In All This House explores the relationship between the written word and the architectural symbol.
Drawing from the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans, this project presents a series of seventeen architectural and narrative drawings about three houses, in a book and exhibition. In combining drawing and creative writing, In All This House asks what it means for architecture to be represented as it is experienced: from the inside out, by the non-architect. Can the act of drawing encompass transcription, translation, and even construction?
In All This House was awarded the maximum amount of funding from the Cornell Council for the Arts Individual Grant (2017), exhibited in Cornell University, Department of Architecture, and published in AAP Association, Vol. 10 (2020).
Drawing on the paper architecture of John Hejduk and Bernard Tschumi, the comics of architects Jimenez Lai and Wes Jones, and architectural comic books by artists Chris Ware and Richard McGuire, this is an attempt for the serious and the sacred, the ethical and the critical realities of architecture to be brought to the fore, in spite – or more likely because – of being discussed in a world once removed.
In Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee describes three houses and three families in Alabama, as they are in the summer of 1936. Subtitled today: The American Classic, in Words and Photographs, of Three Tenant Families in the Deep South, the book interrogates the relationship between the visual image and the written word. As a writer, Agee makes explicit his own struggle to acknowledge and to abstract the impossible complexity of real human lives, foregrounding the role of the subjective observer in the act of description.
Embarking upon yet another layer of interpretation through drawing, In All This House is a homage to a book that never lets its reader forget its own limits of representation. In contrast to architectural drawing, Agee’s entirely textual descriptions of the houses lack objectively measured dimensions, diagrams of spatial organization, or indications of building structure. The architectural diagrams produced in this project are equal parts reconstruction and invention. They are positioned as frames for narrative: based on both memory and imagination, referring both to the past and the future. Here, the reader is not the distant surveyor of architectural drawings but the vicarious participant in graphic narrative, much like the occupant of the built environment.
In translating the written description of a physical, architectural artefact (the house), rife with psychological meaning (shelter, home, body), into drawing, In All This House explores the relationship between the written word and the architectural symbol, the book and the building, and the twin creative processes of drawing and writing.
In All This House was exhibited from November 13-26, 2017, in East Sibley Hall, Cornell University. More information can be found on the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP), Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA), and Facebook event pages.
This project was funded in part by a grant from the Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA). Fair Use Notice: As a derivative work based on 'Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,' this project contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner.