterprise? It is interesting to observe that the tracing floors are in an upper part of the cathedrals that had already been constructed. It seem sensible that options for a complex window might have been explored and detailed prior to its making, but this occurred in a building that was well under construction. The full-sized drawing is probably still the best way to get such a thing made today. Patterns are needed for the parts. The idea is not that surprising. It is the fragmentation of the whole that Pacey never mentions, the delineation of the divisions that define each part. Broad setouts and profiles are essential, but who decides on the joints and their locations in an arch once the arcs, profiles and decorations have been finalized?: see  The whole remains a puzzle that suggests there was much more going on; that the scale drawing may not be as critical and crucial as Pacey might choose to believe.

How did the Egyptians build? The Aztecs? The work of the craftsman is traditionally described as ‘having concentrated, he set to work,’ in the context that the work was envisaged as a whole, complete and final, prior to the commencement of the making; that the fabrication involved merely a reproduction of the concept that had been visualized. It is the identification of, the development of, and recording of this concept beyond this visualization that needs to be considered. Surely the process was not very different to the method that we might choose today, even with computers. In one way we draw everything full-size on computers; but, in spite of this, the outcomes are certainly much more prosaic and mundane than buildings of the past. The Egyptian artist is known to have worked with precise grids and proportions. Why might an architect - or whatever one might wish to call this person - not have done likewise in medieval times?

Is the Pacey version of history only for the evolution a ‘gentleman’ architect - a dilettante - who became remote from the reality of the site: the precursor of today’s ‘architect’? Is this our heritage that seeks to be so special and unique; an exclusive class controlled by registration boards? Maybe we need to get back to our true roots and become involved in the site, its processes; the materials and their properties; the making of things, so that architecture can get back onto its feet and be a profession of substance rather than one for genteel aesthetes? We could even try some full-size drawings on site too. The profession might gain more respect that it is given today: ‘gentlemen’ or not. If we can believe the craftsmen of old, then the work was envisaged as a whole: it was known in detail prior to any action. That this might not be so today is our problem; that Pacey has identified buildings constructed without an architect - a carpenter only - is no different to today where most suburban homes are still the work of builders and builder designers.

A lack of evidence does not alter experience, even if the folk of old were able to manipulate memory more powerfully than us, and identify with the world more symbolically. We should not dismiss their strategies as historical anomalies, as these skills might re-enchant the world for us too, such, as Ananda Coomarswamy noted, is the bugbear of literacy: also see David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, Vintage, 1997. Who knows what buildings we might come to design - scale or no scale; even full-size!

We have allowed that in industrial societies, where it is assumed that man is made for commerce and where men are cultured, if at all, in spite of rather than because of their environment, literacy is a necessary skill.

But however we may be whistling in the dark when we pride ourselves upon “the collective wisdom of a literate people,” regardless of what is read by the “literates,” the primary concern of the present essay is not with the limitations and defects of modern Western education in situ, but with the spread of an education of this type elsewhere. Our real concern is with the fallacy involved in the attachment of an absolute value to literacy, and the very dangerous consequences that are involved in the setting up of “literacy” as a standard by which to measure the cultures of unlettered peoples. Our blind faith in literacy not only obscures for us the significance of other skills, so that we care not under what subhuman conditions a man may have to learn his living, if only he can read, no matter what, in his hours of leisure; it is also one of the fundamental grounds of inter-racial prejudice and becomes a prime factor in the spiritual impoverishment of all the “backward” people whom we propose to “civilize.”

Ananda Coomaraswamy The Bugbear of Literacy
from the World Wisdom online library:


Tuesday, June 4, 2013


It is a simple as this: the true souvenir has become a thing of the past, well, at least the equivalent of a very rare and endangered species: see and  One used to visit places so unique and special - or is this the visitor’s experience of place?: perhaps, hopefully both - that specific mementoes from the area were purchased as talismans that might extend the perceptions into different futures: the souvenirs. In dissimilar, possibly more familiar and casually perceived places, these token keepsakes provoke and prolong memory: their identity becomes the prompt. Remembrance is the essence of the keepsake, reminding - being put into mind again. The question is: does the individuality of the souvenir, its provenance, modify understandings?

