Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Guest Blog: "What Happened to Drawing?"

Michael J. Malone, AIA
Studio Director, The Michael Malone Studio
WKMC Architects, Inc., Dallas

Last year at the 2008 TSA Convention in Fort Worth, I presented a program that addressed a question that had been nagging at me for several years, What Happened to Drawing? Specifically, I wanted to initiate a discussion regarding the role of hand drawing, both sketching and drafting, in our profession and whether or not it was still relevant to what we do as architects in the creation and documentation of our work. More importantly, I wanted to know if it was becoming something quaint and precious that was going the way of negative photography, record stores, and newspapers…something that we’d all tell our children and grandchildren about, one of those “back in my day” reminiscences like when my grandfather used to tell me about riding a horse to school. The program last year was so well attended and the ensuing discussion and questions so engaging and animated that I am offering it again this year in Houston.

It’s my belief that unless we discuss it and as a profession we have a consensus about it, there won’t be anyone who draws by hand left in our profession within a generation. If you think about it, the way we as a group of professionals have defined ourselves for literally centuries has been by our almost unique ability to draw and our use of drawings as a communication tool.

I started architectural school in 1976, and one of the first classes I took in college was freehand drawing. My earliest design studios required keeping sketchbooks as a way to begin to record the world around us and to develop our skills and facility at drawing. In part I went to architectural school because I loved to draw and in college was surrounded by people of like mind and inclination.
I do a fair amount of interviewing potential hires for intern positions in my studio and have a wider exposure to young architects through my mentoring efforts in conjunction with our local AIA chapter. For the last several years, I have reviewed portfolios of young people with no hand drawing at all to represent their projects, even as concept sketches. If I ask them if they’ve done any hand drawings as part of their architectural education, I basically get two responses: the first is that their professors have told them that we in the profession only want to see computer drawings as a condition of considering them for a position or second that hand drawing wasn’t required for them to develop or present their projects in school. Both answers concern me because they suggest there is an inclination away from hand drawings in the academy. I am curious if this is because our collegiate schools of architecture feel that’s what they need to do to prepare young architects for the profession or if it is the inclination of the schools themselves? Either way the results are the same and drawing as a tool, a means of expression, a way to develop an idea, an artistic expression, and a means of communication is both diminished and in danger of being lost.

I am interested in knowing if the changes we are seeing are necessary, a sign of the times and the progress of the world, or if they are driven by forces outside our profession and the way we practice. It’s my intention to find this out through discussion and dialogue with as many people as are interested in the discussion itself and who feel they are vested in any of the possible points of view and outcomes.

Add your comments on this topic to the TSA blog and be a part of the ongoing discussion. Attend the TSA Convention in Houston and sign up for CE Session 109059 to hear more on this topic from Michael Malone, Saturday, Oct. 24, at 1:30 p.m.

Sketches by Michael Malone.


Andrew Sheehan AIA said...

I guess you have to descibe or define why hand drawing is of benefit to an Architect in the first place. I've found that it both helps me see better, when sketching something physical in order to record it, and to quickly describe a visual idea to another person. I suspect, and remember, that most drawings in the academy are emphasized as simply 'final' presentations, and not necessarily as means of recording or exploring. I am seriously worried about the visual 'agility' of recent graduates I encounter- who can't for whatever reason quickly sketch out a solution to a problem, particulary in front of non-architects. It's often not because they don't have something in mind, but more because they can't express it. I am also worried that by keeping their explorations within the machine, the complex physical things like texture and weight, which are very hard to 'model' digitally, are going to be neglected in their solutions. If I was a professor and was going to assign a project to a student, I would challenge them to solve the problem with as little formal documentation as possible, as is often the case on a day-to-day practical basis- describe only the core idea of their project, and I've found hand drawing has always allowed me to do that- so put them into similar situations when they're in studio, not just build them up to a 'final presentation'.

Anonymous said...

I started a 5 yr architecture program in a large state school in 2004 for the same reason you did in 1976... I liked to draw (as did most of my classmates).

I can't speak for other schools but where I attended both hand drawing skills and computer rendering skills were pretty much required to have a successful final project in the upper level studios. Each new project we were asked to create simple, beautiful, concept sketches and develop them into hard-lined computer drawings over time. (Hybrid drawings were also used quite frequently and I think are still very effective but that's a different topic all together).

