How Architects Use Sketches

Pencil Drawing Made Easy

Ebook On Drawing Pencil Portraits

Get Instant Access

It seems crucial at this point to emphasize the way in which architects utilize sketches. This study proposes that architects employ sketches in many stages of the design process. These uses may fall into several areas that could be grouped as discovery, communication, visualization, recording and evaluation. These groupings may be typical, but not necessarily all-inclusive, as each individual architect manipulates sketches in his or her own unique way. The following chapters will discuss these uses of architectural sketches in greater depth, but it is necessary to introduce and outline them as a basis for beginning.

Most architects use the first sketch to visualize and discover early concepts. These sketches in the design process are first impressions. Gerd Neumann, when asked about first sketches, wrote about their purpose for design: ' first sketches which in the form of first conceptual notes are the first step in every realistic design process that is determined by a given task' (Holzinger et al, 1982: 55). An early design sketch often sparks the architect 's mind to produce mental impressions and may take on the role of being visual assistance to brainstorming. The architect' s imagination is open to many possibilities, as in a beginning stage no potentiality is ruled out. These options might be fragmented and vague, but they originate a thinking process, since this first sketch often must be drawn with great speed to capture the rapid flashes of mental stimulation.

Werner Oechslin feels the sketch is the appropriate medium for designing ' the sketch is ideally suited for capturing the fleetingness of an idea' (Oechslin, 1982: 103). If the sketch itself is a brief outline then it may, in fact, reflect the swift thoughts in the mind. With an analogy to literature, Roderich Fuess treats the sketch as more than an architect 's tool: '[f]or Joyce the first sketch is not the initiation into the process of writing, it is much more comparable to pinning down an almost invisible butterfly with an unsteady stylus ' (Fuess, 1982: 26). This quote emphasizes the intangible qualities of a sketch. Architects may begin to draw early impressions that could lead to associative impulses, making the whole process difficult to circumscribe. The mental reflection of imagination is not always an escape to the illusionary; it can also be a pondering of associations to attain new knowledge. Italo Calvino looks at one aspect of imagination involving possibilities and association:

Still there is another definition in which I recognize myself fully, and that is the imagination as a repertory of what is potential, what is hypothetical, of what does not exist and has never existed, and perhaps will never exist but might have existed.. .The poet's mind, and at a few decisive moments the mind of the scientist, works according to a process of association of images that is the quickest way to link and to choose between the infinite forms of the possible and the impossible. The imagination is a kind of electronic machine that takes account of all possible combinations and chooses the ones that are appropriate to a particular purpose, or are simply the most interesting, pleasing, or amusing. (Calvino, 1988: 91)

It is interesting that in his book Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Calvino discusses imagination in a chapter he titles 'Visibility'. In the imagination, the combinations and possibilities can first come to light, and they become visible through association. Architect' s sketches can act as allusions and these connections might provide new information in a mode of discovery. This first category of the manner in which architects employ sketches leads to another: communication.

Sketches are a medium architects employ to communicate both with colleagues and with themselves. These messages may be facts, emotions, expressions or concepts, depending upon the specific purpose. Since most architects rarely work alone and there are many people with whom they must interact, the sketch often becomes an emissary for information. The completion of a building hinges on the close interaction between the design team and their consultants, most prominent of course being the client. Architects speak to each other through sketches, expressing concepts and advancing their views with visual support. A design architect may converse with his or her team utilizing rough sketches as preparatory for more complex plans, elevations, and sections. Architects, often more visual than verbal, may prefer to communicate with images rather than words.

Communication with the client involves information exchange, but it also implies something more. The position of the architect as a manipulator of images (depiction of form either mental or dimensional) can impress the client with an ability to create an illusion on paper. This skill, regarded with awe by the layman, gives the architect a position of respect. The status is significant in the relationship between the architect and client.

The communicative dialogue of sketches is also vital to the architect for the individual thought process. The sketches may contain emotions, expressions and allusions, as they are poetic drawings, which try to depict the indefinable. They are described by Wolfgang Meisenheimer in terms of ' ..traces of the memory and the dreams of the drawer, outbreaks of temperament and wit, provocations of the observer, riddles, vague evocations or gestures of philosophical thesis...The transferals and interpretations which result from them move on all possible levels ' (Meisenheimer, 1987: 111).

