Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Architecture & Drawing: Drawing on Imagination

Napkin Sketch by Antoine Predock
Our AIA chapter is currently hosting a napkin sketch competition, similar to that hosted by Architectural Record. It serves as a reminder that, despite advances in technology and documentation, the ancient art of drawing still plays a vital role in the creation of architecture.

The last post noted a paradigm shift in the tools architects use to represent their works. Digital output from sophisticated computer programs have largely replaced "old school" drawing. Although the role of drawing has changed, its connection to architecture remains. Drawing offers a means of communication that simply cannot be replicated.

Architecture begins in the head of the architect. There the big idea is formed and (to some extent) developed; however, unless this idea can be transferred to something tangible, it cannot be communicated. And if it the idea cannot be communicated, it cannot be built. The process in which architects convey this "big idea" is (to paraphrase Christopher Knight) from the brain, through the hand, to the pencil, and onto paper. The resulting drawing is called a parti. This process of design can happen virtually anywhere, at any time. An architect may sketch out the parti on a napkin while discussing the project over lunch. He may awaken in the night and scratch out the parti on the back of a receipt. If all else fails, a scheduled client meeting usually provides the necessary incentive for inspiration! So, the seed of architecture may be planted in the brain, but it sprouts as ink on paper.

Beyond the parti, drawings are used by architects to communicate ideas. Hand drawings give the impression that the project is in a stage of development, which is normally representative of reality. A crisp CAD plan or computer generated model gives the impression that the project is complete, even when it isn't. In meetings with consultants or clients, the ability to draw allows the architect to develop and advance the project on the fly. A picture is worth far more than a thousand words.

Drawing may be a God-given talent but it is also a skill which can be learned. With a little instruction and a lot of practice, anyone can become proficient in drawing. I understand that, with new technologies, many of the drawings that were once generated by hand are now generated by computer. Many of us who once spent our days drawing and lettering on our boards sometimes find ourselves reminiscing about the "good ole days" of hand drawing and lettering. (Sidenote: My drawing board has never crashed.) Apparently there are enough of us out there that a new museum has been constructed to cater to our needs. The Museum for Architectural Drawing recently opened in Berlin. It promotes and displays collections of architectural drawings, primarily from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The building itself contains both subtle and conspicuous references to architectural drawings. The form created by the five levels of the building reminds one of stacks of drawings (subtle), while enlarged portions of historic drawings are transposed to the exterior skin. It may be because I am an architect, but I find the concept of a museum in which the "art" within is really architecture, truly intriguing. 

Museum for Architectural Drawing
SPEECH Tchoban & Kuznetsov
Art and Architecture have long been connected. Museums have traditionally been thought of as works of architecture which house works of art. In such buildings there is a delicate balance between the two. That's where we'll pick up next month with Art or Architecture?