In situ sketching

Watercolor 5×8

Why is it important to learn and practice on site sketching? Students often ask this common question when I take them out for on-site sketching. In situ sketching is a process of re-creation of a space in which we situate ourselves within the building and its environment. Such activity spurs us to have immediate embodiment and interaction with the building, site and surrounding environment. While sketching, we engage ourselves with not only seeing, but we also interact with the building and its surrounding environment through its materials, volume, smell, texture, temperature, existence. With all of our senses activated through the act of sketching, the particular moment allows us to develop perception both consciously and unconsciously. The experience develops our perception by focusing in on the link between line, form, texture, proportion, space, light and value, color and material. Additionally, in situ sketching engages us through the physical act of drawing when representing our thoughts and perceptions on paper. An act of on-site sketching fosters the critical correlation between mind and hand as a process of design thinking. Yet, the action of sketching cultivates a development of muscular facilitation such that sketching becomes unconscious in the creative process. While sketching a building, we see and experience a three-dimensional quality via walking through an actual building. We begin to learn, and piece together these perceptions to form a holistic understanding that goes beyond sight-seeing.¹Understanding architecture through drawing demands a certain activity from the observer. First, one needs to look at overall shape and proportion of observed architecture, and then create a rough sketch of form and shape by simple lines. Later on, one elaborates light and textures. The observation and re-creation process is an intuitive but necessary experience in order to fully understand the thing seen. In Experiencing architecture, Steen Eiler Rasmussen described a group of boys playing soccer in front of the enormous church of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome in comparison to tourists who visited the church for sight-seeing:

“I do not claim that these Italian youngsters learned more about architecture than the tourist did. But quite unconsciously they experienced certain elements of architecture: the horizontal planes and the vertical wall above the slope. And they learned to play on these elements. As I sat in the shade watching them, I sensed the whole three-dimensional composition as never before.”³

¹Jenkins, E. (2013) Drawn to Design: Analyzing architecture through freehand drawing. Basel, Birkhauser: 46.

² Rasmussen, S. (1993). Experiencing Architecture. MIT press: 17-34.

Why Travel

Moment: waterclor 5×8

If one sees learning architecture as a distant journey, travel is a key ingredient of this journey. Travel in this sense is not a vacation, but rather a journey to experiencing the world and building up our design repertoire.  Drawing and writing perhaps might be media to reflect our exploration and to imprint our architectural experience into our own memory. Travel is a way to school ourselves after school years. If a desire to learn is infinite, the world is wonderful place for this exploration.  Besides practicing and reading, traveling and sketching can be a way to experience the world of architecture. It is a means of immersing ourselves in a place and experiencing the very moment with all of our senses. One example from my own life is hearing a bell sound from a cathedral while rapt in deep concentration, striving to capture the last beautiful sunray that bathes the building surface via watercolor sketching. This is the kind of experience that will be engrained to our lasting memory, and this very vivid moment worthy of our time can be recalled in the future.

A mental Image

An architecture idea begins with a mental image.  To materialize a mental image is to draw. Drawing is a process of forming a mental image to embody thoughts as a way of communication to oneself and others. Daily ritual of practice is crucial to strengthen this ability. The more one practice the better one will be able to do so. Learning to see via drawing is an important step to master this ability. As Kimon Nicolaaides mentioned “learning to draw is a matter of learning to see”. It is a process to foster one’s ability of seeing beyond a superficial way of looking with the eye. Practicing drawing is slow and requires a lot of patient. If one does not lose sight of focus, one may be able to do so.  A true observation utilizes various senses through the eye at one time.

“The tactile, kinesthetic nature of drawing in direct response to sensory phenomena sharpen our awareness in the present, expand our visual memories of the past, and stimulates the imagination in designing the future” Francis D.K. Ching

Digitally Made

By far, using AutoCad and Adobe Illustrator as a drawing tool set to control line quality  is the most effective method in my digital drawings. For the basic 3D objects, I normally use AutoCad 3D or Rhinoceros 3D. Then, I finalize the line quality of my drawings in Adobe Illustrator. Implementing line weight theoryh into my digital drawings. The drawing above is one of my furniture design that utilized the method as mentioned to complete the digital workflow process. Not only using this technique with an object design, I use it with architectural drawing as well.

