Simanaitis Says

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IT’S PERSPECTIVE of the artistic sort that I have in mind. Back in 1967, the Whitney Library of Design published a fine collection of architectural interiors accompanied by erudite commentary on the history and techniques of artistic perspective. Today and tomorrow, I share several of my favorite drawings along with comments by John Pile, editor of Drawings of Architectural Interiors.

Drawings of Architectural Interiors, edited by John Pile, Whitney Library of Design, 1967.

Pile assumes we recognize the difference between orthographic projections and perspectives with vanishing points. With orthographic projection, an object’s parallel surfaces are also rendered parallel on paper. This representation of three-dimensional objects in two dimensions is an artificial one, not what the eye actually sees.

An example of orthographic projection: Director’s Office, Bauhaus, Weimar, 1923. Walter Gropius, architect; drawing by Herbert Bayer. This and other images from Drawings of Architectural Interiors.

By contrast, a perspective drawing accounts for objects farther from the eye appearing smaller. Parallel surfaces are not rendered parallel on paper; rather, perspective drawings make use of one or more imaginary vanishing points at which parallel lines meet.

A perspective drawing: King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. Drawing by F. Mackenzie from Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain, 1807–1826.

Pile notes, “Fortunately the mathematical geometries of the Renaissance made available to artists that extraordinary invention known as perspective drawing. We take it so much for granted that linear perspective shows us reality as it is that we must remind ourselves that it is an invented convention. Pre-Renaissance artists represented the world without resort to perspective and various oriental and primitive cultures still do.”

A Byzantine mosaic sans perspective. Image from Art, Design, and Visual Thinking.

Photography only complicates matters. Pile writes, “It is interesting that we demand that the camera of the architectural photographer should follow the same conventions that were developed in drawing.”

Interior of the Pantheon, Rome, a copy “after Parinesi” by T.C.J. Friedrich. This rendering would be difficult indeed to duplicate photographically.

As Pile notes, “Vertical lines must be made vertical even though this can only be achieved with special camera adjustments and with considerable trouble. Leaning verticals (which our eyes actually see) must be replaced with the uprights which we have come to expect from the practice of Renaissance and later draftsmen.”

It’s for this reason that photography of architectural exteriors is such a specialized art. And, as we’ll see tomorrow, more recent interiors make for interesting perspectives as well. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017


  1. kkollwitz
    May 22, 2017

    That book was still au courant when I started Architecture school in 1976.

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