A Social History of Architectural Graphic Standards
- Winner, 2009 Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (SESAH) Publication Award.
304 pp., 9 x 11 in, 99 b&w illus.
- Published: September 5, 2008
- Publisher: The MIT Press
An examination of the standard reference book for architects as both practical sourcebook and window on changes in the profession.
Architectural Graphics Standards by Charles George Ramsey and Harold Reeve Sleeper, first published in 1932 (and now in its eleventh edition), is a definitive technical reference for architects—the one book that every architect needs to own. The authors, one a draftsman and the other an architect, created a graphic compilation of standards that amounted to an index of the combined knowledge of their profession. This first comprehensive history of Ramsey and Sleeper's classic work explores the changing practical uses that this “draftsman's Bible” has served, as well as the ways in which it has registered the shifts within the architectural profession since the first half of the twentieth century. When Architectural Graphics Standards first appeared, architecture was undergoing its transition from vocation to profession—from the draftsman's craft to the architect's academically based knowledge with a concomitant rise in social status. The older “drafting culture” gave way to massive postwar changes in design and building practice. Writing a history of the architectural profession from the bottom up—from the standpoint of the architectural draftsman—George Barnett Johnston clarifies the role and status of the subordinate architectural workers who once made up the base of the profession. Johnston's account of the evolution of Ramsey and Sleeper's book also offers a case study of the social hierarchies embedded within architecture's division of labor. Johnston investigates what became of the draftsman, and what became of drafting culture, and asks—importantly, in today's era of digital formats—what price is exacted from architectural labor as architecture pursues new professional ideals.
Beautifully crafted and of course well-illustrated, Drafting Culture explores the origins of Architectural Graphic Standards, an essential reference tool that is usually taken for granted. Like its subject, Johnson's book is surprisingly relevant as today's architects confront similar hierarchies of collaboration and radical new imagery for outsourced, high-speed building production. A fascinating history filled with provocative insights.
Gwendolyn Wright, Columbia University, and author of USA in the Modern Architectures in History series
Johnston charts the rich debates about the social-democratic possibilities of modern architecture and planning that accompanied, resisted, and at times advanced the industrialization of architectural labor. His account of the tensions between Frederick Ackerman's reformist agenda and the codification of draftsmanship in the pages of Architectural Graphic Standards, produced by Ackerman's employees Charles Ramsey and Harold Sleeper, is especially welcome at a time when euphoria over digital technology threatens to induce historical amnesia and political complacency among practitioners.
Casey Nelson Blake, Professor of History and Director of American Studies, Columbia University