When Chris and I were at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (Olmsted NHS) a few weeks ago, archivist Michelle Clark showed us some of the drawings in the collection that had been done by the Olmsted Brothers in the early 20th century. The gentle curves of topographic lines and meandering pathways rendered in graphite on cotton paper was beautiful to see. These were not only exquisite examples of the art of landscape design, but also of the flagging craft of hand drafting. Computer aided drafting enables fast, efficient sharing and production of design documents. I enjoy drafting on computers and using the myriad computer programs available to create the trompe l’oeil of digital simulation. However, it is impossible to deny that the tactility of drafting by hand is entirely lost in the transition to the computer. Dragging your mouse across a cold desk cannot compete with the satisfying sensation of quivering pencil lead over hot pressed paper as you confidently apply a stroke, distributing more or less pressure depending on the desired line weight. This is one of the reasons why paper is still my favorite technology.
It is true that at the Olmsted Center (OCLP), we currently make all of our site plans using digital technology. However, I recently sorted through our paper files on work the OCLP did for the Olmsted NHS and saw that when the center was first founded in 1992, almost all of the drafting was done by hand. I poured over 3’ x 4’ drawings of site plans and construction details drawn on trace and Mylar. One of the folders I combed through had all of the base plans the OCLP designers used on drafting boards under their Mylar as reference. As I was going through the massive folders, Jenn Hanna walked by and commented on how the drawings feel like they must have been done so much longer ago than they actually were. Because we use computers to create our drawings, such a different technology than graphite, markers, Mylar, and paper, we are gaining a new craft of drafting and losing the old one. The divide between design documents we currently produce and what we were producing in the mid-1990s feels much wider than the divide between those early OCLP plans and the work being done by the Olmsted Brothers in the early 20th Century.
Until next week,