A capable design will always be easy to comprehend if a visual and expressive sketch is available. Sketching is to architecture, what stethoscope is to a doctor, and hence is a tool that helps in all stages of design development and design presentation. 

The glorious architect Michelangelo had once quoted, “Let whoever may have attained to so much as to have the power of drawing know that he holds a great treasure.” Drawing is a powerful expression tool, then be it through scribbling on tissue paper or the back of the notebook or through the application of technical adaptabilities.

Why is sketching essential to architecture? - Sheet1

During the Egyptian and Mesopotamian eras, an architecture sketch majorly depicted a ground floor plan. Also, in German, the word plan itself is meant to be cut on the ground. Take, for example, the architect’s drawing of the Palace of NurAdad in Larsa in 1865-1850 BC(Image 1) is one of the firsts sketches to be found in history. Further, during the Gothic period, working and calculated drawings came into the picture, where Villard de Honnecourt was a mason who compiled the most medieval sketchbook consisting of a series of working drawings. Then came the modern international architects, like Le CorbusierFrank Lloyd Wright, Norman Foster, and many others, who started sketching simple single-line conceptual sketches that were further given shape into their master projects. There are many documented sketches by these Avant-garde architects, who have changed the course of architecture. For example, Dom-Ino House by Le Corbusier, Plug-in City by Peter Cook for Archigram, the London Shard by Renzo Piano, and many others (Image 2,3 & 4) are a part of this series.  

The first predicament with sketching in architecture is when it is a form of imitation and flatters nature and surroundings with exercises like live and still sketches. 

Why is sketching essential to architecture? - Sheet2

Later on, established as freehand single-line sketches to conceptualize design problems to evolve into graphic solutions that help reiterate and rethink ideas and concepts over and over again, with nothing to lose at hand. In the end, proper working and rendered drawings came into existence in full throttle with a clarity of the design scheme and were ready to be executed. There are many types of sketches used in architecture amongst the following:

  1. Elemental Sketching– It is short of any technical constraints and helps to unfold our imagination about the project without a limit.
  2. Comprehensive Sketch Drawing – It is a sketch that lies somewhere in between the preliminary and the final stage, where it has a visual reference like an image or a photograph for better understanding.
  3. Dummy Sketch Drawing – It is a sketch with all the details, like the color schemes, materials, and visual elements in place, and is very real to the project to be built.
  4. Theoretical Sketch Drawing – It is a sketch that handholds with the dummy sketch and adds speculative details like the name of rooms, dimension, name of architects, and others for the lucidity of thought.
  5. Structural Sketch – This type solves the design and structural problems by drawing and including structural conclusions in the sketches.
  6. Functional Sketch – This is a complete sketch with proper diagrammatic calculations and solutions about the climate, air circulation, sunlight, workflow, spatial relationships, etc.
Why is sketching essential to architecture? - Sheet3

But, the million-dollar question is that what about people who do not have a knack for sketching, though it’s a skill that is not inborn but rather polished with practice and experience. Still, to make your sketches in architecture believable and expressive, it’s important to add details. It adds life, functionality, and depth to an otherwise incomplete drawing

Why is sketching essential to architecture? - Sheet4

These details can be anything and everything ranging from minute corner details to parapets, to window trims and at the macro-level to the context surrounding the building, the sky, and even the background, all of the above and innumerable others will bring the sketch to life. And as Mies Van Der Rohe says, God lies in the details. To add these details, the game of observation has to be on point. 


An architect should religiously look around and absorb the structure, the form, the organic relationship of both the artificial and natural entities. It is very right to say that once you join this field, your visual perspective alters it and finds interesting architectural details like a magnet. These observational skills can increase by traveling, watching movies, reading books, or just roaming in your colony, for that matter. Working on the observation skills and a little practice can arouse the innate art of sketching in a person and also make a non-sketcher produce beautiful illustrative sketches.

Summing it up with a quote from Alvar Alto that says, “God created paper for the purpose of drawing architecture on it, everything else is, at least for me, an abuse of paper.”


Ishita Jindal, an architect and a teacher who is inquisitive and believes that learning never ends. She is an enthusiastic reader and loves to write, be it a note or an article. She believes that imagination creates architecture, thus loves to dance and watch movies to nurture it.

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