Plans were probably the first type of construction drawing to be used. There are examples from 18th dynasty Egypt (on papyrus) and from the city of Nippur Mesopotamia (on clay tablet) around 1500 BC. Not long after this elevations show up in the archeological evidence, and it seems an easy step from there to putting the two types of drawings together in a single drawing. I admit that I have not found any example of this in artifacts from the ancient world. This doesn’t surprise me much since such drawing would have been used for on-site (draw in the dirt) explanations to the workers, not for governmental propaganda or record keeping).
Suffice it to say (and this is my own, unsubstantiated opinion) that plan projection drawings must have been one of the graphic tools of builders early on. In any case, it has been a favorite of architects and engineers in more recent times.
Projecting a plan into 3 dimensions is quite easy - draw the plan of an object; rotate it to any angle; and then project the sides down (or up) from the corners.
Add shade and shadow for a good approximation of reality.
A cylinder (in plan) is quite easy to draw…
Just draw the circle top and bottom, and…
Connect with vertical lines.
Again, shade and shadow…
To draw a sphere in plan projection, start with the cylinder in plan.
Then add cylinders from each projected side.
The intersection of all three cylinders will define the outside edges of the sphere.
Shade and shadow (blah, blah, blah)… but, you might notice that the sphere is a bit off.
The pink circle shows how much my constructed sphere has stretched. It isn’t bad, but it does point out that the vertical projection lines of the original cube are a bit too long.
Back in 1988 there was a very nice demonstration (above) showing the creation of a plan projection in Architectural Illustration Inside and Out (by Lorenz & Lizak). The plan (left drawing) is rotated so as to eliminate confusion in the final drawing (any angle will do, but it is best to avoid confusing alignments in the projected walls). The middle drawing shows the walls projected down (at this point any confusion should be obvious). The final drawing on the right adds detail, and shades some of the planes so as to clarify the form.
The following 25 images are examples of plan projection drawings presented in chronological order. I had no problem finding them in my books, magazines and files. In fact I could have included many more.
Architects over the last 100 years seem to have had a love affair with plan projections. This is actually quite logical for several reasons. First, architects normally design in plan before anything else. Second, combining the elevations with the plan in a single drawing is elegant and informative. Finally, the abstract look of such a drawing is perfectly in line with the style of the modern art movement.
Here we again have Auguste Choisy the professor at the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. This plan projection looking up at a coffered ceiling is from L'art de bâtir chez les romans. If Choisy had been a professor at the École des Beaux Arts he would have illustrated this same ceiling with rendered plans, sections and elevations. Teaching at a school of engineering (bridges and roads), he instead used measurable projection drawings.
Forty years after the publication of Choisy’s books, plan projection drawings began to be used by architects for presentations. The hard, measurable drawings highlighted the machine esthetic of the modern movement. Above is the Netherlands House by Van Eesteren & Van Doesburg (1922). It is a nice example of coldly elegant abstraction, in the service of architecture.
Highrise City by Ludwig Hilberseimer (1926) shows the degree of machine-like order architects were contemplating in those days. Admittedly, other drawings of the same project included perspectives from street level, so there was a recognition that people would actually inhabit these file drawers.
This stair Interior by F. Jacob (1931) is visually fascinating, but the design is a bit too complex to understand in a single drawing. Nevertheless, it has always been a favorite of mine.
Alberto Sartoris was an Italian architect who was a member of the Rationalist Movement. He was famous for his theoretical work and writing, but had few projects actually built. This plan projection drawing titled “Hermitage” (1933) straddles the line between architectural drawing and abstract painting.
“Villa Gentinetta”, also by Sartoris (1937), shows a clean, ink-line drawing style that was copied by cutting-edge architects 40 years later. Funny how ideas and styles tend to be repeated in our modern age (not unlike the eclectic rut that the “moderns” revolted against).
Wilhelm Kreis was a German architect whose long career began during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and lasted until after World War Two. Although he designed in an historical conservative style, he also produced plan projection drawings. In this example of the Army Command Center in Berlin (1938), traditional shade and shadow (comparable to Elliel Saarinen) is used to enhance the reality of the aerial view.
In this study for an apartment by Ettore Sottsass (1950), the information of the plan has gotten more telegraphic than the Sartoris interior above. It is quite easily understandable as a space within a building (a trick that I copied 30 years later), but the functions of the apartment itself are hard to work out from the large sculptural planes that form its spaces. Generally, I find that the drawing is awkward and unbalanced.
James Stirling’s plan projection drawing of Cambridge Library (1964) is a clean and informative image which harks back to Sartoris, 3rd image above. His architecture might be called “modern with a twist”, in that he rejected the cold “machine for living” and reintroduced an eclectic art of design. His materials were modern, but his sensibility was playful.
Charles Gwathmey had a similar view of architecture, and had a thriving practice in the United States. The drawing of a house in Bridgehampton, Connecticut, designed when he was 31, shows the post-modernist flair for mixing graphic patterns and informative reality.
Above is the Hanselman house by Michael Graves (1969). Its design is typical of the “New York Five” architectural group, as is the use of plan projection for the presentation. Graves later became famous for his more colorful “Postmodern” designs, but switched to models and colored elevations for presenting those projects. (BTW, In the 80s I rendered his Team Disney Building in Burbank, California, as part of a master plan.)
