Diagrammatic Practices: The Office of Frederick L. Ackerman and "Architectural Graphic Standards"
Emmons, Paul F.
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The office of Frederick Ackerman (1878-1950) was the source of the first modern architectural handbook, Architectural Graphic Standards (1932), which was intended as a radical manifesto. Basing his practice on the economic critique of "conspicuous consumption" by Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), Ackerman was a leader of the technocratic movement. Ackerman directed his employees to develop factual architectural data. The authors of Graphic Standards, Charles Ramsey (1884-1963) and Harold Sleeper (1893-1960), worked at Ackerman's firm, and it was for Ackerman's projects that the first versions of the handbook's plates were drawn. Graphic Standards reflected Ackerman's technocratic approach to architecture, whereby he isolated functional facts from appearance, which was understood as self-expression. In its use of diagrams, Graphic Standards reflected the view that such schematic representations were the transparent rendering of facts. Yet, as seen in some of the plates of Graphic Standards, even the most reductive diagrams inevitably include expressive elements. Through many editions, Graphic Standards has been widely hailed as the "bible" of architectural practice, and it is paradoxical that Ackerman's radical practice became the basis of today's normative commercial practices. The attempt to separate functional fact from aesthetic self-expression was an impossible project, but Ackerman's efforts to achieve a modern architecture that was derived from the nature of its use and construction to replace the design of novelties remain a significant achievement.