As I am preparing my syllabus and other items for the quickly approaching fall semester, I have begun to have discussions and questions about the student “tool kit” if you want to call it that. What do you need to have for architecture school today versus just a decade ago and even further back? How much have these things changed? Should they?
Since we are a mere four weeks away from the start of a new year of school, even though the delivery of education may be a bit different this coming fall, there are still tools that every architecture student needs. So I am going to break it down into a list that I think every student should have as they enter architecture school. Oddly enough, I am actually the person who has been tasked with creating such a list for our incoming freshman students.
This list below is My list and is not the same as the one I am curating from my colleagues in the architecture department. This list is really about analog “tools” so there is not any digital technology listed here. That might become another post, so computers and software are of course needed. So let’s get to it . . . My Must-Have List of supplies for starting architecture school. Most of these should be utilized throughout your school years. (and beyond)
Now of course these are something that you need to continuously purchase as your move through school and, hopefully, for the rest of your life. I personally prefer a dot-grid notebook as it gives me a little structure, but it also allows me to work at a self-created scale. By that I mean that depending on what I am sketching I can use the dot-grid to assign a scale to my drawings. In a detail sketch, the dot-grid may represent 1” or it may be 4’-0” in some other sketch. But if desired I can ignore it altogether and just sketch like a madman! The Moleskine Cahier paperback dot-grids are my choice; inexpensive and good quality. Hard to beat. Also, they lay open easily which is a plus when you are sketching. Of course, these are good for writing text also like taking notes or jotting down ideas. They also come in multiple sizes to suit your preferences.
Drawing Pen Set for Sketching
These are for sketching. They can do some light technical work if needed but are more about giving you options for line weight when you are sketching. They are often also called “artist” pen sets. There are several good sets to choose from; Staedtler, Artline, and Sakura just to name a few. Some find other pens to replace these as they learn their preferred sketching/drawing styles, but I prefer this type of pen for pure sketching. (Bob likes his sharpies)
Basic Color Set Ink Alcohol Markers (Artist Markers)
These are just to add pops of color to your sketching. As you practice, learn and hone your sketching skills, these are a valuable addition to help you emphasize portions of your drawings or just give them a little bit of wow! I like the dual tips that have a brush tip on one end. It makes an easier color wash in my opinion. But some like the large chisel end instead. Tombow are my preferred brand. There are Caliart on the less expensive end up to Copic if you want to splurge.
Drawing Pencil Set
These are standard sets of pencils with different hardness for drawing. I am not a big pencil artist, but these are still something needed so you can learn how to use them and test your skills at a minimum. You may find that this is the medium you prefer to use for sketching. I
like love the Moleskine pencils due to their unique shape. Square pencils are cool! Standard versions are available from Tombow, Staedtler and others.
Color Pencil Set – Water Color or Prisma Pencil
Color pencils can be used with ink or with pencil drawings. So like the markers above, you can use these to liven up your drawings. This is also about the style you learn to feel comfortable with and want to give to your work. Make the combinations of the previous few items work for you. Here I prefer a watercolor pencil to make that wash effect. Most watercolor pencils can act as regular colored pencils and be used dry also if you prefer not to wet your drawings. Prismacolor for pencils. Several options for watercolor pencils; Castle, Faber-Castell, Derwent and many others.
Triangles – Small Set &/or Adjustable
These are very useful for sketching. It takes some practice to get them into your sketching workflow I think, but once you do they are a handy tool to have. I prefer the smaller versions of these so they are manageable in my sketchbooks. I know that schools typically require a “large” set of triangles, but I like the smaller one just to give me some “straight” lines in my sketches or even just being to set up a sketch. I also prefer inking edges since I prefer to use ink for my sketches. If you are a pencil sketcher you might skip the inking edge. But I can still use an inking edge with a pencil. These come in plastic or metal varieties and a multitude of sizes from 4″ to 18″ sides.
