Architecture is a visual craft. From the end product where people move through, in and about, to the beginning as students when we spend years in school learning to use different forms of medium to help explain our ideas. Drawings have always played a role in the process of study and discussion of what we do and why we do it. Today we are going to look at the different forms of drawing and talk about when they are used and how we align these different drawing types and the messages they convey. … Welcome to EP 140: Communicating Through Drawings.
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Today we are talking about what the word “drawing” could defined as, and the ways that different types of drawings convey different types of messages, sketching as drawing, renderings as drawings, drafting as drawing, and when do these take place, who the target is for the message and how those people might be receptive to the intended message due to how it is conveyed.
Depending on the age of the listener, their experience with drawings might be limited to mostly computer aided drawings, whether that be drafting software or 3D modeling software like Sketchup or Rhino, Lumion, Enscape, even sketch software like Morpholio Trace and Procreate.
I decided to do some additional study to see if there were any notable shifts in how drawings have been made over the last 100 years and I came up with a handful of interesting moments.
100 Years – A History of Drawings jump to 2:554
During the Modernism and Bauhaus movement of the 1920s and 1930s, Architects like Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe promoted the idea of combining traditional drawing techniques with modern materials and technologies. Hand sketches during this period often explored simplified geometric forms, emphasizing clarity and functionality. Artists and architects at the Bauhaus sought to capture the essence of a design in a few essential lines.
Moving into Postmodernism of the 70s and 80s, Architects like Michael Graves and Robert Venturi incorporated a more narrative and expressive approach in their sketches. Hand sketches became a tool for conveying meaning and contextual references. Architects used sketching to explore historical motifs, create whimsical compositions, and communicate ideas in a more visually engaging manner.
The 1990s saw the widespread adoption of computer-aided design tools and completely altered the architectural design process. Software like AutoCAD and MicroStation (and eventually 3D modeling programs) allowed architects to create precise and easily editable digital drawings. Hand sketching persisted, but there was a shift towards using digital tools. Architects started combining hand sketches with digital renderings, enabling a more iterative and collaborative design process.
2010s to … maybe the early 2020s As technology became more prevalent, there was a growing nostalgia for the tactile and personal nature of hand drawing. Architects like Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano advocated for the importance of sketching in the initial design stages. Hand sketching experienced a resurgence as a means of ideation and conceptual exploration. Architects found that sketching offered a unique way to quickly visualize ideas and communicate with clients and collaborators.
And that brings us to the current moment – hybrid approaches that attempt to find a balance between traditional sketching techniques as well as the digital tools that are now readily available. This hybrid approach allows for the benefits of both worlds—spontaneity and expressiveness of hand sketches, coupled with the precision and efficiency of digital tools. Architects today navigate seamlessly between analog and digital methods, using hand sketches for brainstorming, conceptualization, and communication, while relying on digital tools for refinement and presentation.
Freehand Sketching jump to 15:10
Freehand Sketching: so what is the benefit and when would you use it?
- Enhanced spatial recognition – Hand sketching fosters a direct, tactile engagement between the architect and the drawing surface. This physical connection allows architects to intimately explore spatial relationships and proportions in a way that digital tools may not fully replicate.
- Rapid ideation and conceptual exploration – The immediacy of hand sketching enables architects to quickly translate abstract ideas into visual form. This rapid ideation is crucial in the early stages of the design process, allowing for the exploration of multiple concepts efficiently.
- Effective communication with the “other party” – and sketches possess a certain authenticity and immediacy that resonates with clients and collaborators. They serve as powerful communication tools, bridging the gap between the architect’s vision and the understanding of non-professionals involved in the design process.
- Cultivation of your own personal design language – Through continuous practice of hand sketching, architects develop a unique and personal design language. This individualistic expression contributes to the richness and diversity of architectural discourse, fostering innovation and pushing the boundaries of design conventions.
During our conversation in the podcast, I mentioned an image of mine that was stolen (meaning it was taken without my permission) and ended up in the nationally distributed Home Depot magazine. The only reason I found out about it was that someone in Philadelphia (which is 1,467 miles from where I am) sent me a message asking about it since he recognized it as my drawing simply based on the style of the drawing. This isn’t the only time I have had work images taken from me and used elsewhere. I wrote a post title “Keep Calm and Steal My Stuff” just to show the extent of it BUT the reason it came up is that despite me feeling like I am not particularly skilled at sketching, I do have a recognizable style. Despite sketching now for 30 years, I haven’t really gotten any better at it in the last 20 years other than the fact I have developed my own personal design language – something that was completely unintentional.
Renderings jump to 32:20
- Visualization and Realism – Digital renderings provide a highly realistic representation of architectural designs, allowing stakeholders to visualize the final product with greater clarity than traditional drawings or models.
- Communication of Design Intent – Digital renderings effectively communicate the architect’s design intent, translating abstract concepts into tangible images that resonate with a diverse audience.
- Iterative Design and Decision-Making – Digital renderings support an iterative design process by enabling quick and efficient modifications, fostering a dynamic and responsive design approach.
- Marketing and Presentation – Digital renderings enhance the marketing and presentation of architectural projects, helping attract clients, investors, and the general public.
