Hand Drawing in the Age of Computers

Inspired by a recent Alvaro Siza lecture, in which the architect traced the design process of one of his buildings through a myriad of ever-more-refined sketches, we've combed through the profiles on World-Architects to find sketches and other hand drawings—not an easy feat, considering the ubiquity of CAD drawings, computer renderings, and photographs for documenting projects. Nevertheless we've compiled a rich sampling of drawings to illustrate the value—even necessity—of hand drawings in the age of computers.

The following examples are grouped into two sections: Design & Realization and Process. The former presents a sketch or other hand drawing alongside a photo of the finished project, highlighting the role of the drawing in the design's form and realization. The latter presents a few unbuilt projects through hand drawings alongside other drawing types—CAD drawings, computer renderings—to show the evolution of the design process and its refinement through various media.

Design & Realization


Allied Works
Sokol Blosser Winery Tasting Room
Dundee, Oregon, USA
Allied Works, Sokol Blosser Winery Tasting Room. Drawing: Brad Cloepfil 
Unlike computer models and the renderings that come from them, hand-drawn sketches have the ability to define various attributes of a design—form, scale, space, and materiality—without worrying about precision. Sketches ask much of the imagination—filling in the blanks—but some of the best architecture manages to recall the loose sketches of their origins in their final form. Such is the case with Brad Cloepfil's sketch of the just completed Sokol Blosser Winery Tasting Room; the section clearly describes how the indoor and outdoor spaces are carved from the long mass, realized through various types of striated wood.
Allied Works, Sokol Blosser Winery Tasting Room. Photo: Andrea Johnson Photography 


Bossley Architects
McCahon Artist's Residence
Waitakere, Auckland, New Zealand
Bossley Architects, McCahon Artist's Residence. Drawing: Andrea Bell 
Hand drawings are particularly well suited for mixed media presentations. This drawing of a house and studio designed by Bossley Architects for artist Colin McCahon layers a hardline elevation and a looser depiction of the landscape over a photograph of the trees around the sloping site. The drawing accentuates how the artist's residence "is carefully designed to sit between the many trees," and "the structure is carefully designed to minimize interference to trees and site," as the architect describes it.
Bossley Architects, McCahon Artist's Residence. Photo: Patrick Reynolds 


CCS Architecture
The Middlebrook Studios
Woodside, California, USA
CCS Architecture, The Middlebrook Studios. Drawing: CCS Architecture 
This hand-drawn rendering of studios for the Djerassi Resident Artists Program expresses the main ideas of the project before design development. In particular, each studio is a separate structure that sits underneath a large shelter propped up by skinny columns; they each look down the slope to the view beyond. In the final execution the number of studios is reduced to four from five; the columns sit between the boxes rather than in front of them; angled walls at the edge of the boxes offer additional shade; the canopy is simplified to only one pitch; and the large glazed areas are reduced to sliding glass doors. Nevertheless the initial ideas are clearly carried through to completion.
CCS Architecture, The Middlebrook Studios. Photo: Paul Dyer 


gmp · Architekten von Gerkan, Marg und Partner
Grand Theater
Chingqing, China
gmp, Grand Theater. Drawing: gmp 
A sketch can define broad strokes. This simple marker sketch by gmp for the Grand Theater defines its silhouette on the skyline and its relationship to the Yangtze River—the architect even describes how "the 'Grand Theater' seems to hover above the river." In this sense the design is akin to a ship, something the architect reiterates: "Two concert halls with their respective foyers are situated in the longitudinal axis, similar to the 'keel line' of a ship, thus forming entrance areas at the bow and the stern. In the center, in other words 'midship' of these entrance areas, is the exhibition hall, which joins all the theatre foyers together."
gmp, Grand Theater. Photo: Hans-Georg Esch 


GORA art&landscape
Castles in the Air
Malmö, Sweden
GORA art&landscape, Castles in the Air. Drawing: GORA art&landscape 
Poetry can be defined as the use of language as a vessel for meaning, in which the reader's interpretation of the writer's carefully selected words is paramount. In this sense sketching is the architectural equivalent of poetry, using just enough lines to instill in the viewer a fairly open-ended idea, unlike highly realistic computer renderings. These "castles in the air" by GORA are a good example, echoed by their poetic description: "They are nests of utter simplicity and yet, at the same time, a place for dreams, pleasure and the grandiose. ... Lift yourself above ground level, let go of ground contact, get new prospects and move the horizon further away. You are where the birds are, closer to heaven. It is almost like flying."
GORA art&landscape, Castles in the Air. Photo: Ursula Striner 


Steven Holl Architects
Sliced Porosity Block
Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Steven Holl Architects, Sliced Porosity Block. Drawing: Steven Holl 
In Steven Holl's office there are shelves full of gray boxes storing sketchbooks with the daily watercolors he is famous for—two books focused on his watercolors have been published to date. Many of the drawings are not directly related to a project, but they all eventually influence his work in some manner, be it in ideas of form, light, or material, traits his architecture is known for. The above documentation of the 5-building Sliced Porosity Block highlights the main ideas behind the project as well as details like the geothermal wells and the relationship of the buildings to the pools in the plaza.
Steven Holl Architects, Sliced Porosity Block. Photo: Iwan Baan 


ikon.5 architects
Schindler Elevator Corporation U.S. Headquarters
Morristown, New Jersey, USA
ikon.5 architects, Schindler Elevator Corporation U.S. Headquarters. Drawing: ikon.5 architects 
Watercolors are especially good at capturing intentions of light and space through variations in color. The order and repetition of this office space for Schindler is clear, but even more it's about the hierarchy of the Swiss-red conference room at one end. The watercolor clearly follows from the architect's process: "Inspired by contemporary artists working with light and color to illustrate space and movement, our design creates a series of one point perspective 'mise en scènes' that abstractly explore movement and displacement." The view from the conference room illustrates the shift in color that occurs when being within the space.
ikon.5 architects, Schindler Elevator Corporation U.S. Headquarters. Photo: James D'Addio 


