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The Discipline of Tracing in Architectural Drawing


Architectural drawing has long employed the facility of tracing as a key operation in design  development. This paper seeks to understand the status of tracing as a form of understanding and cognition. Simultaneously pictorial and notational 1, architectural drawings transcend categories of inscriptive practice in fascinating ways, which necessitate alternative methods of understanding.

Conventionally, architects work with layer upon layer of tracing paper of a variety of grades & weights; and this discipline of tracing continues to be embedded in contemporary CAD practices. This paper shall focus on a curious form of architectural drawing: the axonometric. An under-theorised form of drawing, this variation of parallel projection (which also includes oblique2 and isometric drawings) found a particular utility in the 20th Century, where it gained status as a key developmental practice. This paper is founded in the idea of drawing as a practice rather than a finished object. I have interrogated the status of the drawing by copying and tracing: re-enacting in order to find out more about the drawings of a series of key architects of the 20th Century (John Hejduk, Peter Eisenman, James Stirling, JJP Oud & Cedric Price), each of whom used the axonometric in different ways. This paper shall focus on the work of James Stirling, who employed particular virtuosity in his drawings, purposely choosing forms which were both difficult and impressive to render in this way.

In this way, I shall demonstrate a form of knowing from the inside as understood by the ERC-funded research group at the University of Aberdeen led by Tim Ingold. Knowing from the inside of architecture can and should include a detailed knowledge of drawing practices, and this paper shall demonstrate the influence drawing conventions can have on the kinds of architecture which are produced.


Carpo, Mario. 2011. The Alphabet and the Algorithm. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Goodman, Nelson. 1976. Languages of Art. Hackett Publishing Co.

Scolari, Massimo. 2012. Oblique Drawing: a History of Anti-Perspective. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.