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The Art of Drawing

why architects still draw
Text by
Ravenna Westerhout

“The moment I grab a pencil, I am alone, with nothing but that pencil as the dearest friend and instrument of imagination. Drawing, with pencil or black ink on white paper, gives freedom. After all, a drawing only consists of a collection of lines and colours. A superficial viewer may see a representation, an image suggested by the skilful placement of the lines. But that is only a first reading. In a good drawing you see more: you see the landscape that forms the lines. You see the light that is released by the notation of the shadow. You see the hand of the writer, the movement made over the paper.” – Cees Dam

Architecture cannot separate itself from drawing, no matter how impressive the technology gets. Since we began adopting CAD in the 80s and 90s, architects have been using a wide variety of software programs to create and develop designs and make presentations. There is nothing inherently problematic about that, as long as it is not just that. Something is lost when drawings are made solely on a computer, as the disadvantage of working on a computer is that it is very difficult to keep an overview. While focussing on one part, its totality  should not disappear. One has to be careful not to lose themselves at the level of detail and lose sight of the conceptual, the whole.

Sketches are, by their nature,  fragmentary and selective, a reminder of the idea that caused to transcript it in the first place. Moreover, the art of drawing informs your thinking. During the conceptual phase, the act creates an interrelationship between a thought and the work. It becomes inventive drawing: a flow of pencil movement that is spontaneous and free, uninterrupted by shift-clicks and menu selections and commands. That visceral connection, that thought process, cannot be replicated by a computer. It is analogous to hearing the words of a book read aloud, while reading them on paper allows us to fantasize a little, to make associations beyond the literal words on the page. Similarly, drawing by hand stimulates the imagination and allows us to speculate about ideas.

It is essential to point out that drawing and architectural design are not synonymous: the drawing is not the design; rather the drawing is of the design. Each drawing is part of the thought process of architectural design and not an end in itself. The design of a building – or, truly, of anything – does not and cannot exist as a physical thing. It can be better understood as a sort of Platonic ideal, something that exists in the immaterial world of the mind, which is then made visible by the process of drawing. When an architect starts to draw, he/she is not creating a design on the page; instead, what emerges on the paper is a visualisation of the conceptual making of the design, turning abstract thought into something that is visible and communicable. Drawings thus express the interaction of our minds, eyes and hands.

Sketching is human and tactile; it opens doors to ideas that you might not have come up with otherwise; and it lends itself to connection and memory. The first, raw sketch of a design is inchoate (in the sense that it is not finished but still in progress) and forgiving of future changes—and yet at the same time it is, paradoxically, the entire final design too. This last statement is absolutely crucial to understand the difference between those who draw to develop an architectural design and those who solely use a computer.

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