The problem today is globalization. Everywhere is not only becoming the same, but one uses the same machines to get there and to get around when there; one stays at the same hotels, in the same rooms, all filled with the same furniture, using the same equipment, while eating the same breakfast, using the same implements, even when in the most isolated B&Bs. Sameness is pervasive. Ruskin writes of his family’s annual trip to the continent, noting that it was always the same - the same carriage, the same hotels, the same hotel rooms, the same views, etc. - adding that it was ‘all the more beautiful for being familiar’: (see Brantwood). If one had a choice, the repetition might be as enjoyable as seeing the face of an old friend, but matters are unfortunately different when an awkward intimacy is enforced as a necessity, the norm, irrespective of place and person, with no alternative and no variety on offer, or any preferences acknowledged or catered for. All differences are smudged with a corporate anonymity that displays a universal, international craft. Here experience becomes an imposition to endure rather than a revelation to discover: take it or leave it. Place is given all the character and flimsiness of a film set and comes to be seen as such. Tourism is very much like entertainment.

The brand IKEA sets the example for this knowing encounter. It is likely to appear anywhere, even in the remotest parts of this world. A tiny refurbished traditional cottage in the Out Skerries of the Shetland Islands, an hour’s ferry trip east from Mainland, was found to be completely fitted out with items from this Norwegian company: from furniture and lighting, to kitchen, cutlery, cookware, gadgets, pillows and bed covers. Everything was recognizable as the branded object, available everywhere as DIY flat packs and packages with exotic names. Even places that are uniquely special are dragged into the same singular vision, the identical perception, where not only are the fixtures and fittings familiar, but also the hordes of tourists, different people speaking different languages all doing the same thing: wearing the same clothes, using the same equipment - cameras, videos, mobile phones, walking sticks - reading the same guide, seeking the same experience -‘as seen on TV’ - while listening to the same stories on the same audio equipment. One realizes how dominant technology is when it is able to diminish language and cultural differences with an easy accommodation of every variation. It is a sad state of affairs that makes a mockery of humanity with its claims on individual sensitivity, meaning and expression, and its ambitions for diversity. The concepts become mere spin that derides all expectations of a new and different experience when the SONY, for example, is put into every hand for understanding, exploration or communication.

Even the little quirky gifts that one used to be able to bring back for friends and family: siblings, parents, children, grandchildren, colleagues, and the like, (they all expect a little ‘something’ from beyond), turn out to be available at home, cheaper. On the remote island of Unst, that promotes itself with the classic cliché of being the most northerly of everything in Britain, which it is, there was an intriguing bouncing egg in one island store. It looked great fun, a real surprise. We had never seen one previously. So it was purchased, only to find out when home in Australia that it was available in the nearby shopping centre, on sale! In France, Brittany, it was exciting to discover boules for children, a set of six small but weighty colourful plastic spheres filled with water. Wow! What a gift for the young ones! Unique! French! The irrational enthusiasm of the tourist takes over as one cannot resist the purchase: see -  And yes, the local ‘cheap as chips’ shop had these sets at home, a discovery made only after lugging about two kilos across the skies of the world! Even a quirkily silly edible Christmas decoration seen in the Unst shop was discovered on the reject shelf at the local shopping centre. Thankfully it had been assessed as being too fragile to carry home. It seems that everything great and small, serious and silly has spread across our flattened world, the global village that Marshall McLuhan once spoke of with a great contagious enthusiasm. One wonders what he might think of this development. Did he envisage a place so lacking in texture and variation?

In Iceland, Seydisfjordur, see: , a small village at the end of a deep fiord on the east coast of the island, a region so remote that it is described in The Lonely Planet as ‘The Empty East,’ had shops full of everything Chinese and Indian that could be purchased elsewhere else. The only non-Chinese/Indian souvenirs available that one could be sure would never turn up at home, Australia, were some unusual small turned brass pieces that were shaped as goblets, looking a little like the iconic championship cups on the shelf without the bands of ribbons and the florid declaration of the engraving. The goblets were hardly usable. They were more symbolic pieces of craft that defined a skill or a pastime, but they were 'local'. see. and - well, made, we were told, by an old man, a retired ship’s engineer, who lived in the village. This fact was declared on the underside of the flat, circular base of the goblets in beautifully crude, shaky engraving that spelt out his name and that of the village as a circular graphic. The pieces held a unique, almost antique, quality in their naivety. They were true excrescences of place, even if imperfect. Computers change our expectations by demanding exactness, every time, as they demean the admiration of anything hand made by seeing it as messy and inept, naïve and incompetent - in the same way that handwriting has become unacceptable, not convincing or credible. Just as the objects on sale everywhere are the same, computers make everything appear identical, identically perfect - of the one expression and concept: singular, one-dimensional. They mock diversity and difference with their cold precision.