Cutting Mat – Large
An imperative. Spend the money on a very large, very good one of these right upfront. It will last you for your entire education if you take decent care of it. But this is something that I still have in my office these days. They are just good to have. Period. There are a few brands, but Alvin is typically the mainstay.
X-Acto knife or Set
Again another essential tool here. I still have many of the X-Acto knives I bought in school over 20 years ago. Many universities seem to require a #1 X-Acto, but I like the #2; mainly because I have larger hands. They will take many of the same blades; it just has a larger barrel for gripping that I found better for my big mitts. You could also buy a set that contains several X-Acto tools. This is a good option as well and you will most likely use all of it while in school. There is no substitute.
Large metal ruler/straight edge
This goes hand in hand with your cutting mat and the X-Actos. In school you will probably be cutting large pieces of “stuff” and a 36” rule can handle all of them. Make sure to get one with a cork backing as that keeps it from sliding around on you when you are using it as a cutting edge. I have a 36” and 18” version of this tool because they are just that useful. But if you can only get one, go for the 36” as it can solve all problems. A multitude of brands here and I am not certain it matters. Its a piece of metal with cork glued on the back. But you still need one!
Buy one. Learn how to use it. Understand it. It will help you in so many ways as you start to work in studio. Scale is important. There are multiple versions of scale types. Plastic is inexpensive if you need. They are good, but sometimes after overuse, the colors and marking can wear off. They7are lightweight and easy to use, carry but also lose. Aluminum or metal scales are more permanent. They are usually pretty weighty and therefore not at transportable. Not that it’s a huge issue, but if it is in your bag all day it can add up. These are usually engraved with markings so they last longer. Also, I have found they are good for paperweights or hold trance in place while you work. They are most expensive than a plastic one. But each type serves the purpose required of them. Again no matter which you purchase, take some time to study this object and try to figure it out as soon as you can. Lots of brands here to choose from in both teh metal and the plastic versions.
Meh. Maybe not . . . just joking. This is needed for some larger-scale work like site plans or urban planning, so it is another useful tool. Here I would go with the plastic variety as you will not be using this one very often. If you are a bit compulsive and need it to match your architectural scale, then make that choice.
Again this is a necessity I believe. It is very cheap paper that you can just throw out all of your ideas onto and see how they look, feel, and develop. I think some of my best conceptual images from school were done on trace. This is the even less formal version of your sketchbook. Think of it as “old school” Photoshop. You can layer on top of drawings until you cannot see the bottom any longer and develop or modify until you run out of trace. This is going into the trash most likely so I prefer not to spend more than necessary. Some people get a bit particular about the weight of the paper.
While I know that books may not be something students buy anymore, there are certain books that I think are essential to purchase. While you may be able to get this digitally, and you can if that is your preference, I still prefer to hold these types of reference books in my hand. Well, that’s how I like 95% of my books. These are beginner books but will be useful for life. There are several other books I would suggest if you are more advanced in school. Maybe yet another post.
- Architecture: Form, Space, and Order; Francis DK Ching, 4th Edition (2104), Wiley, ISBN-10: 9781118745083
- This is an essential starting point for any student in my opinion. Easy to read and it provides many basic concepts of architecture.
- Architectural Drawing: A Visual Compendium of Types and Methods; Rendow Yee, 4th Edition (2012); Wiley; ISBN-10:9781118012871
- This is is all about drawings and communicating in the visual medium as architects.
- Graphic Design for Architects; Karen Lewis, 1st edition (2015)
- This book has some very strong chapters that help students think about visual layouts and how to approach them. I find many students need help when it comes to designing the way they present their work.
- 100 Buildings; Thom Mayne, 1st Edition (2017); Rizzoli, ISBN-10: 0847859509
- A kicking-off point of architectural projects that are deemed important by a consensus of practicing architects. A nice, simple, and effective compendium.
All of these items can be found on my public Architecture Students List over on Amazon along with many other items not listed. I know there are some other tools that I had during my school years but those are not used any longer. Lettering Guides, Parallel bar, lead pointer, and a few others. Let me know if you think I missed something.
Until next time,