After over a year of full time work and a few projects in the real world my workflow has remained true. Just before I read this article I was sketching over and over on trace while trying to mass the model in Revit. As I moved to my computer an email popped up with a link to this blog.

I felt obligated to defend my generation because I know that most of the people my age in work and school that I have come in contact with love to draw and still use it daily. It's just that now, there comes a point in the refinement stage where it makes sense to put what you have in the computer and reap the benefits of the software available out there.

I feel confident hand-drawing as a communication device will be around for ever. Not because it can't be replaced (it already can be depending on how you want to use it) but because it is awesome and clients still respect and expect an architect to be able to draw as they are talking. Also, because ahh-ha moments (as I like to call them) usually don't happen in front of a computer. They usually happen on white boards in meetings, coffee napkins, hotel bibles, sidewalk chalk.... anywhere but sketch-up right?

Now the art of drafting, well I feel that is obsolete. I don't think many will argue there.

Hand drawing is what it is. It has advanced as far as it will go. And now it has to compete with software that is developing at exponential rates. The final product from which is very appealing. Sometimes more appealing that hand drawings.

Nevertheless, I don't think you have to worry about hand drawing going away any time soon. It will always be a powerful tool in a tool bag that keeps getting exponentially bigger.

Thanks for the post


Jim Gahl said...

I must admit I am "Old School" when it comes to this issue. I recall the times when eveything was developed by hand. Today it seems the computer has replaced many of the design tasks we did before by hand. Even today I work out my design ideas on paper but must admit once I get to the idea it goes straight onto the computer. But even as I approach the final presentation, I pull off an image and develop it by hand. It was in another lecture some years ago that I was reminded that clients are in awe when they know something is drawn by hand or when design ideas are explored in front of their eyes. I would not say that someone who draws is a better designer - but I would argue that design ideas can be quickly shared and explored when one draws them with a client. I think anyone can find a way to utilize a computer to express their ideas - but I believe only a handful can draw these ideas in front of a client and get to a solution much quicker. For me, being able to use the flexibility of drawing helps me meet the clients needs and time constraints, it helps me meet my work effort versus my fee, but more importantly it seems to draw my clients into the design process more. To many times I have been told computer generate designs look finalize and complete. I think it is imporatnt to ask ourselves - "Are we drawing for our sake or for the clients sake?" I can only present my own experiences, but when I draw a 3D image of their building or explore other quick ideas or even draw upside down so they can see the idea on the other side of the table - it always draws then into the experience more. I would hope all new students could learn the art of drawing and experience the joy of dreaming of an idea and seeing it come to life immediately on paper.

Get on the Bus! said...

I am a young intern in a large firm in Dallas. I attended a large state university that valued hand drawings above all else. Of course, we were required to create computer generated images and drawings to train us for practice, but I don't think that drawings are lost on a new generation. In fact, I came into my interviews with a large portfolio containing hand drawings, much to the delight of my interviewers.

As an analogy, drawing is a bit like entering a relationship. Older generations, having no choice, entered into marriages with their drawings, committing a great deal of time and effort. Younger people think of them more like one night stands. You get what you need, and then you move on with no regrets.

Perhaps a different way to think of it is that we commit less time to finished quality drawings, and more time to thinking through a problem. It also takes fewer of us to complete a drawing set than 20 or 30 years ago. I and another intern managed to bring a 55,000 sf building up to a strong DD set in a little less than a week! Ultimately the savings in time were not used to produce beautiful hand renderings, but a greater series of solutions, producing a better product.

My guess is that drawings are not part of the portfolios of many young interns because they probably don't want you to see how the sausage is made. Sketching to solve a problem doesn't really impress most people as much as the final product it renders.

That leads me to a question about the drawings posted. Were these made to communicate an idea about the subjects drawn, or to gain a greater understanding of the subject? To me there is a huge difference. We were taught to draw in order to better understand somethings underlying descriptive geometry and if in the process that communicated an idea, all the better.

Maybe if you want to see more drawings from interviewees, try asking to see their sketch books. I'd bet that you would be pleasantly surprised.