200 Years of American Architectural Drawing

200 Years of American Architectural Drawing
Curated by David Gebhard and Deborah Nevins

On view June 7 – July 17, 1977
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 East 91st Street
New York, New York

In 1977, The Architectural League partnered with the American Federation for the Arts to present 200 Years of American Architectural Drawing in conjunction with a book of the same name. Curated by David Gebhard and Deborah Nevins at the newly opened Carnegie Mansion location of the Cooper Hewitt, the exhibition featured more than 200 drawings by 85 architects arranged chronologically from 1776 to 1976. Focused on the aesthetic value of the drawings themselves, the exhibit sought to elevate the status of these drawings as art in their own right. Writing in the New York Times on the eve of the opening, Paul Goldberger praised the collection:

…The exhibition has a strong polemical point: The drawings of buildings are as important to the history of American architecture as the buildings themselves. To prove the point, curators David Gebhard and Deborah Nevins have offered up precise and perfect drawings by Thomas Jefferson; wild fantasies by the Wright-influenced architect of the prairies, Bruce Goff; casual, yet formal, sketches by Louis Kahn and still more to make this show the richest visual treat of any architecture exhibition in New York since the Museum of Modern Art’s Beaux-Arts extravaganza of 1975…[The drawings] function on several levels: as art, since they are often beautiful objects in themselves; as documents, since they can help us trace the sequence of ideas that went into the process of making a building; and as creations in their own right, since drawings often represent visionary schemes that either cannot or will not be transformed into actual buildings.

View excerpts from the accompanying book in our feature “200 Years of American Architectural Drawing.” 

The book and exhibit were supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.