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In his infamous libel case against Ruskin, the artist Whistler was called upon to answer the charge that he asked for 200 guineas for two days' labour. His response was: 'No, I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime'.

Whistler's answer encapsulates the difficulty of ascribing value to works of art. On the face of it, ascribing value to architectural drawings is rather more straightforward. Like treasure maps, drawings such as those prepared by Richard Murphy for Trinity Park House in Edinburgh (see page 11) or by the KSS Design Group for the Black Bess resort in Barbados for the developer Bacassa (AJ 23.02.06) prescribe a journey towards specific material gain: how to maximise usable floor area; keep fuel bills to a minimum; increase the number of units which can be squeezed onto a site. In such cases it seems reasonable to conclude that there should be a direct relationship between the value ascribed to a drawing and the value it promises to unlock.

But how do you ascribe value to less tangible goals: how to take advantage of the view; deliver an appropriate response to context; achieve a happy symbiosis between solid matter and void?

How do you quantify the worth of a drawing which is not conceived as a set of instructions but as a work of art, or of architectural enquiry, in its own right?

Architects solve problems. But the best architects do not limit their endeavour to tackling specific challenges identified by the client. They experiment, they explore, they imagineer. They think round the subject, using the judgement, instinct, experience and knowledge they have honed and accumulated over the years. Their drawings are not ringfenced within the parameters of one specific commission, but part of an ongoing body of work. In Whistler's terms, a decent architectural drawing represents the 'knowledge of a lifetime'.

Why would you give it away?

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