On these goblets, spelled out gorgeously, in a roughly circular array was the personal representation of identity, of the goblet’s provenance, concealed but strikingly memorable when discovered hacked in with its uniquely trembling, unpretentious characters spelling out ‘Seydisfjordur’ and the craftsman’s name. The first glimpse suggested that these rude, skewed block letters had defaced the piece, but the commitment to mark the piece showed that the maker was obviously proud of his work. There was an intimate relationship to both person and body here. One could sense the hands working, the touch. These items were expensive, like everything in Iceland used to be - those were the days! - but they were a real part of the place; they held an intimate charm that was true of the original souvenir: useless but originally, quaintly local with an intimately unique but quirky relationship with a tiny particular part of the world - specific to person and place.

In character, these pieces were similar to the Baltasound souvenirs in the Unst Heritage Museum: see -  These porcelain cups are beautifully marked in fluid script with the genteel ‘A Present from Baltasound,’ an inlet in the centre of the island; and ‘A Present from the Westing,’ a small pebbled beach on the west coast of this tiny piece of rock, 12 miles by 5 miles. The sentiments expressed on the fine china suggested the respectful gesture of obeisance. There was something modest and polite in this fragile delicacy; it was humbling. The cups revealed the refined sentiments of another era that referenced such miniscule areas. The souvenirs were not from ‘Unst’ or from ‘Shetland’, as the Chinese tea towels are today; they were from particular locations on a small part of the island of Unst in Shetland. They were, like the little chalices, true souvenirs. We purchased two brass goblets, pleased that they were not flimsy or breakable. They were the only things taken home from Iceland, well, apart from the raw fish, (eaten on the way before customs took them), and some sundry supplies. Oh, yes, and playing cards with a wonderful array of photos of Iceland. Refreshingly, each card was different. They were attractive; informative too, one of the least likely things to be seen here in Australia, although one could never be sure of this.

The struggle to find the souvenir that will not beat you home, let alone being cheaper there, is becoming harder. Even Australian souvenirs are mostly ‘Made in China.’ One has nothing against China; but as icons of place and experience, the ‘foreign’ memento lacks an integral authenticity, that sense of being rooted in original origins; of having been touched by local people living in the specific place being visited. These origins can truly share and anchor memories in the same identity and substance sensed in experience, rather than bypassing place or detouring through distance and another culture’s interpretation of it, for whatever reason. This convenience has nothing to do with the provenance of any item other than being a replica of some invented relationship that can be sold at a tempting price to maximize profit. It seems that the keepsake only has to look the part to be usefully attractive enough to make a sale. Such phantoms lack coherence and depth; indeed, they mock them.

It is a charade, a fakery that could be stimulated by the lack of craft and the growing number of tourists, but the rigour of place and experience fade into a make-believe ‘cheap as; good enough’ thing that is sold for a fortune disguised in the unfamiliar currency. This is the game where tourists are ‘ripped off’ repeatedly, as their transitory status limits time and choice, and opens up opportunities to be manipulated by ‘cheats’ - see: “ . . . London where cheats live by chance customers.”

Is this amorphous blurring of everything a concern? Is the lack of differentiation deforming visions of place? Is the variety of visions ever encompassed in the same patterns, the same pieces, and the same publications that appear everywhere as mementoes? Are these replicas enough to hold and enhance the unique identities of location and its experience? Does cynicism eventually intervene? These illusions of integrity are all becoming fused into a global experience where the one item, the imported souvenir, is collected by all and sundry everywhere to remind many of a variety of differences from diverse locations. McHulan’s vision held a quaint and attractive sense in the 1970s, but we seem to have developed a global corporate city that is forcing everything into a cohesive unit that is managed by our technology - the Internet - using tablets and mobile phones that have become our filters to our understanding of and perception of wonder. The enchantment of the world is getting ‘flatter’ everyday with its disarming lack of fascination because we have seen it all before.

