Part of an occasional series of essays from show creator and host Stephen Chung.
Recently, I posted a few of my hand-drawn pencil renderings on Twitter. I was feeling nostalgic I guess. Afterward, I got a lot of questions from other architects asking me if I still drew by hand. Sad to say, but the answer was no.
It’s not that don’t enjoy the activity, because I do. But it seems that freehand drawing is becoming less and less important to architectural practice, especially when it comes to time-consuming presentation renderings. But it goes further than architectural practice. Though I am not teaching currently, I have noticed that in my last few experiences in the classroom, students could not draw very well. But it’s hard to blame them. Freehand drawing is either not taught in the architecture school curriculum — or if it is, it’s seen as marginal coursework at best.
I think a layperson would be very surprised to learn that an architect (or even an architecture student) could not draw well. Within my generation, the best architecture students were generally the ones that also drew the best. But somewhere along the line, something changed, and I no longer think this is the case. And yes, it has to do with the rapid developments in computer-aided design. Simply stated, it is far easier to create a drawing with the computer than by hand. And if you can express ideas easier using a computer, then so be it.
Architects of my generation or earlier usually defend the critical importance of drawing by hand. Some say that freehand drawing is the most direct expression of the mind’s activity. A detractor, on the other hand, might counter by saying that the mouse is just a tool in the same way a pencil is.
I don’t disagree with either opinion. I worry less about how an idea is expressed and instead focus on its quality. A great concept can come out of a napkin sketch or from a powerful computer program. I don’t think it matters. But I do feel strongly that an architect should be open to all forms of design drawing — freehand, computer, or even both. My friend Marc Tsurumaki is particularly adept at a combined method of hand and computer rendering (see one of his images in the slideshow at top).
Personally, I might save my higher praise for architects than can draw by hand. I had the great fortune to sit next Kelly Wilson in an office and watch him draw; you can see one of his illustrations in the slideshow above. He was and still is the best. But make no mistake: My highest praise will always go to architects that move beyond the drawing and realize their ideas.