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The Art of Hand Drawing in Architecture

For 30 cents, you can create worlds. Not literally, but imaginatively. I’m talking about imagining, designing, and drawing spaces, buildings, and objects with a simple .30 cent pencil or pen. With just a little practice, you can create worlds that have your own unique spin on the standard building rendering. But today, very little people bother with using their hands for showcasing architecture. I’ll explain briefly why the so called dying art of hand drawing still has its place in the architecture world.


1. Unique artist’s touch - This reason is probably the best and most endearing difference between hand rendered vs. computer. When you use a pencil on paper, there is a direct connection between your brain and the media. Nothing is getting translated into bits and graphics, you can literally touch the tool and use it to your advantage. Human error will occur, but that is what makes the hand drawings so charming and fascinating. In days past, when architects all drafted by hand, each architect had his or her own “style” for drawing on paper. Though subtle, these little differences are what connected the architect with a true artist of buildings. Though a computer is faster and has much less drafting error, without these little quirks the drawings can seem a little dry and uninteresting.

Quick 2 minute sketches like this get the overall feel of the building.

2. Sketching is faster - Having the ability to quickly sketch a space for a client is paramount for a project’s success. Take for example, a client who is having trouble visualizing a space as how it will look. With any simple drawing surface and a pencil, the architect can within minutes create a 3D rendering of the finished space and how the client will fit inside it. Though many may boast their speedy computer modeling skills, they will not always have one handy, and in most cases sketching quickly will be faster. In another example, having the ability to quickly sketch a construction detail comes in very handy when you are on the jobsite trying to communicate an idea to the contractor. In this case, the architect may very well save a whole change order process and the time and costs associated with that.


Darkening lines brings out the important elements to the viewer's eye.


3. Teaches about space - When you sit down and sketch a space, your brain is working in many ways to teach you art skills like form, composition, order, symmetry, and rhythm to name just a few. One of my absolute favorite past times is sketching the various monuments, famous buildings, parks, landmarks, and plazas of the world. Though I don’t get it right the first time, I eventually layout a good drawing, which considers the accurate sizes and shapes of the space I may be in. My eyesight, brain, and hands are all connected in a way that is not possible by looking at computer model. It is this constant practice that lets me recreate a space on my paper, and at the same time, teaching me a bit about what the architect must have been designing in the first place. It becomes a sort of history lesson as well as an art lesson for yourself.


4. Less finalized, more surprise - Though a shiny computer generated 3D image is the standard marketing tool in this day and age, it leaves very little to the imagination. I am constantly getting emails from specialty rendering companies that deliver beautifully rendered lifelike to the point of seeing sweat drawings. There may be a time and place for this style of drawing, but I don’t believe it is for every project. When you create a hand rendered drawing, with a unique style previously talked about, there is an air of ‘unfinished’ quality to it. This is not necessarily bad either, but leaves room for the imagination of the client to fill in for themselves. They may even be less intimidated by it, and have suggestions for how they see the space. But even a bigger reason is the surprise factor. Imagine waking up to Christmas morning, but already knowing exactly what you are getting. That is the same with a too perfect computer drawing, it takes out the surprise.


Practice drawing to get an inherent sense of order and rhythm in your compositions.


So they may not be teaching how to draw in architectural school anymore, but I say it’s the cheapest, most educating, most interesting tool there is in this business. Don’t put your pens and pencils away forever. For just 30 cents, you can make a masterpiece.


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