It is ironic that a culture shaped by the rigours of science and physics - that knows the world is round; that has seen it from space, is creating the universal vision of it in both experience and memory. Does this diminish us? Must we work to recreate our villages, globally but separately - regionally; locally - in that most miniature of interpretations that develops a difference in the other side of the street? – see  Once we are able to be invigorated by crossing the street and noticing the difference, and being excited by this, then we will have a world worth sharing, and a world where souvenirs could be true to their place. These places will have futures both in reality and memory - in being. Place is being destroyed, buried beneath the load of life's boring distractions and frustrations It is after all an ephemeral understanding of space and time as personal experience. Aldo van Eyck, in that forgotten classic Team 10 Primer, called for the modernist’s emphasis on space - promoted in Bruno Zevi’s Architecture as Space - to be transformed into place. ‘Place, not space,’ was able to include personal lives and humanize the cold intellectual rationalism of space. It is interesting to ponder how our era of ‘space exploration’ is remote, global and impersonal.

What does the souvenir from everywhere do to our perception and memory of place? What do we now carry home with us but stories of events, incidents, occurrences, failures, disasters, and sheer joy? It appears that it is no longer place or the experience of place that is the core of memory, rather the experience of the event, of my presence, my part in the story of the visit that gets restated: “Oh, when we were at ….”; and “You should have seen the crowds . . . ” and similar introductions to a narrative. Has it always been so? Have souvenirs become mere prompts for stories about ME rather than items to recall the experience of place? "Look at me in my silly hat!"

Does the global object alter our understanding and appreciation of place in the everyday? Does everything get numbed with similarity, with the suspicion of the ‘pretend’ souvenir used to mark real experience? Is this why stories that exaggerate difference have taken over? Can love communicate via a foreign fake to reproduce feeling for space and place at another time? Is sincerity possible with such games and variations? Does the memory of place get perverted? Does experience get tainted? Do shallow memories change our understandings and perceptions of our being there? What value is there in authenticity? If nothing is authentic, then everything is something else: what is this ‘something else’? Does it matter? Is it some in-between thing that mediates by disguise and pretence to stimulate a phantom of meaning? Authenticity seems to be the core issue. Our world is becoming more and more amorphous, an ill-defined conglomerate seeking meaning without the means to accommodate or express it. Is place becoming the same? Are we losing our feeling for the significance of place? As designers, have we lost an ability to recreate feeling in envisaged place?

It may be so; but memories of place still linger longingly: the Louvre courtyard; the grand Tiananmen Square; little Loches, and more, still have a lingering richness that is in danger of being lost in the world haze. It is a richness rooted in diversity and difference. The things that are remembered are the details and the differences. Theory once argued for regionalism until it became a cliché; but context is the core of authenticity where small is beautiful. Fritz Schumacher wrote a book of this title in 1970s, and it still holds true. The things that really matter are the little things, the miniscule pieces. We become engrossed in ‘moving forward’ as the terrible political slogan declares, and while we forget where we have come from, we seek out leaps and bounds rather than take any time to peruse or consider our separate steps. There is much wisdom in things past that we stride away from, believing that it is all just old ideas. Until we discard this concept of, this ambition for the grand and big new gesture and embrace circumstances intimately and with a caring, open considerate mind, we will be in danger of forgetting the importance of diversity. Things ‘global’ seek out the grand scale; they ‘think big.’

The more our world becomes the same, the more we lose. Our instant global connections might entrance with their social wizardry, amazing us as we get distracted in a sea of the same. Yet, in spite of the concern with sameness, there is one aspect that says that we need to find similarities to co-exist in what is known as ‘peace and harmony.’ This may be true, but until we cherish our differences and tolerate and enjoy these rather than use them to discriminate, we will be in danger of making everything more and more bland. Nature thrives in bio-diversity - the greater, the healthier; and so too do societies and cultures. Place is the capsule, the container of the location, for encounter, for activity, and for identity. It needs to be authentic and remembered as such if we are to be enriched, even with kitsch souvenirs. The essence is integrity and coherence: the subtle intertwining of feeling and expression that has specific roots in place and people that can become the example for more real quality and susbtance everywhere, for tourism only distorts - see:  We must shape our place for ourselves and forget about recreating it for visitors, because we all become visitors at one stage in our lives. What is needed to capture this individual quality is community: place is community, not singular space.

