Roughly 4,150 years ago, in modern-day Iraq, a Mesopotamian king named Gudea commissioned a sculpture of himself. In it, he is depicted as an architect, with his hands clasped over a tablet showing an architectural plan of a temple built during his time as ruler. On his legs, rows of Sumerian glyphs describe the architecture itself, and the materials he chose, including cedar and “treasure confiscated” from across the Middle East.
Architect With A Plan is the oldest architectural plan ever discovered, and the oldest illustration in Drawing Architecture, a beautiful new tome from Phaidon and architect Helen Thomas that spans 2130 BC to 2018 AD.
It’s an unusual and unpretentious book, featuring hundreds of drawings across more than 4,000 years of working architects. There’s no chronology: Gudea’s self-regarding statue is situated between drawings like a 1979 drawing from Daniel Libeskind and another from 1573 by Inigo Jones and Andrea Palladio. There’s also very little commentary, aside from a brief blurb and some necessary identifying information: “The intention is to provide imaginative space for the reader to make their own connections between the images and their stories as they resonate with personal experience and knowledge,” Thomas explains in the book’s brief introduction.
Instead, Drawing Architecture invites you to just look at the damn drawings in a way that’s refreshing. Some are etched in wet river clay, others are annotated via iPad and shared through WhatsApp, and there’s virtually no distinction between them. That makes it subtly provocative–especially in a field that has spent decades, and plenty of ink, debating whether drawing is “dead.” Without specifically addressing that debate, Thomas manages to make it seem a bit silly. Check it out at Phaidon’s website.