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Let’s give a hand to architectural drawings

Professor’s distinctive work presents Los Angeles as a cradle for experimentation, dean says

Architecture professor Graeme Maxwell Morland drawing
A sample of the architectural drawings by Graeme Maxwell Morland (Photo/courtesy of Morland)

A recent exhibition offered a first-time retrospective of drawings by longtime USC School of Architecture Professor Graeme Maxwell Morland.

Spanning private residences, larger commissions, competition entries and other works “in the pursuit of design ideas,” 50 Years of Architectural Drawings and Sketches, 1965-2015 BC (Before Computer) revealed distinctive ways of thinking about architecture and the world around us.

The show served as a virtual travelogue of cities, spaces real and imagined, speculative and built buildings, and personal notebook sketches of streetscapes, light, shadows and people caught in time.

At the opening, Dean Qingyun Ma noted that the exhibition served an important purpose for the school and Los Angeles.

The work connects a great mind with great skill.

Qingyun Ma

“The work connects a great mind with great skill,” he said, “and presents Los Angeles as a cradle for architectural experimentation.”

Professor Gail Borden, associate dean for academic affairs and director of graduate architecture, noted that Morland’s drawings “embody the evolving architectural thinking of a masterful architect.

“From spontaneous sketches to a 50-foot, 360-degree panorama,” he said, “the work passionately envisions the best of what architecture can represent: a hopeful vision for humanity manifest and facilitated through the built environment.”

Ideas matter

Morland, who joined the faculty in 1970, brings an unparalleled range of experience and talent to the school, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses with an emphasis on design and urban theory. He is the former director of the school’s Anthony A. Marnell II Italian Architecture Studies Program.

“Students that spent time with Graeme in Italy often returned with a renewed interest in using the process of sketching to study and capture the places around them,” said Professor Lee Olvera, assistant dean for communications and special projects.

Morland studied architecture at the Mackintosh School of Architecture at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Ideas are the only things that really matter.

Graeme Maxwell Morland

“This is where I first learned that, in architecture, ideas are the only things that really matter,” he said.

Speaking frankly

For Morland, while there is no intrinsic opposition between the computer and hand drawing, they do represent different ways of thinking.

“The speed of thought that emerges when you are exploring with sketches, cycling through ideas, is incredible,” he said. “For me, this isn’t possible with the computer because with the computer you are dealing with premeditated ideas that you then modify and this can be a slow process.”

Citing Frank Gehry’s early drawings as an example, he explained how they express a personal way of thinking and seeing things and how out of this comes “the essence of a direction to pursue.”

Graeme’s work breathes new life into another generation of architects.

Nathan Prevandar

“In our world of architectural practice, a world that has come to expect and glorify the digital medium, Graeme’s work breathes new life into another generation of architects,” said Nathan Prevendar ’06, who went to Italy with Morland for one semester.

Prevendar said he was privileged to have been one of Morland’s students.

“His guidance, coaching us how to see, analyze and document architecture and urban spaces through drawing, molded me into the architect I am today,” he said.

See a selection of his drawings from the exhibition below.

A personal journey

One person who has experienced Morland’s work over many years is Associate Professor Charles Lagreco.

“For me, the exhibition was a summary of my experience at USC,” said Lagreco, who began teaching at the School of Architecture in 1973 and for a few years taught with Morland in the fourth year of the program.

“Graeme was my mentor,” said Lagreco, who added that the exhibition captured the school through Morland’s highly personal journey.

Graeme has always been a fully mature artist-architect-urbanist who has never wavered from a commitment to study and explore.

Charles Lagreco

“He brings a unique perspective that is both totally LA and, at the same time, the viewpoint of the tourist,” Lagreco said. “Graeme has always been a fully mature artist-architect-urbanist who has never wavered from a commitment to study and explore, someone looking with absolutely fresh eyes.”

Morland describes the process of drawing as a way of understanding “the mathematics of perception,” a way of learning how to really see the world and how it is constructed.

“Through hand drawing, students gain an understanding of systems and hierarchy. You draw the important things first and start with the big picture and subdivide,” he said. “The elements of drawing are the elements of seeing.

“Style is a preconception,” Morland added. “When students are designing, they are often belabored by pre-set ways of doing things. But I try to encourage a calculated ambiguity so that what they focus on is personal to them and not part of some larger cliché.”

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Let’s give a hand to architectural drawings

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