Matiz Architecture & Design
Boys & Girls Club Early Education Center
Wayne, New Jersey, USA
Matiz Architecture & Design, Boys & Girls Club Early Educational Center. Drawing: Juan Matiz 
Architects' sketchbooks are often filled with drawings that overlap each other both physically and in convention; a perspective can sit on top of a floor plan, for example. This page sees architect Juan Matiz working out a number of issues relative to the Boys & Girls Club: the roof form, the articulation of the windows, the detail of the clerestory windows meeting the roof, and the exterior materials. Drawings like these most likely won't be presented to the client, but they give a peek into the process of architectural design.
Matiz Architecture & Design, Boys & Girls Club Early Educational Center. Photo: Ty Cole 


McGregor Coxall
Former BP Site
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
McGregor Coxall, Former BP Site. Drawing: McGregor Coxall 
One of the greatest traits of sketching is the ability to easily move between macro and micro scales. These two sketches show the landscape architects at McGregor Coxall working out the idea of a sinuous walkway lifted upon the formerly industrial landscape and the details of the walkway—the benches, the railings, and the walking surfaces. The notched section of the detailed sketch can be glimpsed on the right side of the photograph; this opening allows one sitting on the bench opposite to gain a carefully framed view. The sketch on the left even points to the final form of the V-shaped supports of the walkway.
McGregor Coxall, Former BP Site. Photo: Brett Boardman 


New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion
New York City, USA
UNStudio, New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion. Drawing: Ben Van Berkel 
"Flowering out" is the main idea found (and noted) in Ben Van Berkel's sketch of the NY400 Dutch Pavilion, given by the Netherlands to New York City on the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson exploring what later became New Amsterdam. Movement and dynamics are paramount in the sketch. It appears open-ended but clearly it influenced the final form of the pavilion, particularly the relationship of straight to curved lines and the symmetry of the four wings that "respond to varying orientations on the site," according to the architect.
UNStudio, New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion. Photo: James D'Addio 



EPFL Pavilions
Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland

Swiss architects HHF and French architects AWP worked together on pavilions for École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, the site of SANAA's Rolex Learning Centre. The view of the elevated Montreux Jazz Lab pavilion is envisioned from the Rolex building, both as a schematic cartoon and a more polished rendering. In between is a shaded, CAD elevation that locates the vegetated platforms, gives some scale to the enclosed portion raised above the landscape, and accentuates how the plastic roof relates to SANAA's iconic building.
HHF + AWP, EPFL Pavilions. Drawing: Sébastien Perroud 
HHF + AWP, EPFL Pavilions. Drawing: HHF + AWP 
HHF + AWP, EPFL Pavilions. Visualization: SBDA 


KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten
Qingdao Science and Technology Center
Qingdao, Shandong, China

Given the scale of urban planning projects, sketching is extremely important for articulating ideas before drawing and modeling buildings in the computer. It is particularly important in China, with its rapid urbanization and tabula rasa sites. This loose sketch for the competition-winning master plan for the Qingdao Science and Technology Center conveys ideas of density, scale, and open space along the river cutting through the site. These things are found in the overall plan and the detailed rendering, even as building forms evolved in concert with the plan's development.
KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten, Qingdao Science and Technology City. Drawing: KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten 
KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten, Qingdao Science and Technology City. Drawing: KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten 
KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten, Qingdao Science and Technology City. Visualization: KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten 


O&O Baukunst
Düsseldorf, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

These drawings from the studio of Laurids and Manfred Ortner for an unbuilt development near the Rhine River illustrates how certain media are appropriate at different stages. The rough pencil sketch establishes the relationship between the tower and adjacent lower buildings; the pastel rendering articulates the elevations of the tower through openings and color; and the computer elevation refines the tower's form and facade even further.
O&O Baukunst, Kunstkonsulat. Drawing: Manfred Ortner 
O&O Baukunst, Kunstkonsulat. Painting: Manfred Ortner 
O&O Baukunst, Kunstkonsulat. Visualization: O&O Baukunst 


vin.mueller architects
Sunehri Bagh Redevelopment
New Delhi, Delhi, India

From their first sketch to the hard-lined CAD plan for "the re-densification of plots of colonial bungalows that are being used as housing for senior government functionaries in the heart of central Delhi," vin.mueller's arrangement of rooms alternating with outdoor spaces in parallel bars is present. The architect asserts that the existing bungalows "have proven completely unviable given the local climate." In turn, their design offers "the integration of landscape and architecture—innovative sectional relationships between the earth, the building, the garden, and the sky."
vin.mueller architects, Sunehri Bagh Redevelopment. Drawing: vin.mueller architects 
vin.mueller architects, Sunehri Bagh Redevelopment. Drawing: vin.mueller architects 
vin.mueller architects, Sunehri Bagh Redevelopment. Drawing: vin.mueller architects 


John Hill
Published on
Jul 15, 2013