I recall when I was growing up I loved the perception of the architect and everything an architect stood for. In my mind there was no other profession better. There was a certain mystique and seductive romance about the elusive architect. Perhaps it was the passion for design in conjunction with the rhythm of the tall columns and the balance of the fenestration. Or maybe it was the creative flair of the architect who always seemed despondent in a charmed self-induced poetic trance. What was not to like?
My older brother Joe was an architect, in the early 1960’s he was considered a senior draftsman. Looking back and knowing what I know today, I would say he was a Master Draftsman. Things were different back then, there was such a thing as draftsmen later on it became draftsperson but for the sake of this story we’ll call them draftsmen. I was 12 years old and enamored with the draftsmanship of my brother.
I loved everything from the horsehair brush he used to clean the residue of the scum-x pad that would leave bits of eraser that resembled grated cheese. The paper was not paper but vellum and sometimes he would work on cloth, coated Irish linen. Most often draftsmen produced India ink drawings on cloth. If you have never seen inked cloth drawings, you really should make it a point to see one before they all disappear.
Joe worked on a drawing board he had at home. He worked after hours to help get projects done. Back in the late 1950’s early ‘60’s there was lots of architectural and construction work. I would admire his drafting not knowing anything about it. Detail drawings so crisp and finely delineated that they seemed to stand off the sheet. Every once in a while he would call me over and proudly tell me about the job he was working on. There were churches, rectories, schools and residential projects to name a few. The One that stands out in my mind was the Seven-up Pavilion at the New York Worlds Fair. What captivated me was how proud Joe was to be producing drawings that were to become a pavilion at the Worlds Fair. He actually did a lot of the design also. When my brother removed his work from the board, I would seize the opportunity and lay a small sheet of drawing paper and use the t-square, triangles and compass to make drawings of “hot rods”.
Now, I’m getting away from the intent of my story. Draftsmen or the lowly draftsman described the grunts in the drafting room were considered the worker bees, individuals who would produce construction drawings from the architect’s sketches. Nothing could be further from the truth, there was nothing lowly about them, and in fact they were the backbone and major force of the architectural firm. For it was the draftsmen who crafted the buildings from scratched out design sketches handed to them from the front office. These men gave Value to the Architect by virtue of their skill, craft and knowledge of construction means, methods and materials. Draftsmen were the impetus for the creation of cityscapes of traditional and non-traditional buildings all across this country that we all are familiar with. So, why am I telling you all this? It is all about the Value of the Architect and how we are craving to establish public awareness of the Value of the Architect. Years ago inspired draftsmen could with enough years experience and architectural education could sit for the licensing exam and become architects. A title and privileged dream that was attainable. When that was removed from the laws of our profession, a lot of draftsmen sought other ways to earn a living. Our profession is losing the draftsman by nature of attrition and computer technology. Colleges and schools of architecture are not teaching drafting or architectural detailing. Do we need to re-evaluate the critical elements for training young architects? Is too much emphasis placed on unrealistic design studio and none on the core values of design and construction? These are questions we must face and act on sooner than later.
Well all things considered, in order for the public to appreciate the Value of the Architect the architect has to have value. The value is in the design rendered and the technological expertise in the construction sciences that utilizes strength of materials and sustainable design. The architect must possess a strong working knowledge in design and construction in order to deliver value to the public. The architect covers a vast realm of science art and the humanities. These are the principles we work by on a daily basis and what we do as architects. This is our profession, keep it strong and keep it ours.
Laurence E. Parisi, AIA