It may seem strange for me to be a proponent of non-computer-aided design processes. After all, my very first studio in undergrad was a “paperless studio,” which meant just that: no paper, no pencils, all computers, all CAD. It felt like we could create and render entire worlds before we could adequately sketch the image staring back from the mirror. We had learned to excel at producing images that could quickly and clearly communicate design concepts, but I quickly learned that they were not always the concepts we intended to communicate. The level of detail in computer images brought unintended attention to certain areas of our designs and often did not adequately present the solutions we wanted the focus on.
For years this complex level of digital modeling had been relegated to Hollywood production studios and those folks with pockets much deeper than the average architecture student. Suddenly software like FormZ, 3DStudio, and SketchUp found a home in the grubby little hands of us design students, and the world suddenly became much easier to represent. It seemed that as our skills on the computer gained focus, our skills with pencil and paper were proportionately pushed to the back burner. You may ask yourself, “So what!?” Who needs a pencil when you have a shiny new MacBook Pro with a full software suite installed!?
Well despite our generation’s dedication to the computer, perhaps these skills alone are not enough. What if every one of us saw the need to couple our wireless optical mice with an inherent ability to draw? Maybe the ability to sketch your thoughts during a conversation with a client can be more powerful than even a fully refined digital image?
A few years ago we were working on a small multifamily project. We had prepared a few hand sketches from a draft FormZ model, and were going over the designs with our client. We were discussing things in a very fluid way; he seemed to understand that the hand sketches represented a work in progress. He was open to alternates being discussed on the fly. I could tell he was open to further evolution of our solution.
Soon the need to look at a view not previously sketched came up. I turned on my laptop and opened the digital model so that we could fly around a bit. I was genuinely shocked to see a drastic change in our client’s perspective. Suddenly he expected this “realistic looking” digital model to represent a final solution.
It was the exact same solution we had been discussing all along, but the simple switch from analogue to digital seemed to trigger in his mind a premature solution. Where the hand sketch was apparent as just one stop along the project’s evolution, the computer model meant to him that the design process was finished. Had we suddenly designed ourselves into a corner!? I quickly turned the laptop off, and we returned to discussing the hand sketches.
Since that experience I have strived to make the ability to sketch much more central to my skill set. I spend more time simply drawing what is around me: nature, the city, and projects I dream up. Still plenty of work ahead, but the exercise is at the very least a great distraction from my 17” LCD screen.