When a book is well written and illustrated, one can almost hear the voice of the author. – Francis D K Ching 

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Francis DK Ching ©emtern.files.wordpress.com

If you have spent five years studying the extensive degree of Architecture, you must’ve turned to him for support in his works such as Form, Space & Order, A Visual Dictionary of Architecture or Architectural Graphics. Today we talk about Francis DK Ching: the brilliant mind behind some of the best literary creations that grab the nuances in communicating and clearing the principles and elements in the field of design and architecture. Whether your college professor recommends him or not, his easy-to-follow and direct writing gain popularity among students of architecture worldwide. He is an architect, design, and graphic author, but most importantly, he is a great teacher who is keen to impart as much knowledge to the future generations as possible. 

Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1943, Frank (as he prefers to go by) completed his Bachelors in Architecture from Notre Dame University, Indiana, in 1966. After almost a decade of professional practice during which he served as a VISTA architect in the Cleveland Design Center, he started his teaching career. He gave up training to pursue a lectureship at Ohio University in 1972, where he was offered his first teaching job by the Director of the School of Architecture, Forrest Wilson. Meeting Forrest was a crucial turning point in Ching’s life that would make him an international best-selling author. After that, he moved to the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he spent the next twenty years teaching architectural drawing and beginning design studio. He also traveled to the East as a visiting faculty at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and The Chinese University of Hong Kong. After taking a break from active teaching, he was awarded the rank of Professor Emeritus in 2006.  

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Portrait done by Ching of Forrest Wilson on his 70th Birthday ©www.frankching.com

The first class that Frank took at Ohio University was an Architectural Graphics course. As an enthusiastic professor with novel teaching approaches, he understood the impact of graphics in relaying information, and thus he used drawings to lecture his students. A night before the class, Frank used to draft and hand-letter notes that he photocopied for all his students. At the end of the academic year of 1974-75, Ching had compiled over 400 pages of material. These lecture notes were so concise and clear that they became immensely popular among his students at the University. He was soon approached by Forrest, who introduced these notes to his publisher in New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold. For the next three weeks, Ching worked meticulously with his tools as he drafted 128 pages of plain white bond paper with a Scripto lead pencil. The scanned pages marked Frank’s debut when they were published as Architectural Graphics in 1975. The same year his most famous publication, Architecture: Form, Space & Order, came out. 

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Ching’s first publication: Architectural Graphics ©www.frankching.com
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A camera-ready sample page from Architectural Graphics, hand-drafted and lettered by Ching  ©www.frankching.com

Since then, DK Ching has published as many as twenty books with several editions that revolve around the fundamentals of Architecture. He has also illustrated the Building Codes. In one of his interviews, Ching says that he wanted to lay a foundation for the architecture students through his books. As he sees today’s advanced and complex world, he comments these are just a footing that students can build their foundation wall on and create a world of education. Various international schools of architecture have adopted his books, and his texts have been translated in over fifteen languages. 

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Some of Ching’s most famous publications ©youngarchitect.com
A brief review of life and works of D K Ching - Sheet5
Some of Ching’s most famous publications ©youngarchitect.com

As a design graphics author, he believes in black print with crisp, short strokes. He feels that the colors dampen the concise image of his idea. Hence most of his publications are black and white. His printing is so immaculate that Adobe decided to adopt it in its Tekton font family. After the dawn of the digital age, Frank started to use various design and illustration software, but he never let go of his drawing journals. 

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Tekton family font style by Adobe adapted from Frank’s lettering  ©www.linotype.com

If one wishes to look into his journals, Ching has been actively posting snippets from it on his blog ‘Seeing. Thinking. Drawing.’ (https://www.frankching.com/wordpress/). He regularly posts his sketches of various locales from his travels. All of these drawings portray his interpretations of everyday realities. All illustrations are done in black ink on white paper to create the highest impact. He renders his sketches using hatch instead of colors not to crowd the central theme. There is very minimal use of shadows as well. His methods of representation have earned him high acclaim around the world. The blog also holds insights from his life as he learns to transition from hand lettering to the digital world. He posts original spreads and storyboards, which were essentially rough sketches, and one can see their journey into final digital renders. 

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Sketches from Ching’s sketchbook while teaching students in Rome how to document their history walks ©www.frankching.com
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“Like a conversation, the drawing process can often lead to unexpected results,” says Ching as he posts a view of shipbuilding ©www.frankching.com

Ching has received several accolades such as a Citation for Excellence in International Architecture Book Publishing; the S.Y. Chung Visiting Fellowship, The Chinese University of Hong Kong; an AIA Honor for Collaborative achievement; and a National Design Award, Special Jury Commendation from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. He also received the prestigious award from The Nottingham Trent University: Honorary Degree of Doctor of Design. 

Even as a celebrated author, Ching firmly believes in the power of hands-on instruction that no form of media: print or digital can replicate. Thus, he continues to organize several workshops for students to learn the art of drawing from observation. He travels around the world, igniting minds along the way.  

Ching leading a group of students from the Tecnológico de Monterrey on a drawing tour of the Centro Historico, a UNESCO World Heritage site ©www.frankching.com
DK Ching taking a workshop in Istanbul ©www.frankching.com

Radhika Jhamaria, an Architecture undergrad at NIT Jaipur, loves to travel and explore the world as a design enthusiast. She believes that one should always follow their heart and she pours hers into literary escapades. You may occasionally find her strumming her beloved guitar.