The individual dialogue requires mental and associative reflections that are not necessarily distinct from each other. In a broad sense, architects interviewed concerning their first sketches in the 1987 issue of Daidalos see them as agents for discovery and manipulation:

Sketches are blinks of the eye, snapshots of the creative process. They are resting points for the wandering intellect on the quest for form — needed for keeping track and for checking; for being able to go back and find a new linear approach to an entangled train of thought, or even to take up an altogether different course. Sketches are catalysts for the mind and, at the same time, the basis for return.

Sketches are, to all intents and purposes, the medium of change. They represent a manifestation of the various stages of the process of 'taking shape', of the quest for the ultimate form. (Meisenheimer, 1987: 37)

Poetic sketches may be distinctly personal, but they perform a function that allows architects to view abstract possibilities. The knowledge that sketches translate to something else gives them meaning for architects. Poetic (not intended to imply without structure) employs allusion and metaphor to describe less tangible things. Richard Wollheim expresses the significance of the dialogue between architects and this ambiguous medium, and touches on an expanded issue of representation. ' Now my suggestion is that in so far as we see a drawing as a representation, instead of as a configuration of lines and strokes, the incongruity between what we draw and what we see disappears' (Wollheim, 1974: 22).

Since the media and technique of a sketch may have extensive consequences for communication, it is necessary to touch briefly on intention. What architects propose to say affects the choice of media and technique, and consequently what they hope to gain from the sketch. This returns to the notion of a poetic sketch, because an abstract technique of drawing provides an ambiguous result, which may either allow for the viewer's own interpretation or permit the architect 's associative powers to prevail. For example, the use of ink and wash produces an extremely different result than a number two pencil does. Similarly, the choice of a 'type' of drawing affects the way an idea is interpreted. As an example, Andreas Reidemeister writes about the divergent purpose of a perspective in comparison to that of a sketch. '[S]ketch and perspective view have been opposite poles: the perspective view directed at appearances and persuasion, the sketch as principle and dialogue ' (Reidemeister, 1982: 27).

The dialogue could be with the client, other architects in an office situation, critics, architects reached through publication, or a play of give and take specifically with the architect 's own mind. The media and techniques architects use depend, often, on their individual philosophy and approach to the design process. Each architect does not necessarily commence each project in exactly the same way, since each project has a specific program and criteria. Conversely, the media or techniques of sketching may direct the way the architects interpret. This, in most cases, would not ' control' the outcome but would certainly affect the visual exercise. Similarly, the media with which architects begin to explore a design have an effect on the finished building. Vincent Scully speculates on this connection when describing the method Paul Rudolph used to design. Rudolph employed a technique of parallel pencil lines to give texture and shade. Scully feels this technique is the reason he used so much vertically striated concrete in his architecture (Pierce, 1967).

Architects' limitations and abilities to manipulate their media affect the outcome of the design. For example, unless the architect has expertise in the operation of CAD, a design using this medium may lack definition and become mediocre because the computer might make rectangles more easily than other shapes. This may be true of skills in any medium. Thus, techniques and media influence what a sketch communicates to architects and, on the other hand, who they want to speak to and what is meant to be said influences the architect 's choices concerning media and techniques.

Another purpose for which architects utilize sketches is to record, since the sketch often acts as a memory device. Architects may use sketches as visual notes, to act as travel companions to bring the trip home. This preserving may not necessarily be of the journey 's events but could include recording precedent, concepts or associative configurations. The sketches may document likeness of an object or thought, or could capture a monetary idea that may become easily forgotten. Like poetic drawings, the sketch may preserve an emotion or feeling that may not be easily recreated. Such sketches might also be diagrammatic studies, where the thinking through a process or the analysis of an event might be lost without a reminder. These sketches, as memoranda, may act to reserve specific concepts but are not necessarily a visual narrative with symbolic relationships. Since architectural sketches are distinctly individual very few architects use a consistent system of symbols. The two-dimensional images contain a more complex relationship: they hold multiple dimensions of communication.

The last primary function of architectural sketches also involves communication, but in this form it mediates between the architect and the sketch, since architects often use sketches for evaluation. The visual image can be a proposal to be criticized; thus, it can be used for decision-making. Once the sketch is on paper the architect can compare, by a process of perception, its consistency with the mind 's eye. Ernst Gombrich describes this as a process of matching and correction (Gombrich, 1984).

