Buildings are conceived in the mind and translated into reality by the co-ordination of many skilled and unskilled hands. How is this collaborative process achieved and what are the means of communication between client, architect and craftsman? How do we capture the elusive on-site dialogue between the protagonists of architectural production?

The principal evidence of communication between architect and craftsman lies in drawings by both parties. Frustratingly, large-scale working drawings rarely survive, as they offer valuable insight into the efforts of architects to ensure the realisation of their designs. Drawings by craftsmen are also rare and likewise instructive of the concerns of the craftsman which were usually driven by materials, technique and cost. Presentation drawings for clients show the range of options suggested for exterior and interior surfaces and by comparison to completed buildings illuminate joint decision-making processes. The craft of drawing and its function as a communicative tool is an integral part of this research.

Correspondence between architects and clients is a rich source of information on the difficulties of building and the problems of securing skilled craftsmanship and materials. However, letters about craft by craftsmen are rare, and this is a challenge for the research, in that what we know about their work comes primarily from the mouths of patrons and architects. Where then can we look to find the craftsman’s perspective in this tripartite relationship?

Left: A rare working drawing by Richard Castle’s office for the main cornice at Carton House, drawn at a scale of ⅜ of an inch to an inch.
Right: Detail of stuccowork proposal by the Lafranchini for alternative treatment of window piers at Leinster House with annotations by architect or client.
Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive.

Published treatises on carpentry, stone masonry and building tell us more about the interests of craftsmen who bought and subscribed to these books. Estimates and bills written by craftsmen reveal their language and methods. Guild records, measurers accounts and litigation over costs tells us much about standards and expectations in workmanship, while the wills and bequests of craftsmen illuminate lives little known by comparison to those of patron and architect.

%d bloggers like this: