Architectural Sketches

Bob Borson —  September 26, 2013 — 21 Comments

Architects sketch as part of the process when doing their job … at least I do. There are many different styles and techniques that architects use when graphically working through problems. These sketches are not art, which I expect many people to disagree with but I don’t care, this is one area where I have made up my mind and no argument – however gracefully presented – will change my mind on the subject. They may be artistic and some people may look at these process type sketches and consider them art, but they have a role and information to convey. These are the result of a thought process and once they’ve served their purpose they all go into the trash.

Okay, maybe some go into the project drawer.

I thought I would show some of the sketches I have prepared lately and talk about what I was trying to solve when I prepared the sketch. If I have a style, it would be called the “easy” style because none of these drawings took but a few moments to create.

Architectural Sketches by Bob Borson

This is a sketch from project that I am currently working on – the KHouse Modern. We have a covered grilling area in the back that we were concerned would be overly dark. As a study, I put an oculus in the roof (an oculus is a fancy word for a round opening in the ceiling) so light could enter but the areas reserved for cooking would remain protected. I basically wanted to see what sort of shadows the opening would create. This is a print out from a SketchUp study model and I added some pen weight and shading, and some profile lines to help where the section was cut . Since there isn’t a ground plane in my model, that’s why the foundation is casting shadows.

Architectural Sketches by Bob Borson

This sketch is also from the KHouse Modern. This was a quick plan study that I prepared so that I could show the client how we could add another bedroom to this one area of the house. I had a copy of the plan taped down on my desk and I put a piece of trace paper over the top and basically sketched on top of the original. Since I will run copies of the sketches I make for the client, I like to use a red colored pencil to shade in the walls. Since these types of drawings get created in a very short amount of time, if you look closely at the plan sketch you can see that I have lines that go through door openings – that’s why I shade the walls.

Also, remember the “Hatchet Bedroom” post? This sketch was the inspiration for that post, it’s important to sketch the furniture into your plans!

Architectural Sketches by Bob Borson

This was another sketch directly on top of a bond paper print out. These were notes I was making for myself and for the one of the guys who works in my office.  This sketch really was just a thought-process note sketch. Since coming over to the new office, there are certain graphic standards that I am changing and sometimes it’s easier to simply show how we want the CAD file to look like by sketching on top of it. So far, as much as I am starting to love Revit and the things it can do for us, the way it looks graphically out of the box is terrible. I am a big believer that if your drawings look like you cared when you drew them, the contractor will pick up on that when they are working on the project. If you don’t care, why should the contractor (other than the fact they are getting paid to care …)

Architectural Sketches by Bob Borson

I don’t sketch on top of lined notebook paper very often but this is what was handy. These are drawings I created when I was asked a question about the window system we were trying to implement on the KHouse Modern. Most of the sketching I do these days is the graphic counterpart to a conversation I am having with one of the junior architects in the office. This is not me sitting down with my thoughts working through a problem … this is me answering a question.

Architectural Sketches by Bob Borson

This drawing isn’t even close to being correct but you’d really have to be paying attention to realize what’s wrong … This is a three column assembly and the column that is tilted out is NOT in the same plane as the column shown running vertically. So how is it that there is a bracket between all columns and the horizontally running beam?? These must be “Escher” style columns.

Again, this was a sketch that existed only long enough for me to have a conversation with one of the junior architects … that and for me to take a picture of it.

Architectural Sketches by Bob Borson

These last two sketches got me in trouble with all you sharp-eyed folks. This sketch is actually an earlier iteration of the 4th sketch in this post. In this version, the steel is not thermally broken and it was driving me crazy. This is really a diagram of parts to be resolved … pretty sure I would need a header (structure) where the window connects with the roof plane. What I sketched in certainly isn’t correct but since that wasn’t really the point of the this sketch, I don’t really care.

Architectural Sketches by Bob Borson

This last sketch is actually the reason why I thought I would write this post. I am currently in Madison, Wisconsin for work and the timing really couldn’t be worse. We are trying to issue the permit drawings for the KHouse Modern and there is a big push to get everything done and I’m not around to answer questions and help solve issues with all the coordination that needs to happen with pulling a permit. in fact, I am sitting here in my hotel room writing this post as the clock gets closer and closer to striking midnight.

