If you are an architect, everyone thinks that you draw for a living. While that’s not really true, it’s a stereotype that most architects warmly embrace. But when I say “drawing”, what comes to mind? Trace paper and pens, or computer screens and a computer mouse? The first is completely analog and has a lot of nostalgia associated with it, while the latter is possibly more relevant in today’s digitally driven architectural profession. Truthfully, I don’t really care which one you prefer, although I have a strong preference for hand sketching and feel that I could successfully argue that unless you are a sole practitioner, there is considerably more upside to pulling out your trace paper and rolling up your sleeves.
To that end, I thought it was time for “Sketchapolooza™ Part II”. If you hadn’t figured it out, maybe you’re new to Life of an Architect, but I typically write about whatever it is I am working on at the moment. The past several months have been a blur of pay applications and construction administration, otherwise known as “nobody cares“. Most of the projects I have been working on are in their final stages of construction so that means the topics I have available to present here are typically construction related … and I can tell that a lot of people are getting bored with those posts. In an effort to take a break, I am going to focus on the sketching once again – because that’s something I’ve been doing almost every day.
Sketching, despite my obvious lack of artistic talent, works for me when I am trying to study form, mass, scale, and proportion, in a very fast and effective manner. Today I have included sketches from the process of studying elevations for a large residence I have been working on for the last few months. This is the same project I introduced 3 months ago in a post called Designing Elevations. That post focused on which comes first – plans or elevations? – as part of the design process. For me, I always start with the plan first, but I think through the elevations as I am designing the plans, and I endeavor to keep everything fluid enough so that I can go back and forth between the two as I work my way through the design process.
Today’s post is a good example of that fluidity. The owner of this particular house has wanted us to go through the process of exploring different materials and massing and as a result, the massing, scale, and proportion of this home has evolved beyond those initial elevation studies. We also changed the initial programming of the home to make it smaller (about 20% smaller) than originally requested … which had a significant impact on the exterior elevations.
Which meant pulling the trace paper back out.
Since the massing of the floorplan was already worked out and approved by the clients, These sketches were more about materiality, window size and placement, and roof pitch.
All of these sketches take anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes to create – which is an important consideration because these drawings represent a very small portion of the process. Once created, I can sit down with the other team members on this project and discuss what works and what needs more attention.
This is a blown up look at a similar version of the previous sketch so that you can see some of the pencil guidelines I create when sketching. Normally there are several iterations of each sketch included here when I draw … normally the finished sketch is just a composite of a bunch of smaller sketches put together.
When I work on these types of sketches, I try to add just enough line work and texture so that we can discern some sort of materiality. And even though these sketches are done by hand, I still use a straight edge to measure out some lines so that things don’t get too cattywampus on me. (The straight edge I use can be seen in this post on Architectural Redlines.)
These sketches don’t really do anything other than help me understand the scale and proportion of the massing. I will frequently, but not always, shade in the windows so that I can get a sense of the amount of open space we are creating on building.
This is another one of those roof study and massing sketches. The previous version’s of the exterior elevations that we prepared had a much steeper roof pitch and virtually no overhangs – we were really trying to create a modern feeling house that still fit in with the “more traditional” requirements set forth in the neighborhood design governance. While a house with a flat, or ver low slope, roof evokes a much more modern look, you can bring more traditional forms into play with how you detail the edge conditions. The owner felt that the previous version was a bit too ecclesiastical for his liking so we modified the rooflines to try to find a different sort of balance between owner wishes and the neighborhood design guidelines.
The sketch above includes the pencil guidelines that I frequently use to help with proportion and scale. I will admit that it feels really odd to be showing these sorts of sketches at all – their lifespan is usually measured in minutes. About two years ago I wrote a post called Architectural Sketches – Keep or Throw Away? in which I posed the question about the purpose these sorts of sketches serve and if they had any value beyond solving the problem they were created to solve.
So that’s it … better than looking at pay applications, right? I’ll end today’s post with an excerpt from the first Sketchapalooza post; it still seems extremely fitting and resonates with the content I’ve presented in this post (probably why I named this post”Sketchapalooza II)
These are quick and highly efficient studies that help me get from point A to point B. The purpose of sketching has evolved for me over the years – particularly the last 2 years – into an incredibly valuable part of my design process and I can’t see a computer replacing these steps. We will still input the final iteration into the computer and manipulate it digitally because, evidence to the contrary, I’m not a dinosaur. I think it would be foolish of me to ignore the value and level of accuracy that the computer brings to the mix. Truth be told, most of the times we block out the elevation massing on the computer so that we have a form to sketch on top of – and it is the mixing of these two different platforms and processes where I find the most value.
If you are not a sketcher, it’s not too late for you to begin. If you are just starting out, please take the time to learn how to sketch well enough to convey your thoughts, I can guarantee that it will fundamentally change how you design for the better. I still can’t think of an architect whose work I admire that doesn’t sketch at some point along the way.