Traveling / Sketching

Up to this point, it is hard for me to imagine traveling without a sketchbook. Training myself to sketch while traveling has been an integral part of my architecture studies. I learned to sketch as part of school assignments without noticing the benefits of sketching while traveling. Slowly but surely, this habit has grown on me. It has become part of my life. Going through a day without picking up a pencil to draw seems like something is missing. Drawing and sketching are my essential skills in practicing and teaching architecture. Sketching  has helped me to reconnect my perception between my hand and mind, and then to the tip of my pencil to express my imagination fluently. I see sketching via traveling as a process of observation and expression as well as a way to build up my design repertoire. I enjoy the moment when I can fully submerge myself into that environment in that particular time that I am sketching. I spend sometimes a few minutes and sometimes whole hours observing and drawing. 

Observing my travel experience via sketching has helped imprint and engrave these moments in my mind more than other kinds of methods. These memories always remain vivid in my mind and seem to never fade away.  I also see this sketching habit as a meditative practice that helps to expand the span of my concentration. As well-respected architect and writer, Juhani Pallasmaa, mentioned in his book The Thinking Hand, “Sketching and drawing are spatial haptic exercises that fuse the external reality of space and matter, and the internal reality of perception, thought, and mental imagery into singular and dialectic entities.” I still see the invaluable benefit of practicing free-hand sketching as well as seeing it as an essential art of practicing architecture, especially in an era of simulation, when computational methods have dominated the practice of architecture. I always encourage my students to practice and integrate it into their lives as part of everyday practice. I often integrate the practice into courses that seem to be a good fit for free-hand sketching practice.

The best way to practice free-hand sketching is to find a simple sketchbook and a pencil, and then begin to draw and keep track of your thinking via drawing and writing. When your skill begins to improve, you can also try various types of media such as charcoal or watercolor, which I see as a joyful medium for practicing. The most important part of practicing drawing is to break through the judgment of others. Aesthetic is not the ultimate goal of practice sketching. The aesthetics of your sketch will gradually improve when you gain more experience. The process of free-hand sketching takes time, so please be patient.

Meditative Practice through Sketching

Katsura Imperial Railing

There are countless scientific research studies which indicate the benefits of practicing mindfulness regularly. It could help improve our well-being in various aspects such as reducing stress and anxiety, expanding our concentration span and ability to focus,  being calmer and many more. Practicing mindfulness can occur through various forms such as meditating in the conventional method. For people who like to draw and sketch, routinely practice sketching could be an alternative form of practicing mindfulness.

Steven Holl, a well-respected architect, uses his water color painting as a morning routine for his meditative practice in his apartment in New York.  He starts his day by simply sitting down and beginning his contemplation via water color. Sketching and drawing does not require much or involve complicated tools. It only requires ourselves, a pencil and a piece of paper or a notebook. It can be a quality moment of our day. I normally practice sketching as a tool to explore the inner part of me. While drawing, I have no expectations, no goals; I simply pick up a pencil and begin to draw without knowing what the drawing is for. I see positive outcomes from this practice particularly in the contemporary moment in which we are constantly being bombarded by extreme information overload in our environment through emails,  websites, various devices, etc. It allows me to slow down and literally be there with only myself.  Over time, my sketching skills have become a vehicle for my architectural design thinking and exploration. It has become an integral part of me.

If you like sketching or drawing, try it and see how you feel.


Architectural Drawings

In reality, buildings are much larger than the plans used to construct them; therefore, we must reduce the drawing size appropriately in order to maximize readability and communication. In doing so, drawings can be studied comprehensively. Scale is perhaps the most common element in any architectural drawing and absolutely necessary to learn in architecture school. In order to convey a building accurately in terms of proportion and dimension, a proportional measuring system known as scale is used. In the built environment, it is an international standard that is utilized throughout all phases of a building from design to construction.

Below are some points of consideration that I normally abide by when drawing to a specific scale:

–  The larger the scale of a drawing, the more information is needed to depict that particular drawing. Most likely, construction drawings will have a larger scale than design drawings.