If we are to expect authenticity in our souvenirs, then we must make our own places authentic first. If we seek to recall experience of place with a souvenir, then it too must be authentic. If place has integrity, then souvenirs will have it too, because true authenticity demands its own veracity.


One can ponder processes and methods, and frame theories from research and analysis in order to gain insights into another era, but there is nothing like a review of the day-to-day accounts to get a feeling for how matters were really managed. Financial details always present things with stark, cryptic realism. There is nothing intellectual or academic to complicate things here. There is no flimsy fantasy or aestheticism. We see issues revealed in the simple rawness of the ordinary, bland language of firm and unforgiving fact. How the various parts of a building were perceived and organised is just as interesting as the daily workings of the parish, and the personal and practical relationships between the church and the architect. It is surprising how a few lines in a list can give such a broad picture of other times. The items scheduled present a gritty snapshot that has a quaintly tough certainty about it, presented with a lack of any cute sentimentalism. While the details are all very definitive, the information reads like a firm and final crust that is concealing a complexity of ‘softer’ issues that one would like to know more about. Still, it is all very intriguing.

Gerald Cobb, The Old Churches of London, B.T. Batsford Ltd., Mayfair and Worcestershire, 1942-3 (2nd revised edition).

But these things are a legacy from the time when the Church was the best – almost the only – patron of the arts, and when there were no “Ecclesiastical Furnishers” (!) for ecclesiastical and secular art were one; and this art was practised by none but craftsmen trained in a sound and living tradition. This healthy state of things lasted until near the end of the 18th century, and was not finally destroyed till the Gothic revival became vitiated by the lack of taste that overcame architecture and the lesser arts in the middle of last century, and of which the productions shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 were typical.

THE CHURCH. – The Entries for building the Church are not so interesting, but include the following:
“To Thomas Cartwright, Mason
            ffor carving 10 Corinthian Capitals ¾ round
at viii £ each                                                                                         £80.0.0
ffor carving 7 Cherubins heads (keystone arches?)
at xv s each                                                                                          £5.5.0
“To John Grove, Plaisterer
            ffor ye 2 wreathes about 2 round windows 31 f long with the
festoones and knots and compartments                                                £ 4.10.0
            ffor ye Great modillion Cornice, 191f long                                           £52.10.6
            ffor 2 Vrnes each 3 f 6 in high at                                                            £5.0.0
            ffor 1500 yards of whiting at ij d                                                         £12.10.0
            Allowed for the high scaffolding at                                                       £10.0.0
“To William Cleere, Joiner, for 2 paire of large outside dores with
Compass heads 2 in ½ thick mitered at per paire x £                             £20.0.0
ffor 4 Urnes, 3 ft high 2 f wide at                                                                       £1.0.0


            St. Swithun:
            1661            For getting several people out of the Parish                                   8
1679            Pd. For clearing the P’sh of a woman bigg with childe               1.0
1702            To coach hire to carry a poor woman to prevent her
dying in ye parish                                                                              2.0

in St. Mary Woolchurch accounts:
            1601            Paid to Andrews for whipping the vagrants for
one whole yeare                                                                            5.4
1611        Paid to Robert Andrews for yiorne worke for the
whipping poste                                                                              2.8

From the GENERAL ACCOUNTS (in the same volume) many interesting facts emerge:
            Aug. 31, 1671: “To Christopher Wren, his disbursements to Samuel Wells for drawing paper, paper bookes, pencils, parchment, etc., as appears by bill from June 1670 – May 1671, the summe of                                                                                                                   

DINNER TO WREN AND HIS LADY. –In the Churchwardens’ Accounts is the following:
7 March, 1673  Paid for a dinner at the Swan in Old Fish Street to
entertain Dr. Wren . . . with the vestry and others                                £9.9.0
EFFORTS TO HASTEN REBUILDING. – “Paid to ye Survaer Gennarall by order of vestry for a gratuity to his Lady to incuridg and hast in ye rebuilding ye church twenty ginnes” in a sik purse. (The gift to Lady Wren is a subtle touch!)
6 May, 1673  Spent at several vestries and other occasions in prompting the rebuilding
the church this year                                                                             £8.3.0


In the Accts., 1680-1 is this item:
Paid for a hogshead of Claret presented to Sir Chr. Wren                                £9.10.0
It is good to know that the vestry made gifts out of gratitude as well as by way of bribe!