(banner image by Wayne Turett of The Turett Collaborative)
Today is National Cartoonist Day! In 1990, the National Cartoonists’ Society named May 5 as a day to commemorate the art, humor, and absurdity of modern cartooning. Throughout history, cartooning has been a method of using art and humor to critique, comment on, and play off of happenings in society.
For some architects, whose careers tend to follow plenty of rules when drafting and drawing, breaking free of convention and creating comics about their lives and lines of work is not only therapeutic for the artist, but enjoyable for wide-ranging audiences. The resulting architecture cartoons serve as a way of presenting architecture and the design fields to the general public in less “serious,” academic ways, opening up the architectural conversation to everyone. Wayne Turett, principal and founder of The Turett Collaborative, has played with the form as well. In the cartoon shared below, Wayne comments on both the added security measures implemented in New York after 2001 and the hazards of simply walking down a New York block.
(art by Wayne Turett, The Turett Collaborative)
On the thirty-third National Cartoonist Day since 1990, we profiled five successful architects-turned-cartoonists who have shared their humor and intellect through pen and paper.
Thanks to the Internet Archive, many of these artists’ books are available to read for free, and are linked below! Create a free account when prompted in order to read all of the books in full.
New York-born Alan Dunn studied architecture and design at Columbia University, the National Academy of Design and the American Academy in Rome. After a well-rounded architecture education, he began writing for The New Yorker in 1926, and provided mostly illustrations for cartoons and cover illustrations, eventually contributing 1,981 cartoons to the magazine.
Dunn’s cartoons chided modern New York buildings such as the Guggenheim and Penn Station, and commented on the growth and changes to Manhattan, and the rest of the country, for almost five decades. In 1927, he married Mary Petty, a fellow New Yorker cartoonist known for her critiques of the rich.
Sir Osbert Lancaster
Born in 1908, Sir Osbert Lancaster was not a working architect, built one of the preeminent architecture critics and advocates of his time, first working at The Architectural Review and eventually publishing informative books about the field that he hoped would make it more accessible to the public. He began contributing cartoons to The Architectural Review, which commented on greed in architecture, lack of tradition, and critiques of developers. Although the paper tended to be right-leaning, Lancaster never shied away from writing about what was on his mind.
As a leading journalist, Lancaster was sent to Greece as a press attache, and developed love for the country. His books, “The Saracen's Head” and “Drayneflete Revealed,” were cheeky parodies of architecture history, inspired partly by his love of Greece’s history and culture, both modern and ancient. Later in life during the 1960s, Lancaster, now a leading British voice in architecture, campaigned against the demolition of classic British structures, which led to many of them being preserved. For this, he was knighted by the Queen in 1975.
In 1981, prior to his death, he published his last architecture cartoon, a compilation of one of his beloved characters, “The Life and Times of Maudie Littlehampton,” which poked fun at British cultures, wealth, and development.
Known as the “critic without words,” The New Yorker cartoonist and trained architect Saul Steinberg was born in Romania, and moved to New York in 1942 - the same year his first cartoon was published in The New Yorker. He also contributed to Fortune, Vogue, and Bazaar magazines and in 1946, just a few years into his career, he was featured in a MoMA show alongside Isamu Noguchi.
Some of Steinberg’s architectural drawings are vignettes of areas he had visited or enjoyed, and are less jokes than quirky illustrations of buildings and people interacting in different locales. His work continued to grow in popularity, and Steinberg was the focus of dozens of solo shows at major institutions.
His 1948 “Untitled” work, which shows a man composed of a line he himself is drawing, is perhaps his most memorable piece.
Louis Hellman, MBE
(1936 - )
British architect Louis Hellman has been referred to as "architecture's official satirist since the 1960's,” and began working as an architect after graduating from the esteemed École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
After working as an architect during the 60s at Yorke Rosenberg Mardall, a well-known UK firm, he became frustrated with the lack of modernist aspects of their projects. He then became a contributor to Architect’s Journal, a popular UK-based publication, writing opinion pieces about laboratory design and other timely topics. Soon, his editors noticed his cartooning skills and opted to add a cartoon section to each issue. From there, Hellman spent the next decades as a memorable addition to the magazine, using cartooning to comment on the politics, trends, failures, and successes of British architecture, and global architecture news throughout the rest of the 1900s.
His fame spread further when he published the popular book “Architecture for Beginners,” in 1988, a cheeky commentary on the career, blending information with humorous imagery. His books served as a reminder that although architecture is serious, it should not be taken too seriously for its own good, and that laughing at things is part of the key to success. His subsequent books “Archi-têtes,” which showed famous architects personified as their buildings, and “Architecture A to Z,” another lighthearted career guidebook, led to his invitation to join the Order of the British Empire, making him one of the few cartoonists to receive the honor.
India-based architect Anug Kale made his transition from practicing architect to cartoonist in a notably modern way: through Instagram.
Using social media as a tool to share his cartoons with the world, Kale felt architecture, at least in India, was missing humor and community. To change that, he began designing comics digitally and sharing them to a worldwide audience. Careful to include as little language as possible, so that all viewers would appreciate the humor as opposed to only those who speak English, Kale has clearly found his niche - hundreds of comments from working architects flood his page to let them know how true and relatable the content can be. In a modern age, being able to directly interact with a comic strip creator, as opposed to viewing it in a newspaper, gives Kale a way to connect with readers and create an online community of fellow architects who laugh and smile at their shared experiences.
“He Who Laughs Last,” Architectural Record; “50 Years a Cartoonist,” Buildings and Cities; “Drawing the Line, and Crossing It,” New York Times; “An Architect-on-Paper,” Saul Steinberg Foundation; “Alan Dunn (Cartoonist),” Wikipedia; “Osbert Lancaster,” Wikipedia; “Louis Hellman,” Wikipedia