The dean of an East Coast architecture school was recently asked, “do you still teach your students hand drawing?” “No,” he responded, “and we don’t use slide rules or Rapidograph pens. Students today come to us as totally embedded in the digital world and that’s how they communicate and think.
Yet here at AN we seem to receive a book or peer review journal nearly every week on the importance of freehand drawing in architectural practice. There is no question that buildings are no longer constructed following pages of hand drawings—that it is now entirely digital and the process is smoother and more precise for it. In addition, there is a digital divide still in the profession between those who trained and began practice doing hand drawings and those who learned entirely on a computer. Richard Meier famously goes nowhere near a computer. He gives his hand drawings to a computer savvy office worker to translate into useable digital files. The late Michael Graves, according to J. Michael Welton, who recently published Drawing From Practice, believed, “computers are now taking the architect away from what he and others call ‘humanism.’” More convincingly, Graves also claimed, “a drawing leaves the question open, and leads to the next drawing.” A computer, he argued, does the opposite. “It wants the finality of closing the question.
The beautiful watercolor drawings by Steven Holl are a testament to the power a hand drawing can still have in the design process. The real question is whether it is still necessary or even helpful for architects to know how to do a quick and simple hand sketch or rendering? Is anything more lost by architectural design and representation being filtered through a mouse pad than when writers changed from typewriters to computers?
Drawings are in some way drawings whether they are done by hand or a computer. Peter Cook, for one, claims, “one or two of us don’t much care whether the drawing itself is covered in lead and sweat, caressed by layers of sediment or watercolor, is a partly photo-shopped manipulation, is caressed by the soothing characteristics of Maya, or dragged at extra speed through a printing machine.” It is that quick transformation of an idea represented on a page before it goes into CATIA or Rhino that is the most exciting part of the design process and how it is expressed, represented, and communicated. Carlo Scarpa famously wrote, “I place things in front of me, on the paper, so I can see them. I want to see, therefore I draw. I can see an image only if I draw it.” There is still an open question whether computer drawings have this immediacy—let alone the poetry and design of the best hand rendering. In the late 1960 and 70s, as conceptual and video art swept through the art schools, artists did not drop drawing and painting. Much of today’s most compelling art is a synthesis of all these modes of presentation. Likewise, schools of architecture should not take a one-size-fits-all approach to representation and exclusively teach the digital.
It is likely we are in the middle of a change in design production similar to the moment Brunelleschi left the workshop and went into a quiet room to draw. But architecture schools should continue to promote the idea of collage in representation, so that all ideas are displayed equally, not flattened by design programs onto a monitor.