Renderings are simply a part of the process now – an unavoidable communication tool that most people expect. I feel compelled to acknowledge that there are a wide range of skills when it comes to creating visualizations (“renderings” in common language) and what we can create as a byproduct of the design process, can get me to a really good rendering … but someone dedicated to the craft can heighten that image 10-fold. The image shown above at the top of this section was created to help aid a design-conversation with the client and took about an hour of additional futzing with to get this final product. Back in 2021 I wrote a post that was specific to the creation of renderings to aid client conversations (Renderings for Residential Design) and I go into much greater detail into the process, software, and time required in that post.
Construction Documentation jump to 40:03
This portion of the conversation is pretty direct and simple. Construction drawings have three purposes:
- Regulatory Review and Control
- Direction on Construction
I don’t think anyone who has made it this far in listening to the podcast (or reading this post) who would argue the point of construction drawings. As a result, our conversation focused more on the quality AND quantity of the drawings being produced. I like to think we take our jobs as architects in the old school manner – we are detailing how the building should be built, not just what it looks like. What this specifically means to me is that our drawings need to be easy to read, using pen weight to provide clarity, organizing the drawings to include what is necessary to solve problems while the project is still on paper instead of when there’s a small army on site trying to solve an undocumented condition.
Tailoring Drawings to the Audience jump to 49:49
For all of the drawing types we discussed today, there are essentially 4 user-groups that we are attempting to communicate with and convey our purpose and intents:
Students are the most mercurial user group because they are on both the sending and receiving end of the messages being created. Most students have not developed any appreciable skills when it comes to visual communication so everything that they will do over the next several years is foundational and will be relied upon for the majority of their professional careers (i.e. if you don’t hand sketch in college, it is unlikely that you will start as a graduated professional). For that reason, students need to understand the importance of sketching as a learning tool and then, as a matter of course, they will develop their own communication language that will allow them to incorporate these techniques into their own workflow.
Architects / Colleagues:
This might be the 2nd easiest group to articulate the value of all the different types of drawings and how the information presented would be received. I feel pretty comfortable saying that architects are capable of reading and interpreting all the different sorts of drawings, as well as making the determination for themselves which drawing type makes the most sense. Where this group typically breaks down is in their ability to create and talk about the drawings being created. Just because you know what a rendering is doesn’t mean that a) you can create one, and b) you have the ability to effectively articulate the information being depicted.
Undoubtedly the most important group on this list, but also the easiest to work with – pretty much everything is available to use as an effective communication tool. We did have a conversation that (for the most part and almost all but the most experienced and knowledgeable of clients) technical construction drawings are the least used drawings where clients are concerned. For the majority of my career, when the construction drawing phase begins, most interaction with clients reduces down to progress check-ins and schedule delivery conversations. Construction drawings are not the easiest drawings to understand and without some foundational knowledge on construction techniques, renderings and sketches (or their digital equivalent) are the most common form of drawings beings utilized.
We spent the least amount of time talking about contractors, mostly because their role in this delivery sequence is focused on execution, and not design-decision process. A lot of what we discussed had to do with the clarity that construction drawings should convey – something that with the continued emergence of 3d modeling software (i.e. Revit) the graphic quality of construction drawings continues to erode and our ability to create umpteen-bajillion drawings just because we can, seems to be changing to focus from quality to quantity.
Would you Rather jump to 59:57
Since this is technically a holiday post, Andrew came up with today’s question and it has a holiday theme to it. To provide some insight to the process, whoever comes up with the question generally does not tell the other person what it is until we are about to record … but that doesn’t mean we don’t discuss it for a bit before we go on air. When I heard this question I immediately come to the conclusion that there is so obviously a correct answer, that maybe we shouldn’t do it – assuming that Andrew would come to the same conclusion. When he didn’t agree with me, I thought “Game on” and we decided to do this question.
Would you rather get a large set of twenty gifts at once, like this holiday season, and then none ever again – or – get only ONE gift per year for the rest of your life?
Rather than tell you who answered what, we would like you to come to your own decision on the correct answer and let us know what you think. To provide some clarity without divulging our answer, these gifts can be WHATEVER you want (i.e. a beach house and a Ferrari might have been mentioned). There has to be some scale to this or the question loses it’s value as an exercise. For example, your gift can’t be a billion dollars or skyscrapers .. I think you get it.
Episode 140: Communicating Through Drawings
A subject matter that we are always dancing around is the creation and preparation of drawings. Fundamentally and at their essence, drawings are at the core of what architects do and they allow us to have a conversation with owner’s clients, colleagues, contractors, developers – everyone in our business – without having to say a single word (assuming you do it correctly). There are drawing types and user groups that respond with better direction based on how the message is delivered (which should be obvious – this applies to any communication). As architects, we have more and more drawing tools available to us and the challenge now is avoid jumping in the deep end at every new shiny tool and evaluate who we are talking to and what our objectives are so that our time, energy, and resources and correctly utilized.
Until next time,
Construction Specialties is so focused on the importance of mastering movement, that they have created a CEU specifically on mastering the physical movement of a building. Each course is worth 1 AIA LU/HSW and is part of the Mastering Movement Academy provided by CS. Visit masteringmovement.net to take this and other courses.