This blog is devoted to my architectural sketching adventures and musings about the integration of architecture and sketching.
I hope not only to share my own on-location architectural sketches but provide tips and methodologies for sketching and understanding architecture.
Also, most importantly, I wish to explore ways in which, in a digital age, we can not only defend but
promote freehand sketching within the architectural profession.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To sketch or CAD?

I posed this questioned on my main blog and my flickr back in Jan 2010 and got some interesting responses. This is a question that I grapple with all the time at work...
I got some very interesting responses which are included below - but would love for the discussion to continue!

For all my online friends that are architects (or designers) ....I am curious as to how you design. (I have also posed this on flickr - click on the image to go there and see the comments.
A Question for Architects - To sketch or CAD?
I find myself in a constant state of flux between the computer and the drawing board (believe it or not I still have a drawing board in my work space but never use the parallel rules- I just find the angled worksurface better for my neck- plus I just like having a board next to me... A remnant of a former age when I started as an architect).
..but back to my question... I find at the early stages of a design problem I keep asking myself should I be working this up on the computer when I am doing rough sketches but then when I try to design on the computer I find that I just sit there looking at the screen. For me design solutions so often come as soon as I print it out, rip some yellow trace and let my hand to its thing... I just don’t think as well looking at a computer screen. I think with a pen in my hand. Plus I much prefer scribbling than moving a mouse!

I would love hearing other peoples thoughts – methods of design. I end up using lots of paper : rough sketch – computer- printout – refinement on the drawing board – back to CAD – printout.... Etc.
Some of the responses I initially received are below... but would LOVE some more.....

Anthony Duce said...

I always start with tracing paper overlays. I draw freehand over a scaled grid. I do this for initial design and the development of the plans as well as elevations, wall sections and the details for original ideas. Later in my career I did move to cad after the basic design and major details were figured out. By then though I was one of the owners and usually had less less experienced architects in the firm doing the cad work, sometime putting the design into cad while i continued to work on trace. Before retiring the Form Z and other BIN programs were being used by those who grew up with them. More and more of the design work was being started from scratch on the computer, by those who were comfortable. I still have to draw to see.
January 14, 2010 5:13 PM
Janene said...

I am a landscape designer and use tracing paper overlays too. The organic connection of mind, hand, pen and paper is important to my design process.

Matthew-1 on flickr

Great question Liz.
I'm an architectural technologist so much of my design is the detailing. I have to start with rough sketches and trace to arrive at a solution. Then I can take it to cad and maybe send it around to consultants for feedback and coordination if required (mostly structural). Like you I just can't begin with cad. But perhaps it is my age and when I was initially trained (infancy of cad and primitive at the time) plus my natural affinity and love of drawing by hand.
I had a job interview this morning and the guys were most interested in my hand sketching and travel sketches and these provoked the most discussion and really "broke the ice". Both of the guys interviewing me were natural hand sketchers themselves though (a bit older than me).
We did discuss how young people are very fluent with the new computer tools (especially 3D). The partner in the firm mentioned that at the local university they actually no longer allow work to be presented as hand drawings. We agreed it was a mistake.
But you know, the new "blobitecture" and "Gheryesque" stuff probably can't be (easily) conceptualized by hand.
At any rate, I need to learn sketch-up to compliment my hand drawing ability, it's become almost a "must have" skill.
But hand sketching ? no substitute for me.

Matthew Brehm said...

Great question, Liz! I finished undergraduate architecture school (University of Notre Dame) just as computers were becoming available, so my training was almost entirely analog rather than digital. I practiced for several years and used digital tools almost exclusively during that time. For the past 10 years, I've been teaching architecture (Universities of Oregon and Idaho), including graphics courses (both analog and digital) and many design studios at every level. My research has been focused on design communication, and especially on the juncture between analog and digital methods for design. Based on all these experiences, I prefer a hybrid approach that uses the best tool for a particular set of tasks - sometimes sketching, sometimes digital modeling, sometimes physical modeling, etc. (I would argue that CAD might be best for drafting, but that drafting is not the same as designing!) Freehand sketching is the most direct way of getting ideas to paper - there is virtually no 'interface' (menus, commands, preferences regarding scale or view, etc.) to get in the way between idea and imagery. Combining analog and digital techniques offers the greatest flexibility, clarity, and opportunity for development ... but most students are overdependent on digital tools - they feel safer or more professional or they feel self-conscious about their sketching skills, etc. So my emphasis as a teacher is on sketching, and the students in my courses who really embrace sketching ALWAYS thank me later.

suzanne cabrera said...

I find the computer is terribly limiting in the first stages of the design process. This is even more the case with students who are just learning the programs and restricted by the tools. Rather than designing the spaces of their dreams they are forced to do only what they feel is possible in the program (i.e. straight lines, 90 degree angles).. I'm sure this can all change with experience...but for now it is easier for my students (and ME!) to get out the trash paper and go at it!

Great question...I look forward to reading others thoughts!

Ed Brodzinsky on flickr ....

no contest for me -- it's pencil in hand and a roll of yellow trace. . . . and a soft pencil (2B or softer), at least to start. . . . if it's a complex design, I might add layers of pen or colored pencil. . . . this is as true for the trickiest tiny window detail as it is for a broad town planning conceptual layout. . . . perhaps it's a generational thing, going back to training (arch'l school in the early 60s), but I really can't think without a clutch pencil in my hand. . . .

Jmurdockphoto on flickr....
I am a landscape architect that deals mostly with town planning and conceptual design. I am a younger generation LA (I am still in my 20s) and love working in the computer. That said, my design process looks very similar to Liz. I start by hand sketching ideas and concepts, plug them into the computer, print out, sketch on and so forth. I find that alot of new designers and design students rely way too much on the computer. This is sad to me and especially MC_BDS's story about not allowing hand drawn documents. That is a huge mistake!!

I also use SketchUp, but only as a base for hand rendered final graphics. I find that most clients relate to the softness of a hand drawn image moreso than a cold, crisp digital graphic. I am not an employer, but I feel that most design firms would much rather have a student/new employee that could get design ideas on paper quickly (time is money) than a proficient CAD jockey.

I went to a workshop last year where an LA said that he gets the most respect from clients during the initial meetings when they tell him their ideas and he quickly scribbles a sketch on a napkin and the client can say...."that's exactly what I am talking about!"

Honestly, in the long run, I don't see the "hand to digital to hand" process changing anytime soon. Hopefully anyway!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Liz
    I follow your blog and just discovered this series of postings.

    I appreciate your idea of promoting and defending the idea of drawing and is an issue that I have dealt with since the advent of datacad, autocad and sketchup. All of my contemporaries are still dealing with the issue, but we have all had the same comments when we present hand drawn sketches and ideas. We all feel that it goes deeper than just preference and background. It really affects how younger designers process design ideas and information. Without the skill we all feel their growth will be stunted.

    Some of the postings look dated and I am curious if you are still interested in comments?Let me know.
    Love your work.

    Ross Sutherland