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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Walls for Learning

Digging around the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs website a few days ago, I came across a "Percent for Art" project from 1994 by Allan and Ellen Wexler for Public School 340 in the Bronx. The simply titled Drawing P.S. 340 is a "112 foot (34 m) wall mural [that] presents various floor plans and detailed construction drawings based on the actual architectural plans for the school, ... elevation drawings of the hallway and variously scaled maps that situate the school in the community, city, and country. "

[Drawing P.S. 340 by Allan and Ellen Wexler | image source]

Further explanation indicates: "The artwork is intended to provide students with a schematic overview of the new school and an opportunity for architectural study. "

[Drawing P.S. 340 by Allan and Ellen Wexler | image source]

A few things come to mind seeing this mural. First, the hallway would be quite unremarkable without it. The design is otherwise a tile base, painted doors and frames, and a drop ceiling. Second, even though the mural is only 15 years old, it seems even more anachronistic, given that blueprints are no longer used by architects. Even when I worked in an architectural office in high school, making prints in the ammonia-filled backroom, the prints were bluelines (blue on white) not blueprints (white on blue).

Third and lastly, this makes me wonder how effective architectural drawings are in helping people -- children or adults -- understand space and construction. Does the drawing teach as much as, say, an actual cut-away or mock-up of a wall, something made from the actual materials of the school? Probably not, but a drawing is also a lot cheaper (the percent for art is only 1% of the construction budget after all) and easier to modify over time (I wonder if this installation is still in place). As much as I'm for educating people about architecture, space, wayfinding, construction, etc., questions of how that happens should always be at the fore.


  1. artists usually have problems when the pretend to be architects and vice versa. What it seems here, is that they confuse the idea of architecture with the actual thing.

    its a little like a schizoid version of that Joseph Kosuth chair piece. They wouldn't be able to distinguish between the photograph of the chair, the description and the real thing.

  2. Drawings were one of the first things that attracted me to architecture when I was young. People are drawn to architecture in different ways. I think the hallway would have been unremarkable had the artist chosen a blue on white scheme rather than the other way around. To me, it's an interesting play on the word 'blueprint' rather than a literal interpretation of it.

  3. To add to Robert's point,

    I think the transformation of this unremarkable corridor comes far more from the uniformity: the tiling, especially that baseline, the floors, doors, ceiling and lighting.

    The drawings are almost incidental to that.

  4. I agree with you that this design really adds to the decor of the hallway. As for the intended cause, I see your point as it more or less reprints blueprints (which may be hard for the uninitiated to navigate).

    This topic is interesting for discussion. "How do you make the invisible visible?" It would be interesting to design a stair post with intricate framing/mouldings and then use a cutaway to reveal all the layers.

    One idea I had in the past was for the plan detail of an interior corner to be printed on plate glass. The L shaped glass could be mounted up high as a lighting fixture. This would occur at, say, the tee of an interior hallway and a lobby.


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