The Digital Take Over: Hand Drawing in Architecture

Perfectly round lenses. Black turtleneck worn high with pride. Very architect-y indeed!

These are the obvious first impressions of a meeting with an architect to discuss design ideas for an upcoming project. So you know the drill. Discussion begins to flow, intensity around various ideas builds. At some point pen might hit paper, right? Is that still a thing?

I thought it was. I thought drawing was a basic tool used by architects to communicate ideas. I’m the furthest thing from “old school” too. In fact, the “old school” boys of the office have been known, on occasion, to tease me for being so new. They just want to slap me up-side my face with a pad of paper to get me drawing more.

The thing is, I agree with them! I do draw, but not enough. It’s a goal of mine to draw even more.

Drawing is an excellent way to brainstorm ideas. You might know the starting point, but you don’t know where the idea is going. Just put pen to paper and start exploring. You’ll find what you create on paper at times almost seems to lead you. Before you fully realize which way to push the ink, it has already chosen a direction. Drawing is loose.

Drawing is also versatile. It can happen anywhere. You don’t need a screen, a mouse, a stylus, a USB, or a particular piece of software. All you need is a surface and some ink, charcoal, maybe graphite. Perhaps you’re in studio, on the bus, or in the classic restaurant setting with napkin ready to go.

Arguably the most important part about drawing is that it encourages collaboration. Collaboration, like drawing, is a fundamental aspect of architecture. The two go hand-in-hand. The majority of people can pick up a pen and scribble their contribution, or at least they can understand the message you’re trying to communicate through your sketch.

Just think about all of the groups involved in the early stages of an architectural project. There is the design team, various consultants, the client, and the users (if they are different from the client). Under the umbrella of client and users, there might be a whole list of contributing parties.

Drawing has the ability to unite all of these groups, in any office, cafe, or wherever you meet. It’s simply a language of architecture that everyone can understand and perhaps even participate in.

So, with all of that said, you can imagine my shock when I heard that the university I attended no longer has any required hand drawing courses in the Master of Architecture program. Even when I attended there was only one semester of required hand drawing. I understand that traditional hand drafting is no longer the final deliverable, but is hand drawing not still an intrinsic part of the profession?

I believe that this move to eliminate hand drawing completely is a huge loss for the program. It is reasonable to put an emphasis on the digital, but to completely ignore such a fundamental part of the profession is doing a disservice for the students.

Am I wrong? I’m open to that possibility. I still have a lot to learn. This issue will definitely be something I aim to explore in the future.

I’d like to talk to more people in support of this complete digital take over and find out their logic behind it all. These days the majority of people influencing my perspective are the “old school” architects I have come to know and love. Is my perspective too one-sided? It just seems to me that in the “real” world, working in a firm that completes real projects, I haven’t come across a single person that thinks eliminating hand drawing is a good idea.

What do you think?








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