Drawing Matter Extracts 1

Drawing Matter Extracts 1: Where to Begin?
Niall Hobhouse, Matt Page (Editors)
Drawing Matter, 2020

Paperback | 16-1/2 x 11-3/4 (5-1/2 x 11-3/4 inches folded) | 64 pages (all 3 volumes) | English | £6.50 (each), £15.00 (full set)


Drawing Matter Extracts is a series of informal anthologies that address particular themes or problems in the process of design. Each combines drawings from the Drawing Matter Collection and elsewhere with newly commissioned texts, and others previously published on www.drawingmatter.org or found in the architectural library at Shatwell Farm.

The first anthology in the series, ‘Where to Begin?’, presents a survey of architects’ starting points, and is published in three parts, spanning over five-hundred years of architectural practice.


"Where to begin?," that is the question. It's not an easy question, I'll admit, be it in terms of tackling an architectural design, as I did back in the day, or with the written word, which occupies most of my time now. I'd probably align myself, in all modesty, with the answer provided by Juhani Pallasmaa in the second of the three Drawing Matter Extracts 1 made and released during the pandemic. The Finnish architect/critic sees the "definite location and context" as something that makes design tasks more concrete than beginning to write, which is "more open and indefinite" and therefore "never self-evident." 

Most telling are these words of his: "The beginning way well be a singular feeling, image or word, which can well be abandoned in the process." Put another way, beginnings are important because, well, you have to start somewhere, with something. But not all beginnings dictate the end results. Beginnings start a process, a process that can lead to alternate beginnings — starting again from square one, if you will — that take into account failed attempts but set entirely new paths. Nevertheless, getting architects to seriously think about where they start a project is a surefire means of eliciting a wide range of responses.

The three folded publications that make up the first of Drawing Matter's hopefully regularly produced "extracts" is full of provocations focused exclusively on beginnings: the first marks on paper for a new commission; brief words of insight on personal approaches; archival glimpses at the sketches of architects, many of them long gone. Although the three parts have individual names — "Ready," "Steady," and "Go" (get it?) in reverse order — and color palettes, they share a consistent format that mixes new essays, old drawings and texts, and lots of brief, direct answers to the question posted to them. The last are boldly highlighted inside the color bars at the edges of most spreads. Most answers come from names I'm not familiar, but all of them are personal and revealing, if a bit (understandably) self-conscious. 

Some of my favorite responses to "Where to Begin?": "I don't know how to begin, as I'm not an architect, but with a cartoon I begin with the nose" (Madelon Vriesendorp); "Drawing the site, or as Florian Beigel would often say, sniffing the site like a dog" (Philip Christou); "The best place to begin ... is with the places and experiences that stayed in your heart" (Martine Seedorff); "With a glass of rum, piece of paper and favorite pencil (Faber Castell E-Motion wood)" (Alexander Brodsky); "With making a mess" (Klara Bindl); "Every project begins in conversation" (Andrew Clancy); "From a place of intense anxiety and despair" (Jan Frohburg). That last one strikes a bit close to my own experiences, though I should point out that Frohburg's next sentence is "And ideally with a sense of wonder." I'll aim for that, too — next time I begin.