During the past 15 years, whenever anyone found a drawing with fun or interesting people in it, we made a copy and dropped it into a folder pending their use in a future exhibit. Mostly we just wanted to share these images because they were fun. One of the inspirations for this endeavor was the biomorphic man.
So this February we began developing the exhibit Designing People (currently on display until May 19th in the Environmental Design Library) and began looking more closely at the images. We discovered there is almost no literature on the subject and that some designers use figures regularly and others rarely. Initially, the primary reason people were included in architectural drawings was to convey scale, and they still are; however, figures are also represented in these drawings to help the client imagine who might inhabit their structure or landscape and how it might be used. The technology of representation has changed from pencil and watercolor to computer “scalies”, but sadly the figures remain limited to the white middle class, unless diversity is a key element of the project. Although intended to sell the proposed design to the client, figures in presentation drawings also provide a rich graphic resource for conveying the social behaviors of their time and place. Often they reveal gender roles prevalent at the time of the rendering. Most of the midcentury renderings have the woman indoors or in the kitchen and the men outdoors or reading. Not that this comes as a surprise, but it is so clearly and frequently rendered. In one drawing the woman’s perspective is understood as it illustrates a view from the kitchen looking into the dining room to watch the baby and beyond to her husband reading the paper.
There is also the pure pleasure of looking at the fashion of the time, or enjoying the designer’s sense of humor.
Primarily the renderings convey a desirable environment showing playing children, happy shoppers, apartment house dwellers enjoying their sunny decks, or students studying, but in special situations someone shows us the workers. Please come see the show if you get a chance.
--Waverly Lowell, Curator