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5 Reasons Why Drawing is Still Necessary for Architects

By Philip Robbie, AIA, OOA, LEED AP

November 14, 2017


There is no doubt that the advances in digital technology have advanced the architecture field. Architects have more tools than ever before to create accurate, lifelike designs. The renderings that programs like Revit, Rhino and Sketchup can generate are closer to the end product than we’ve ever been able to get before.

I like computers, and we at RS&H use these programs on a daily basis. But there is another tool that I find the most essential for us architects: the pencil.

Sketching and drawing should be the hallmark of an architect’s toolkit, but at some point drawing fell out of style. So many of us in the practice regard drawing as a generational tool, replaced by the computer just like fax machines and typewriters.

But there are many reasons why architects should draw and sketch by hand before hopping on the computer.

Water color painting. Reason No. 1: Being vs. Doing

We live in a world where doing is embraced and being is slightly frowned upon. Instead of standing on top of the mountain, being still and staring out into the expanse, many of us focus all of our effort on doing the climbing.

There’s a moment of pause as you hold a pencil over a blank piece of paper. When you draw a line on that piece of paper, there is a moment where you have to reflect on what you’re drawing. That pause is being.

Reason No. 2: Drawing is Deliberate

Drawing and sketching is a dance of thought and form, where the pencil – or pastels or watercolors, etc. – can tease the edges and lines out of your self-conscious. To flesh out ideas, the pencil is the tool you’re looking for.

Reason No. 3: Quick Capture

You may get hints of a big idea in your mind, but these moments can be fleeting – and often disappear before you can fire up your computer. That’s why it’s important to keep that sketchbook close by. Once you draw something, you capture an idea that you can now develop.

When we wake up from a dream, it slowly begins to slip away. By the end of the day, it’s gone. The reverse of that is true for the creative process. It’s elusive and undefined, and as the day goes on, it gains clarity. As time goes on, it becomes real. You just have to let that creative state go from an unbridled suggestion to concrete form.

Artistic water color drawingReason No. 4: Get the Big Picture

The big advantage of computer programs is in their definitive properties. There are hundreds of options for doors, windows, flooring and everything else you need to create the most specific of building projects. But, sometimes you’re just not ready for that. Access to so many options can cause you to lose track of your big idea.

The pencil process is different. If you draw a line wrong, it’s OK to get it wrong and get it wrong and get it wrong again. These imperfect lines can ultimately settle themselves into the perfect place. Let that final state be the foundation your computer builds off of.

Reason No. 5: Drawing Will Make You Better

I’m a firm believer in all the tools. Time and time again, the best designers I have been around can model in multiple platforms, and they can draw. They know when to sketch and when to go to the computer. With a balanced toolkit, they can create beautiful, insightful projects.

It’s a balance of the gut and the mind. Intuition and intellect. When the opposites are equally represented, it’s a more meaningful solution. We merely need to look around us to recognize the importance. Intuition plays a meaningful role and is best accessed through the pencil.

Artistic water color drawing

Topics: Insights, Architecture

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About the Author

Philip has 30 years of international experience in all areas of architectural practice. These services include master planning, programming, space planning, interior design and architectural design. He has specialized in the collaborative process and is a graphics facilitator. Developing internal studios, mentoring staff, facilitating design charrettes, along with public presentations of major commissions are frequent responsibilities. His work has gained recognition in the profession through numerous AIA design awards, and Philip has served as a visiting guest lecturer, TEDx speaker and author of work featured in professional publications. Philip can be reached at philip.robbie@rsandh.com.

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