Sometimes We Even Save Napkins—The UF Architecture Archive

Pencil sketch of what would become Dickinson Hall at UF

Submitted by John Nemmers- Architecture Archivist

Many important structures, from iconic public buildings to private residences, started out as little more than rudimentary concepts sketched by architects on whatever paper was at hand. Architects commonly refer to these preliminary concept sketches as napkin sketches. The evolution of this term is easy to imagine: an architect is at lunch with a client and needs to capture a spur of the moment idea and hurriedly grabs a napkin. Frequently, these napkin sketches are the earliest evidence of the design process. We’re fortunate to have several in our Architecture Archive.

Hand drawn sketchs of Jacksonville University Chapel. One is in black ink the other red pencil
William Morgan’s sketch for the Jacksonville University Chapel on both napkin and trace paper (Jacksonville University Chapel Project Files, William Morgan Collection)

The Architecture Archives preserves and provides access to drawings and historic materials related to architecture in Florida and the Caribbean. One of the primary collecting areas for the Archives is the Mid-Century Modern design movement, which was prevalent in Florida following World War II when the state’s population exploded. Mid-Century Modern architects such as William Morgan, Rufus Nims, and Alfred Browning Parker regularly made napkin sketches as they experimented with the use of light and space, utilized different building materials, and developed environmentally-sensitive designs. In fact, these and other architects emphasized the importance of drawing by hand as a crucial part of their process whenever they were exploring new approaches.

Pencil sketch of what would become Dickinson Hall at UF
William Morgan’s sketch for the Florida State Museum at the University of Florida (now Dickinson Hall) on trace paper (Florida State Museum Drawings, William Morgan Collection)

Many of these so-called napkin sketches aren’t actually on napkins. Architects frequently created preliminary sketches on trace paper, and some regularly used sketchbooks or note pads for their conceptual illustrations. Many napkin sketches were hastily drawn with a handy pencil or pen, but sometimes architects took a more artistic approach and used charcoals or pastels. Some sketches were solely for the architect and weren’t intended for clients until the ideas had been developed (or perhaps not used at all, if an idea was scrapped). Other sketches, however, were created to effectively communicate a concept to an audience.

Red pencil sketch of mid-century modern home by Rufus Nims
Rufus Nims’ sketch for the Coslow Residence on trace paper (Coslow Residence Drawings, Rufus Nims Collection)

Today, scholars and students can use the Architecture Archive to research the formative stage of the design process for a number of Florida’s significant Mid-Century Modern buildings — from early napkin sketches to final as-built drawings. Many of these unique resources are available in the UF Digital Collections.

Architecture sketches featuring William Morgan's pinwheel box pattern
William Morgan’s sketches for the Stanley Residence reveal his early concept for an ascending pinwheel pattern of boxes (Sketchbook 1956-1977, William Morgan Collection)

All sketches and images are from the collections of William Morgan, Rufus Nims, and Alfred Browning Parker in the Architecture Archives.

Three sketches of a skyscraper in the mid-century modern style. It was designed by Alfred Browning Parker
Alfred Browning Parker’s sketches for the Flagler Federal Savings and Loan downtown headquarters showing his “pagoda” concept for the skyscraper (Flagler Federal Savings and Loan Drawings, Alfred Browning Parker Collection)

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