If you are like me, an architect currently working from home and hating it as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, then I will also assume that like me you will find that your design flow/process has been slightly disrupted. For example – I have two work desks at my house and currently three people needing to use them. Guess who is the odd man out and doesn’t currently have a work desk?
It’s not a huge deal because a large percentage of how I spend my time involves sitting in front of a computer for hours on end, and due to the training I’ve received writing this blogpost for 10+ years, is that I am fine sitting on the couch, or bed, and happily click-clacking away. The one thing that is going to not work so well for me in this arrangement is sketching.
Despite having mediocre sketching talent, I am a prima donna when it comes to my sketching setup. I prefer to be working on a hard surface (not a couch) and not balancing some sketchbook on my lap. I actually prefer to sketch on trace paper because my sketch process is iterative, working layer upon layer until I get to where I want to be.
I grabbed a few images from my Instagram feed (Bob Borson – Instagram) just to show that more times than not, most of the sketches I share publicly always have an image or some additional trace paper sketches underneath. Consider it the “wash, rinse, and repeat” method of architectural sketching. I have no issue with telling people the process in which I typically prepare my sketches … I frequently need to “help” myself by having some sort of base layer in which to build my sketches on.
I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what happens when I don’t have anything to work with and I simply start with a blank piece of paper.
The sketch above was one I prepared as I was working through some thoughts on a project in the office that has a floor plate (or footprint) of 90′ x 180′, with the smaller dimension facing the public approach. Due to the nature of the people this client (and by extension, their building) will serve, we wanted to have a building that appeared less commercial and had more of a residential feel to it. The most direct way to accomplish this is to design a building that does NOT have a flat roof like the vast majority of all commercial buildings. The problem with a steeply pitched roof on a 2-story building that’s 90′ wide is that the peak of the roof – based on the roof slope of 12:12 that I wanted – was going to be around 75′ tall.
As a result, I wanted to explore an option where the 90′ elevation was actually broken up into 3 different masses to help break that scale down a bit so I prepared the sketch above to articulate my thoughts. I started off with a piece of trace paper and I started laying down some control lines – things like:
- floor to floor heights (15′ if you’re curious)
- height of my roof based on the slope
- the gap spacing between the three vertical elements (indicated with an ‘A’ notated immediately beneath)
This gave me my “template” in which to start my layout. Once I put my thoughts down graphically and was happy with the direction I was going, I took my concept into SketchUp and started to build the massing model so I could double-check my scale.
And here is – quickly modeled and presented here for a comparison between it and my initial concept sketch.
Hmmm … it’s a little different. As it turns out, the ‘A’ sections of the building were initially scaled too large. I ended up putting a bit more rigor to the 3 matching elements based on the internal room needs and as a result, some things got smaller while other things got bigger.
Now let’s do an overlay:
Close, but definitely not a winner. However, that is not to say that this was wasted effort. It took me maybe 3 minutes to block out my sketch, probably 15 minutes to build it within SketchUp – not because I’m slow, which of course I might be, but I prefer to think it’s because I put in additional information like the building element to the left of my study.
I suppose the point of today’s post is that sketching is hard for most people – it’s hard for me – and it’s okay if you end up using other tools to help get you to your destination. I think the process of sketching definitely worked better for me at my last office when the scale of the things I was studying were of a much smaller scale, but I can still take my process with me and find a use for it now. Sketching is difficult for me and I don’t have a great deal of confidence in my abilities, but I struggle on because I think it’s important. I have a very narrow bandwidth of sketching skills where I am comfortable and with this change in jobs, I find that this bandwidth has just become a bit smaller. But that’s going to be okay because I will keep at it and evolve and grow my skill set, which is not a bad thing in any circumstance.
As one of my college professors once told me, sketch until it hurts and then keep sketching.
PS – if you would like to see more posts about sketching, you can go here to see every post on this site currently tagged with the word “sketching”, or if you specifically want to see the post where I gave the 5 tips that helped me to sketch the way I do now – just go here [Architectural Sketching].