Edwin Lutyens draws for a blind architect
In his biography of Edwin Lutyens, Christopher Hussey recounts an episode in the architect’s life “which he described as ‘a great personal adventure’ and as having taught him a lesson never forgotten.” Lutyens spoke of this in an address to the Cambridge Architectural Society on November 8th 1932:
Staying at a house I met my hostess’s father who, as a sapper in India, was told off to build barracks. His design, probably like those pre-Mutiny buildings of which we should be proud, had been turned down, and a typed set of plans of bungalow style sent to him. These he had criticised as being ungentlemanlike, refused to build them, and resigned.
When I met him he was 80 years old and blind. At dinner he told me that he had designed two buildings, a Cathedral and an Opera House. I asked him what they were like. He said he could not see to draw and had found no one who would draw them out for him. I volunteered my services.
His lady wife, overhearing our conversation, shook her head, tapping her forehead with her forefinger. I said ‘May I draw?’ and directly after dinner the table was cleared and, with plenty of squared paper, we began. He warned me that the Opera House was ellyptical and the Cathedral rectangular. I have always regretted that I chose the rectangular building as being the easier to draw. I began to his dictation. He dictated rather quicker than I could draw. I made some mistakes, but my dictator being blind seemed to make my errors of small account, and on I went.
It was nearer two than one o’clock when his old wife came down in her dressing gown, to scold us naughty children who ought to be in bed. Looking over my shoulder at my rough plan, section and elevation, she said ‘Oh! But it is beautiful!’ and the old man’s blind face lit up as though all sorrows were of the past.
Christopher Hussey, The Life of Sir Edwin Lutyens, Country Life, London 1950 p.21