1 Sep 2011
“How good do you need to be at drawing if you want to become an architect”
“How can I be an architect – I can’t draw”
I wish I got one frequent flyer mile every time I heard one of those two questions … I would have like 300 miles. Okay, I should choose a different analogy but the point is that it comes up a lot. I’ve got a secret to share …. come closer …. closer….
You don’t have to draw well to be an architect!!
Sure it doesn’t hurt but let’s pull the curtain back and be honest here for a minute. Architects communicate through drawing – we aren’t making art. Surprise!! I don’t know that many architects that can draw really well and with the proliferation of computers, it’s a skill set that is rapidly disappearing.That’s too bad – it’s a good skill to develop.
Did you catch that I said skill and not art? Drawing – or sketching in the case of what architects need – is a skill that anyone can develop with a little training and some practice. If you’ve seen the t-shirts I’m making (go here if you haven’t, try and buy one) I have little hieroglyphs on each one that I drew and the shocker here is that I am not that good at drawing … but I’m not the worst either. Let’s start with something simple – the CAD Ninja hieroglyph
The first sketch is a wire diagram where I blocked out the rough shapes. I can’t really draw hands of feet (it’s true – look at any of my “people sketches”). I then laid a piece of trace paper over the top and went over the shape with a single line to clean it up a bit. Lastly, I took it into Photoshop to make it the hieroglyph I used in my t-shirt design. Unless you are a 12-year-old boy, you probably won’t have practiced drawing 1,000′s of ninja’s before so working it through a process is how you get from beginning to end.
Here is a page scanned in from my sketchbook. This is where I was sketching out some ideas for other hieroglyphs – none of these are drawn very well but you can probably tell what most of them are – that’s the communicating part of drawing. How does this translate into architecture? Let’s take a look at some real life, un-edited sketches I did yesterday in the course of doing my job.
This is the design sketch I put together to think through a handrail bracket on a project I am working on. The sketch conveys the different parts and how I think they should go together. The bottom drawing is the finalized construction drawing I drew on the computer. You can see that it’s not much different. The sketch is the fruit of a thought process – it helps me process all the different parts as well as identify potential issues that will need to be addressed. Case in point: when I first drew the sketch, I had planned on having the screws be set at the 12:00 and 6:00 positions – so that’s what I drew. As the sketch was coming together, it became clear that it would be difficult to access the screw at the 12:00 position because the support post for the handrail would be in the way. Typically I generate these sketches and can hand them off to others to process the remaining details.
This is the counterpart to the first handrail sketch – you sort of need them both to convey to the contractor what is required. The point is that none of the sketches here are works of art despite what my mom would say if she saw them. I spent a whopping 5 minutes on these and they get the job done. Sketching is a way of communicating, a way of conveying a thought that is in my head down on paper. I wrote a post called “Your Sketches Speak for Themselves” back in April 2010 where I showed sketches that I had made almost 16 years ago. I still sketch the exact same way – no better or worse – but you can see how I communicate (even with myself) while making these drawings.
I am not able to draw masterpieces and I have come to terms with that. I am able to sit down with a client and with a pen and piece of paper draw in real-time in front of them the ideas and concepts we are discussing. It is a powerful communication device and one that I spend a bit of time working on – just so I don’t lose my touch. It’s important to me that I be able to draw devil horns and Mexican wrestling masks on the faces of people silly enough to leave pictures of themselves lying around.
What you think about sketching? Is it important at all, is it a skill that you think will benefit your role as architect? What would you tell the high school kid who sends me the email that reads: “How can I be an architect – I can’t draw?”