At any rate, I was trying to describe a structural detailing issue that we needed to address in the shower where the floor structure drops so that we can have a walk-in shower with no curb. I was trying to verbally talk one the the architectural associates through the situation back on the office, I only had a few minutes before I needed to be down in the lobby and I thought “I’ll do a quick sketch and text it to her.” So that’s what happened – this entire sketch exists just to convey some information on where wood framing would take place. Since I had the sketch digitally on my phone, I thought I would share it on my Life of an Architect Facebook page. Once I did that, I was eviscerated with comments from people telling me ll the things that were wrong with this sketch. People were asking “where’s the waterproofing” and “You need more structure to hold that floor up” and on and on and on. I thought I was just conveying one simple idea but things got weird as soon as I posted it on Facebook … but it also got really kinda cool. A good friend of mine posted that I should take the day off and let Facebook do my redlines. The fact that everyone came out of the woodwork to try to make this detail better is actually amazingly cool – those people rock.

So architects sketch … it’s what we do. If you’re an architect and you don’t sketch, what are you waiting for? These aren’t precious drawings, they are just examples of thinking through issues graphically. Even if you think you can’t draw, this is the sort of sketching that all of us could do. So no more procrastination, no excuses … pull out your Sharpie or your Flair pen and start sketching. The architectural profession needs you to sketch, it’s something that is romantically intrinsic to our profession and we shouldn’t lose it.

Happy sketching!

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  • Justin

    Bob, I’m a young aspiring architect who has always be a fan of sketching, whether for experimentation, documentation, communication, or presentation. The sketches you produce are full of character and embodied energy. I was wondering if you ever use sketching exercises to keep your skills in tip-top shape?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I don’t – just the act of sketching is all the “practice” I get. I will occasionally pull out a book (like the Art of Star Wars http://amzn.to/1bV9r6f ) which is full of amazing stylized drawings. I look at it more for technique than as a “how-to”

  • Cody

    Great article again and fantastic images. The lines on your floor plan sketch appear very straight and I was wondering if you use a straight edge for these sketches. I came out of school just as computers started to really take over and I always feel like my sketches lack this kind of character and clarity. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Cody.

      I used a combination of freehand and my scale on that sketch. For the most part, most was eyeballed and drawn in place using my scale, I then went back over parts of it with a heavier pen to help the clarity.

  • dot connector

    Architects must always remain to be “Artists of visual communications”. Why? Sketching aids memory, past and present, prioritizes thoughts, forces a study of relationship and proportion(s), provokes a visualization of generative geometric forms and their interplay and continuing sketching–on free-time–because it’s good for the soul. Nothing is more satisfying than the immediate response between mind and eye. It’s our language. All languages must be used to remain alive!

  • Mitchell Campbell, AIA

    Absolutely excellent article.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      thanks :)

  • David Lo

    Hi Bob, I’m not an architect. But I really enjoy and follow your site. I like the art of freehand arch. sketches and I like to pore over books of the great architects of the past and some current famous ones for these kinds of drawings, bc they show me process(to the level of my understanding) I’m a dedicated fan when i find the time. I noticed that some architects like Tadao Ando like to actually overlay/overlap sectionals and other drawings (top, elevation, axonometric) on top of each other (at most two of these, like a top view over an elevation). And sometimes he’ll kind of have them share lines or line up their edges sometimes. So it’s like an organic body, a single amorphous shape. I wonder how is this actually clearer than a simple straightforward fanning out of the views? He actually said on one drawing that the overlap allows him to solve certain problems. It seems to me like a kind of shorthand or a codified thing only architects and builders understand. Maybe I should email you an image? He does this for his early houses of the 1970′s if I recall. These are very innovative structures, imho. Sometimes I think it is hard enough to reveal the unseen and therefore there’s the need for sectionals, but to overlaying things loses me. What i admire too is that Ando was originally an untrained architect (although he’s definitely caught up on his training now after 40+ years). I don’t see how his sectionals reveal any subtleties of the play of light, which his design is keenly focused upon. Also, as a side question, what do you think of his later (museums) work as opposed to his early small scaled works?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Laying sketches on top of one another to develop a design isn’t anything unusual, it’s a practice that most architects who sketch employ.

