Abstraction and Schematization in the Repeated Copying of Designs

in Social Analysis
Philip Steadman Professor, University College London, UK j.p.steadman@ucl.ac.uk

Search for other papers by Philip Steadman in
Current site
Google Scholar
Restricted access


When drawings are copied repeatedly in sequence by different people, they tend to undergo characteristic processes of change. Parts of an image become separated out, the whole design is flattened, the outline is emphasized, and perspective occlusion is removed. The drawing becomes more abstract, more schematic—in a word, more diagrammatic. This article focuses on such drawing processes and on the results of experiments in repeated copying by anthropologists, psychologists, architectural students, and Surrealists. The tentative conclusion is that designs are represented mentally in a ‘diagrammatic’ way that affects not only how they are seen but also how they are changed when reproduced.

Contributor Notes

Philip Steadman is Emeritus Professor of Urban and Built Form Studies at University College London and a Senior Research Fellow at the UCL Energy Institute. He trained as an architect and has taught at Cambridge University and the Open University. His main research interests are the geometries of buildings and cities and their relationship to energy use. He has published several books on geometry in architecture and computer-aided design. His most recent book is Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular? (2017). He also works in art history and published Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces (2001). A forthcoming book is titled “Renaissance Fun: The Machines Behind the Scenes.” E-mail: j.p.steadman@ucl.ac.uk

  • Collapse
  • Expand

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

  • Balfour, Henry. 1893. The Evolution of Decorative Art. London: Rivington, Percival.

  • Balfour, Henry. 1906. “Introduction.” In Pitt-Rivers 1906, vxx.

  • Bartlett, Frederic C. 1932. Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Carbon, Claus-Christian, and Sabine Albrecht. 2012. “Bartlett's Schema Theory: The Unreplicated ‘Portrait d'homme’ Series from 1932.” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 65 (11): 22582270.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Evans, John. 1875. “On the Coinage of the Ancient Britons and Natural Selection.” Proceedings of the Royal Institution 7: 476487.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Galerie 1900/2000. 1999. Jeu de dessin communiqué [The copied drawings game]. Paris: Galerie 1900/2000.

  • Gregory, R. L. 1970. The Intelligent Eye. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

  • Haddon, Alfred C. 1895. Evolution in Art, as Illustrated by the Life-Histories of Designs. London: Walter Scott.

  • Marr, David. 1982. Vision. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.

  • Pitt-Rivers, Lt-Gen A. Lane-Fox. 1906. The Evolution of Culture and Other Essays. Ed. J. L. Myres. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Steadman, Philip. 1979. The Evolution of Designs: Biological Analogy in Architecture and the Applied Arts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 510 174 68
Full Text Views 40 5 2
PDF Downloads 62 3 0