Nowadays, there is no time. The evolution of the modern man has brought us to a frantic immediacy and productivity as the time comes to us as our most important, and yet ever so scarce, resource. We tend to consider the most valuable tools that make versatile pieces, such as computers, where a sketch can become a 3d building within seconds—our creative process deemed by the brightness of our screens and the need for immediate output. 

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However, when it comes to the construction process, there is nothing as powerful as the intuitive, almost childish act of drawing. 

Designing in architecture is about more than the resulting building; it is about the process and the story it tells. Narrating the design process is a vital part of understanding the work thoroughly, and if not communicated clearly, an essential part of the dear work dangers. That is where the role of the hand begins, marrying mind and soul in the plastic lines of a pen over paper. 

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Drawing is a Universal Language

Drawing knows no vocabulary: its signs and symbols being color, texture, light, and shadow, syntactically organized by expressive traces with a character of their own, bring to life the designed idea by what can only be the artist’s will. The message comes across clearly, almost immediately, regardless of how symbolic and experimental, it can be to gain a notion of the track that will lead to this possible new reality. 

The power of drawing goes beyond any photography, for human vision and ideas cannot even be conceived by any machine, let alone reproduced. Pen and paper, hand and mind, are the most reliable tools to see inside the deepest desire of the creative mind.

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“7 Different ‘bottles of light’ in a Stone Box”, the idea behind Steven Holl’s St. Ignatius Chapel, Chicago. Source Steven Holl Architects.

Understanding Space

Before communicating an idea to the rest of the world, there is previous introspective work that we as professionals must do: we must immerse ourselves in the comprehension of space. Drawing is a way of placing the parts in context and understanding how they work and relate, approaching the real world with critical eyes and learning of its spatial dynamics. 

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It can be considered a mental exercise to learn how to observe and comprehend the intricate relation between the endless variables that make up the physical environment and give rise to the urban, social imaginary.

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Facultad de Derecho – UNC – Córdoba, Argentina y Miguel Angel Roca. Source Miguel Angel Roca
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Facultad de Derecho – UNC – Córdoba, Argentina y Miguel Angel Roca. Understanding the building in context. Source Miguel Angel Roca

From Idea to Detail

The cognitive process underwent while drawing has proven to be a determining point in space’s mental conception and understanding. However, one of its biggest strengths relies on its versatility to document and diagram every creative process step. Henry van de Velde believed the first line was a guiding force that would determine a design. When you draw, the thinking process unblocks as detaching from the demand for creation allows a fluid thinking process. There is an abstract idea that is struggling to get across within your mind. 

Disregarding the rational thought of cutting, specialized technological tools, something that resembles control and order, creativity seems to unleash.

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Bjarke Ingels sketches the future of architecture for the series “The Future of Storytelling”. Source Youtub

 From idea to site analysis, constructive details, color and textures schemes, hand and paper are the perfect ally to freely approach these topics, purposely digesting this vital information at a conscious and unconscious level. During this process, you get to better control these variables, for the more you know about your project, where you are working, its characteristics, and a clear idea in mind, the freer you are to move during construction. 

The beauty in drawing relies on being present in the process from beginning to end, narrating every step and thus not only keeping a complete record, a story of your building, but moving faster from one idea to the other in real-time. Therefore, drawing comes in handy when working amongst fellows that do not speak the same professional language as you do. 

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Lucernary detail for St. Ignatius Chapel by Steven Holl. Source Plataforma de Arquitectura

There are many different ways to approach the exact needs; each idea, site analysis, lighting diagram, solar path, facade detail, floor plan, and elevation is as unique as the architect behind its trace. The symbolic interpretation in Zaha Hadid’s lines has little to do with Eric Miralles’ colorful, fast traces and collages or Rem Koolhaas’ more geometrical yet expressive diagrams. Each displays different specificity levels as they course the various stages of each creative process. 

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The narrative of each architect is different, with other prose and syntaxis, still all obvious and eloquent. Drawing is what makes each of their languages so unique and yet so equal.

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Sketch for the Rosenthal Contemporary Arts Center – Cincinnati, USA by Zaha Hadid. Source Archdaily
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Rosenthal Contemporary Arts Center – Cincinnati, USA by Zaha Hadid. Source Archdaily
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Enric Miralles preliminary sketch for PARC DELS COLORS – Barcelona Source Researchgate
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Parc Dels Colors by Enric Miralles – Source Miralles Tagliabue Studio

The Value in the Process

The most crucial reason why pen and paper are vital for the narration of the construction process is the human identity it gives to the finished building, the added value of the architect’s love for the growth of its work experienced first hand. This background, this storyboard that counts of evolution, introspection, improvement, and maturation, is what makes the final piece unique, for there is no way that there will ever be a path identical to another. The artist’s implication is present in every trace, each intention, each scenario carefully planned and studied. The building becomes more human as we stare at the relic of a past from even before it existed. 

We need pen and paper because we need the artist’s identity and their work to remain in time. After all, the hand is an extension of the human mind and can not ever be replaced. It is essential in the narrative process to have a clear idea of the evolution, the parts of the plot, and the middle and end. We need pen and paper because it’s the best way to bring humanity into the imaginary and built environment.

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Author

Constanza Bianco is a 3rd year Undergraduate architect in the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her passion for writing dates back to her childhood, becoming an avid reader and learning enthusiast at a young age. She believes architecture to be a powerful tool and aspires to understand its endless possibilities.

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