      As Ando has aged, his work has become more refined and singular in it’s design focus … there also seems to be less experimentation with the exception of scale. He does seem to be constantly developing new construction methods to allow his earlier (and simpler) scaled projects make the leap in size while maintaining their sense of craft. Not small feat (no pun intended)

  • radhie raza

    I like this post Sir, Yes, sketching helps us to do on the spot making idea when dealing with client, when talking about what he/she wants, we can do it fast and show them, is it like this? or like that? or any additions to this?. Clean and clear before going through using software for the next steps. They happy and we do happy because achieve agreement together. If using software to describe everything, the constrain is time and i dare to be said that it’s frustrating when the client turn down that design and change everything from the start. fuhh…~~~

  • Susan Niblo

    I am enjoying your blog very much. I couldn’t agree more with you . A computer will never replace the fine art of the sketch. Many a great design was started on a cocktail napkin! My grandfather was an architect for the city of New York and I spent many hours in his office watching him sketch and playing with hand made wooden boats for the models of the piers.

  • http://www.decorgirl.net Lisa M Smith

    Pulling out my sketchbook right this minute to doodle some furniture… :) Great post Bob and a reminder how actual drawing can solve more than a computer drawing.

  • Brad Feinknopf

    I met Steven Holl last night and at his lecture he couldn’t encourage more than to sketch. It is at the core of his design process. He said that why a great deal of the architecture done today is bad is that people do not sketch enough and rely on computer programs. Everyone is utilizing the same programs which do the same things and therefore a great deal of the work being done, ultimately looks the same. There is not great architect who doesn’t sketch.

    • Robert Moore

      I concur with Brad. Drawing is such a didactic exercise that allows us to explore design. It’s instructive as an educational tool, informative as a means of evaluation and I find it edifying in the sense of a job well conceived.

      • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

        very succinctly put … and I agree 100%

        • Guest

          Nicely done Bob. It’s funny my 5 and 7 year old boys are in the office with me now and they were just going hog wild on my whiteboard with all kinds of different colors. so i’m not sure exactly when kids learn “not to sketch”. I think sketching is an important exercise for any discipline but somewhere along the line, maybe in our teenage years, people lose that fun my boys just had.

          • Architect Exam Prep

            that was my comment above. not sure what happened to make it appear as guest.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks for sharing your story Brad – it certainly adds to the debate I hear from mostly younger architects (intern-age mostly) that think everything needs to be done using software, clients won’t pay for the time to sketch, all that matters is the output and that it happened fast.

      I’m not really sure where that argument comes from, even when I worked in larger firms, sketching was encouraged as part of the problem-solving process. Holl is widely known as a sketching architect, I wish more high-profile designers would talk about the importance of incorporating sketching into their creative process.

      • http://mjvala.tumblr.com Mike Vala

        Bob – I think I’d be considered a “younger” architect – I’m 33 and about 40% of the way through my exams. Early on, I was of the mind that you described above – I used to think that it was faster to work through questions in CAD because I could draw to scale so quickly AND then when I was done working out a problem in CAD, it was done – I wouldn’t have to draw it twice; at that point I never understood that in CAD, I subconsciously felt like I needed to draw everything so accurately that it caused me to become so hyperfocused on the small details to the point where I was missing the bigger picture and taking longer than I realized to do it.
        About 4 or 5 years ago, a construction manager finally told me that instead of spending a bunch of time using CAD to give him a detail that he had asked for, I should just sketch it by hand – it would be quicker, and as long as he could read my handwriting for notes, they’d figure it out. I tried it and ever since then, I’ve been sketching more than ever! I now find it preferable to computer drafting whenever possible – to me there’s a richness to hand sketching and drafting that just isn’t there with computer drafted drawings.