In the days of the “Ecole De Beaux-Arts,” the pencil was the only tool. Now, the pencil has been replaced by the mighty computer. The transition inevitably reflects the current state of architecture and life. It is a good thing, but also a sad thing to me. When I graduated from architecture school in the 1980’s, the pencil was the only tool I knew. Everyone was required to draw by hand. I transferred into the Architecture program from Fine Arts because I fell in love with the analytical drawings displayed in the school’s corridor. I wanted to become an architect because I loved to draw. I spent my first 15 years after graduation trying to avoid using a computer. Being good at drawing helped avoid the inevitable, but eventually, I was forced to succumb. Slowly it has become another tool and even a “friend” where I can peacefully integrate the two worlds.
Drawing is more than a tool; it is a skill, a way of seeing and expressing. Le Corbusier said, “I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster and leaves less room for lies,” while Escher said, “Drawing is deception.” In my opinion, drawing can be both. It is integral to the design process because it communicates the story (an honest one or not). It is true that one can also draw with a computer, especially with software like sketch-up creating beautiful images. But who drew them? How many people worked on them? They seem to be missing the human touch, the craftsmanship, the emotion, the quickness, spontaneity, and imperfections that can only be achieved by a human hand holding a pencil. Because of this, hand drawings still hold a valuable place in architecture. They leave room for personal interpretation, in contrast to computer images that sometimes becomes too “true,” too exact, too defined. That can become a problem, especially when an architect has no time to resolve the design. The hand drawing is great at “faking it.” And, it can be much faster to execute.
I feel lucky to be able to do what I love and still draw by hand at work. I feel happy and a bit guilty when my husband laughs at me for being paid to “color.” But for the majority in the field of architecture, hand drawing is a skill that is slowly dying. It worries me because the act of hand drawing is more than making pretty images. It is essential to the design process. It links the connection between the hand, the eye, and the brain. And it seems to be the foundation for every art form. Walt Disney was quoted, “Mickey Mouse popped out of my mind onto my drawing pad 20 years ago on a train from Manhattan to Hollywood…” Disney did not need a battery or electricity or Google images for help. He used his pencil.
I am not one of those “old farts” who thinks that the past is better. I appreciate technology and its results, but I think it does hinder the art of hand drawing in architecture because there is not enough time and opportunity to exercise it. This isn’t anyone’s fault. It is just the nature of progress. Frank Gehry’s “scribbles” and his crinkled up pieces of paper forms could not have become “real” without technology. The development of Building Information Modeling has improved team connection and system integration. The computer has become a great interactive tool for 3-D visualizations for meetings, finding resources/information, and connecting the world. The public demands and expects the computer-look. Most would opt to watch the amazing animated films of Pixar vs. the old hand-drawn Walt Disney movies…and only a few will still notice and appreciate the incredible hand-drawn/painted water colored backgrounds in Snow White. The computer is mighty for good reason. The pencil is essential for good reason. I think there needs to be room for both the pencil and the mighty computer. I don’t think hand drawing will disappear as long as they keep making tracing paper for our meetings, but without practice and opportunity, we may lose this skill.
So to answer the question, do architects still draw by hand?
Yes, but much less than we use to, so we need to keep sketching so that we will not forget.
Courtesy of FX Fowle Architects