The purpose of testing, or visualizing, these designs on paper may be to match a mental likeness, but it can also make a judgment concerning a preconceived notion. An architect may sketch not knowing where the action of sketching will lead, but in reviewing the combination of lines he or she can evaluate the possible solutions. One common description of the design process as problem, solution and critique illustrates this procedure (Broadbent, 1973). As architects criticize their sketches, concepts may become more defined. More specifically, sketches support opportunities for analysis and assist understanding of complex constructs. When sketching to test, architects might make pages of sketches, each with slight variations. It is also possible for the sketch to communicate an impossible solution, which can be quickly seen and subsequently rejected in favor of a whole new assemblage. With the disposable and immediate aspects of sketches, a decision can be made with minimal investment of time.

These four sketches by Merrill Elam (Figures 1.6—1.9), principal in the firm Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, explore a method of visualization. Having worked together for over thirty years, the team's practice has focused primarily on libraries and academic buildings. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, they have been widely published in journals and are also the subject of two monographs. Their buildings have received many honors such as National American Institute of Architects Awards for Excellence, Georgia American Institute of Architects Design of Excellence Awards and several Architectural Record House Awards. Their projects include the William C. Blakley Law Library, Arizona State University; the Turner Village at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University; Berkeley Music Library and most recently a United States Courthouse in Austin, Texas, to be completed in 2008.

This series of sketches describes elevations for the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library. A practice that employs digital technology for conceptual design besides production, this sketch shows tremendous energy and articulation. Each treated slightly differently, the elevations have been outlined in ink and shades of blue and green have been applied. Each has been drawn freehand with remarkably accurate proportion.

The north elevation (Figure 1.6) is distinctive with its strong horizontal lines. It appears that the lines, the horizontal ones in particular, have been reinforced in an effort to either emphasize the connection of the glass or to ensure an accurate and straight representation. Another reason for reinforcing lines could be the result of choosing a pen with a fine nib. It is possible that Elam was expecting to view a heavier articulation of the connector and was repeating the lines to compensate. If this was the case, the visual testing shows a process of immediate evaluation. She may have been imagining a heavier line or could have, in the instant of seeing the sketch emerge, decided a heavier horizontal was more appropriate. Once viewed, decisions could be made.

FIGURE 1.6 Merrill Elam; Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library, University of California,

Berkeley, North Elevation.

FIGURE 1.6 Merrill Elam; Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library, University of California,

Berkeley, North Elevation.

Architectual Drawings Meadowhall

FIGURE 1.7 Merrill Elam; Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library, University of California,

Berkeley, South Elevation.

FIGURE 1.7 Merrill Elam; Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library, University of California,

Berkeley, South Elevation.

The south elevation (Figure 1.7) is rendered one hue of blue, either more dense or less dense depending upon a level of desired transparency. The ability to layer the colored pencil means Elam could reinforce areas through comparison. Viewing the entire façade provided this opportunity for judgment. The west elevation (Figure 1.8) demonstrates relatively slow lines that wobble only slightly. The ends of many of these lines fold back on themselves where they intersect perpendicular

FIGURE 1.8 Merrill Elam; Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library, University of California,

Berkeley, West Elevation.

FIGURE 1.8 Merrill Elam; Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library, University of California,

Berkeley, West Elevation.

FIGURE 1.9 Merrill Elam; Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library, University of California,

Berkeley, East Elevation.

lines. This may be an effort to end the line definitively or it could be an instance where their intersection was important. In the past, drafts people were taught to cross perpendicular lines rather than stop short of their connection. This may be use of body memory, or habit, on the part of Elam.

Each sketch, although using precise ink lines, has strong diagonals to fill in larger areas of color. Appearing to be partially a study of the transparency, translucency, and opaqueness of the façade (Figure 1.9), the various densities create a modeled effect. In these four sketches, Merrill Elam utilizes the sketch to visually evaluate an impression.

To summarize, architects use sketches in many individual ways, but formulating a few general functions can reveal how architects employ them in the design process. Sketches may be a method for discovery, and they also facilitate communication both with colleagues and with the architects themselves. Sketches can assist memory as a visual record of places, emotions, or concepts. The quick sketch may help the architect to make decisions either to test a concept or to match a form in the mind 's eye. Again, Filarete describes the potential acquisition of knowledge and the joy of drawing:

Execution teaches many things and everything cannot be fully narrated here.. .everything that is done by the hand partakes of is an unknown and little appreciated science. You would do very well to learn it, for it would acquaint you with a thousand delights. (Filarete, 1965: 82, 149)

Was this article helpful?

0 0
How To Become A Professional Pencil Drawing Artist

How To Become A Professional Pencil Drawing Artist

Realize Your Dream of Becoming a Professional Pencil Drawing Artist. Learn The Art of Pencil Drawing From The Experts. A Complete Guide On The Qualities of A Pencil Drawing Artist.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment