Do architects still need to draw? Think about it. Seriously. I am putting this is out there and I know the question is quite a stirring sentiment in each of you. I have been having this conversation with colleagues both in academia and in practice for a couple of months. I am certain the feelings on this are likely directly related to the reader’s age. At least that is how it seems to be breaking down for a majority of my conversations. Honestly, I am not even certain where I stand on this statement. So that is why I am writing this post. I want to start a larger conversation within the field and see what happens. I am very aware this is a controversial topic. I want you to try and take sentiment out of the discussion as much as possible.
So let me attempt to explain the full meaning of the question. “Attempt” is the keyword in the last sentence. Most of this began when the shift to online classes started in the spring and it became more difficult for students to use drawings or to hone their drawings skills. Now as the possibility of moving forward in the fall with minimal or even no face to face instruction, I began to ask the question. Do we need to teach students how to draw? Is that an essential element required to create or practice in this day and age?
I will start with the notion that I am not referring to sketching. I believe that is an essential element of practice. I think that is a required skill. Also, it is possible to learn this skill and improve your abilities with practice. Even if it’s more along the lines of what I would call “technical” sketching. That is a skill that I use probably every day. I would be even more lenient on the notion of “perceptive” sketching (what you see) or “imaginative” sketching (from your mind) as a required skill. I would never say it was not a useful skill for any architect to have. Also, I believe that diagramming is a required skill. Now I know that many diagrams are created 100% digitally now, but the ability to start one by hand is still very useful and I think inherent in what we do. These skills can definitely help bring your ideas about architecture to life.
So then what is the issue? Well, I start to wonder if technical drawing is a necessary skill. Does an architect necessarily have to know how to construct a 1-point perspective? 2-point perspective? Hand letter? Construction details with pen or pencil? Use of a T-square or parallel bar? How many of the current practitioners use any of those items or create those types of images by hand? I would be willing to be that is a single-digit percentage. Again I am speaking of technical drawings. Not sketching.
So one of the many arguments I hear in favor of the drawing must be taught camp is that the act of drawing somehow is superior to the computer due to the mind to hand connection. Like somehow it is better if an idea is drawn by hand versus created in an electronic method. The notion that the thought process becomes diluted from mouse to screen as opposed form pen to paper. This is where I think that age comes into play. I think that sentiment is more prevalent in the “older” demographic of architects or designers. Mainly because that is the way that they learned to design, which I can understand since I learned that way as well. But students of today? Most of them at this point have had more time with a mouse or keyboard or touch screen in their hands than any other utensil. So what is the benefit of transgressing back to the pen, pencil, and paper? Just because the transition from your brain to the mouse/keyboard feels like a large disconnect, does not mean that it is the same for someone in their 20s. What then is the benefit of learning how to draw in such a way? Line weight? Penmanship? What? Can those principles not be learned by some other method? Do I have to actually draw heavier lines to understand the notion of how line weight improves the comprehension of a drawing? I could simply print out a cad drafted detail and draw over it with proper line weight and teach that lesson. What is the importance of the lesson? Is it the procedure or the end resulting knowledge?I am not certain. I would lean towards the resulting knowledge. That is what is important. I say that because I think the process and procedures will change over time, but the knowledge that line weight is important (at least currently) is the key take-away. It does not matter if that is a CAD line, BIM line, or some other type of line in the future. It is about the enhancement and clarity of the final presentation.
I can also say that my own ability to draw is not fantastic by any means. I only wish I had some of the tools available to students now when I was in school. Due to my lacking artistic skills, I could see things in my mind that I could not translate onto the page properly. That was frustrating as a designer. Now I would not have that type of problem. Maybe I would as it is just the desire to extend past my own abilities. But I could not improve my drawing skills fast enough or to a level that could convey the imagery in my head. Maybe today’s students feel the same with the software they use. I know that it can be a limitation to their creativity and ability to convey their ideas. So would more drawing improve that situation? What would you think of a student who drew their entire presentation by hand in a studio review today?
While I agree that it is still quicker to be able to possibly draw out an idea in front of a client at a meeting than to say we will take that idea and come back in two weeks with new renderings that may not always be the case. Technology is always evolving and soon it will be possible to modify our 3D models in real-time by just moving our hands around in the holo-sphere. Things change along with our understanding of those things. We must, I think, evolve with technology. If we cling too strongly to the ways of the past, we will soon be even more outdated. How do we extract the important and essential elements from the older methodologies and reinforce them with and FOR new technologies? If we go back to the line weight example, (it’s just an easy one), I see so many sets of documents from firms today that do now have any line weight in them whatsoever. So the technology has already overcome part of our “craft”. But if we were to teach the ideas and reasons for line weight in a drawing as opposed to making someone use a thicker pen to draw, then we are moving forward with purpose and not eliminating the past completely. But I will admit that in the near future as we hand off models and there are no 2-dimensional representations of our work, line weight may not be an issue of any importance. But I am certain other ideas from our post methodologies will still be relevant.
So maybe the question should be …
Is analog drawing still relevant in the realm of architecture?
Is analog drawing a required skill in the realm of architecture?
I will reiterate my point of not being exactly sure where I fall on this issue. While I think that hand drawing is a very useful skill to have in the architecture environment of today, I am not certain if it will remain so. Therefore is it more important to push students to learn methodologies that may be applicable in the near future and even further out? Is this not simply a debate over the tool used to convey our ideas? Should it matter whether it is a pen, pencil, marker, printer, software, clay, paint, or cardboard that is used to present our ideas to the world? Why all the fuss?
Until next time,