Raymond Erith (who died in 1973) & Quinlan Terry (who is still practicing) designed in a “radical” classical style, copying historic styles from ancient Greek to Baroque and Neo-classical. These English architects designed and built in the traditional way, and usually presented projects in a traditional way, with rendered plans and elevations. This worm’s eye plan projection view of the proposed Baha'i Temple in Tehran (1976), is therefore an anomaly. Still, it is a lovely drawing which explains the design quite well.
The drawing above, titled “Building 3 Buenos Aires,” is by Diana Agrest & Mario Gandelsonas (1977). It is very much like Wright’s rendering of the T.P. Hardy House in that the focus of the illustration is tucked into one side of the composition. When you focus on the design itself at the bottom of the sheet, you get a fairly pedestrian explanation of an interesting set of stairs and platforms.
Above is a double plan projection drawing of Kamioka Civic Hall (1978). Arata Isozaki’s take on hard-line ink drawing is much like Sartoris (see 5th image above); grids are prominent, and line weight is not varied. By matching views from opposite sides of the building on the same sheet Isozaki gives a complete understanding of his complex design.
While Isozaki seems more inclined to Sterling’s idiosyncrasies, Richard Meier seems closer to the discipline of Sartoris’ work. The Arts & Crafts Museum in Frankfurt am Main (1979) features subtle shifts in the grid, but keeps a consistent unifying module. Meier’s plan projection drawing presents an interesting contrast between the old Villa Metzler (standing alone) and the surrounding flurry of modernity in Meier’s design. The modern addition seems to merge well with the hard-line ink drawing. Meanwhile, the neoclassical Villa Metzler loses much of its sculptural molding and ornament.
Emulating previous drawing approaches is for everyone. This cut-away plan projection of the trading floor at the (then) Republic National Bank Headquarters in New York City (1983) harks back to Etore Sottsass’ apartment study from 1950.
This plan projection view of Restaurant Row in New York City (where I was living in the 80s) was done with two projecting directions to show both sides of the street at once.
This proposed brownstone renovation, was a presentation board for a freelance job I did with my old friend Ty Kaul. It was illustrated using a plan projection worms-eye view to show off the colorful wall and ceiling work.
This sketch was done for a student project involving the American Stock Exchange. It is a good example of plan projection drawing as a design tool. The student who designed and drew it is a talented architect who I worked with later in my career.
Plan projections of simple cubes can be confusing: am I looking down at the exterior or up at the interior. This drawing by Edward Jones of the Schinkel Archives (1981) is obviously the latter, but I admit that it “flips” on me sometimes.
In 1983 I was at McDonough Rainey Architects, and worked on the new Time Magazine Executive Floor in the Time-Life Building. The 1983 remodeling included the concept of recreating the iconic skyscraper’s curtainwall system in the reception area. To illustrate the idea to the client we decided on a plan projection with the interior “curtainwall” set into a ghost of the exterior curtainwall. The drawing combines an understandable plan, a realistic rendition of the reception area’s forms and materials, and a powerful illustration of the concept. The art was about 20” x 20”, and was produced using airbrush and color pencils on illustration board.
This New York Picture and Street Map by Bollmann Bildkarten Verlag, from about 1984, emulates a technique used to illustrate European cities dating from the 15th century. The buildings are scalable (the vertical is exaggerated), but the streets and avenues are widened to show off the individual buildings. The art was done by Hermann Bollmann, who had previously created views of many European cities. This map was, and still is an inspirational work of art for me.
The sketches above are not strictly plan projections since they separate the plan from the enlarged façade, but they are close, and I like them a lot. They are from Rob Krier’s Elements of Architecture (1986), and are another example of the power of this type of drawing in understanding a design idea.
Above is my plan projection drawing of a mixed use development proposal in the Tribeca section of lower Manhattan (1988). The drawing is ink on mylar following a simple pencil block out. An aerial perspective would have taken a day or two to complete, while this plan projection took an hour. I know… with CAD modeling any sort of view could be done in a few hours. Still, a plan projection has a certain elegance that should be kept in mind when choosing how to illustrate something.
Stanley Tigerman’s Fukuoka Apartments (1989) is a curious example of this drawing type. It certainly delineates the complex layering of façade elements and shifting blocks (it reminds me of traditional Japanese “fusuma” screens stacked on top of one another). On the other hand it has always felt a bit confusing. Perhaps coloring the different materials would have helped clarify the drawing. The model of the project and the photos of the final building explain the design better (well, duh!). I can’t help wondering what an elevation rendered in shade and shadow would look like.
I will end this long inventory with a plan projection drawing that is morphing into a more abstract sort of drawing. The project is the Santa Monica Restaurant by the design firm called Morphosis (1989). It is a typical example of the Deconstructivist architecture of that time. There have been a lot of words spilled about the Deconstructivist Movement, but the actual architecture is always striking (and sometimes even beautiful), in spite of the verbiage.
This drawing, and most of the other presentation drawings for this project, tend to be “amphibians”; they are both a representation of 3D reality and a fascinating 2D collage of shapes. The singularity of the drawing doesn’t always lead to a wonderful design (in this case it did). The modern movement is no different from the Beaux Art era in this regard; the presentation drawing is both a means to an end (a building), and at the same time is a work of art in its own right.
I will be addressing the curious obscurantism of projection drawing in the next post.