–  During the initial states of a design process, the scale of a drawing should be appropriate to the purpose of the intention of communication. I normally use 1:200 in metric scale or 1/16”=1’-0” in architect’s scale if the building is not too large to initiate my design idea. Other times, I use 1:500 if a building is larger than usual. These scales allow me to explore various design solutions without becoming distracted by all of the details in the initial stages of my design process.

–  When the design ideas are clear, the scale of drawings should gradually increase allowing us to incorporate more information into our design.

I like to organize scales in architectural drawings into two types:

Design Scale:

-1/8”=1’-0” close to 1:100 in metric scale works well in initial thought processes and works well for small scale buildings.

-1/16”=1’-0” close to 1:200 is good for the initial design process such as functional configuration or spatial articulation in section drawings.

-1/48”=1’-0” close to 1:500 works well for site plans or the placement of buildings on the site relative to its context. This scale can also be used for form-finding or even to explore three dimensional studies through physical models.

– 1/165”-1’-0” close to 1:2000 is a scale for figure ground drawings. Most likely, this scale will be used to compare the relationship of a designed building to urban morphology.

Construction Scale:

– 1/4”=1’-0” close to 1:50 in metric

– 1/2”=1’-0” close to 1:20

– 1 1/2”=1’-0” close to 1:10

– 3”= 1’-0” close to 1:5

– 1”= 1”-0” is 1:1

Content edited by Robert Konzelmann

A Section Drawing:

An orthographic projection for architectural design and communication

A section drawing is an orthographic projection. It is similar to a floor plan drawing, but it changes the cut plane from horizontal to vertical direction that is perpendicular to the horizontal line. A building section drawing helps to reveal internal spaces of the building.

A building section is one of the most helpful tools for architectural design discovery and examination. It allows a viewer to understand vertical spatial connection. At the initial stage of design, I often utilize section drawing as a medium to explore spatial possibilities of my architectural design. A building section depicts a connection between each element of architecture such as floors, walls, roofs, vertical openings. In addition, it offers insight into the quality, light, flow, and movement of spaces as well as the proportion of rooms and spaces in terms of width and height. Drawing a building section does not have to be a formal approach.

A simple method of drawing such as freehand section sketching can be a very useful technique to generate and reveal our mental images of architectural design.

Section drawing not only can help reveal the connection of interior spaces. It’s also utilized to examine the connection of a building to its site and surrounding area. In this case, it is called a site section.

Speculative Sketching

Drawing by Otto A. Chanyakorn

I see the benefits of using drawing or sketching in design process in two functions. first, I use drawing as a communication outlet. Besides verbal communication, drawings are one of the most important method of communication in architectural design that I normally use to convey my ideas.  A type of drawings that we produce after we have developed a clear ideas in our head. They need to be concise in order to convey  our imagination to the viewers. They also take a longer time to produce. Most of the time, I utilized computer aid software to produce this type of drawings.  Second, I always use drawing as a tool to visualize my imagination and conjure up my creativity. It is an open-ended type of sketching that could let us to a further discovery in our design journey or even for future references.

At the beginning the design process, we will not have a clear pictures what  we actually want in mind. Ideas will continue to flow to our mind constantly. The only method that allows me to capture them and keep up with my imagination  is sketching.  There is no definite types of drawings that I use to visualize my ideas. They could be diagrams, thumbnail sketches or anything that serves the purpose of capturing my thoughts. It is ways of thinking and working that formalized or clarifies  my ideas.

In Vinod Goel the author of “Sketches of Thought, he discovered that implementing freehand sketching as a primary tool for preliminary stages of design optimized exploration, and produced variation of design ideas. Freehand sketching enhances a high level of ambiguity, which optimizes design solutions. The intimate connection and processes of embodying a design task without an interruption from external tools are vital for the initial phase of the design process.

To develop the fluency in speculative sketching, one must practice on a regular basis until the circularity of mind and hand become unify. Practice is an answer. We will need to practice until drawing each line down on paper is a natural response to we are picturing  in our mind.