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Shadow of the past

Where is the origin of the most ordinary details concealed?

Details become second nature to us, norms that seem to have been with us always. But they all have their moment of origination. Take the shadow line. Detail a skirting board and attract the derision of your peers. And yet there must have been a time when to detail a shadow line would have attracted the ire of the masters of the cover strip, ubiquitous in the 18th century.

So who first consciously detailed a shadow line? As I argued in AA Files 9, John Soane had a deliberate strategy of ‘toy block articulation’ that involved scoring deep incisions between the elements of his designs.

You see this in his design of the wall around the Bank of England, in the incisions between the bays in the facade to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and in his tomb in Old St Pancras Churchyard … Was there a precedent for this conscious usage?

Do you know of any earlier examples? Please email us at


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