I was recently asked by a client if architects still hand draw anything. We were discussing construction documents and how turn-of-the-century drawings by architects could be considered artwork. My immediate reaction was no, not really, but after I thought about it for a moment I said yes. Although there are only a handful of architects that still hand draft construction documents, many architects still use drawing in some form as a design and communication tool.
Personally, I love to draw. I have not had much free time lately to dedicate any real time to “fun” drawings, but when I do I find the time to be both calming and rewarding. There is something magical about using a pencil to make the first lines on a clean sheet of paper.
The hand drawing that I do professionally is less for the aesthetic value of the drawing and more for testing designs, communicating ideas, and working out details in the field. In terms of testing designs, it is common practice for architects to design and redesign buildings for their clients multiple times. Design is a process that involves many layers of complexity and refinement. When designing a new building or renovation to an existing building, one of the first things many architects do after working out programming issues with the client is “bubble” diagrams of spaces and their relationships. While this is fairly easy to do with CAD programs in our digital age, I find that hand drawing these relationships gives me a better understanding of the design. Then the drawings are worked out in the computer and maybe reprinted and sketched over to be tested once again. Early team design meetings with both consulting engineers and Owners usually involves rolls or tracing paper (AKA trash paper or bumwad, and comes in white, yellow, and canary yellow with most architects being proponents of one color over the other) and drawing over prints around a conference table. Don’t get me wrong--most of the work is still done in the computer, but sketching over printed drawings is a common practice by many architects and engineers.
In terms of communicating ideas, many architects use hand sketching as a way to clarify elements of the design to a client or a contractor. I have had countless occasions where during a client meeting I have been asked to explain a detail or element on the plans. In that moment, hand drawing has saved me. Being able to draw a quick vignette or diagram to graphically express the intent goes a long way.
Hand drawing during construction is used to clarify construction drawings or begin details that will later be issued as separate documents. Sometimes questions arise during construction that are easier to answer with a quick sketch than a verbal explanation.
Our firm does a good bit of work with existing historic buildings. One of the first things we do when beginning a new project is to measure and field verify the existing conditions. While we have used digital capturing and 3D measuring in the past, we have found that for our work it is much easier to do quality field notes and measurements with a pencil and paper.
There is no doubt in my mind that the digital age will continue to increase its presence in the architectural and building communities, but I doubt hand drawing will ever truly die in our profession.