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Doodlebug: Why Architects Still Draw

Architectural graphics guru Francis Ching on Paolo Berladi’s defence of architectural drawing - and why this alone is not enough to regain its lost value

In Why Architects Still Draw, Paolo Belardi delivers two imaginary lectures to students of architecture, both addressing the subject of hand drawing but from opposing ends of the creative endeavour we call design.

In the first, Belardi expounds on the directness and materiality of hand drawing, defines the role that the inventive sketch plays in encapsulating the genesis of a design idea, and articulates reasons for preserving and promoting the role of hand drawing in this age of digital media. In his second address, Belardi proposes that the drawing of surveys of built work should go beyond the exactitude of measurement, which he considers to be sterile, and include the elements of time, place and culture. He also advocates including not just the monuments we normally consider worthy of documentation but also the more commonplace works that we design, build and inhabit.

Throughout his two presentations, Belardi continually references the work of scientists and philosophers, psychologists and anthropologists, as well as the writings of artists and architects to bolster his arguments regarding the efficacy of hand drawing in design, almost to the point of losing sight of the subject at hand. This brings to mind the following passage: ‘… it’s precisely the capacity to theorize that distinguishes the scholar from the technician, recognizing those who practice a discipline as a scientific calling rather than simply as a profession’. With these words, Paolo Belardi distinguishes himself from many others, like myself, who would rather practise than preach.

Because we prefer to read what reinforces our values and beliefs, I was predisposed to agree with how this book argues for retaining hand drawing and valuing its critical role in the design process. I enjoyed reading through Belardi’s arguments and nodding my head as he made each of his points. Nevertheless, there are three points I would like to make. The first is that I think an area that could have received more emphasis is the effectiveness of hand drawing in working things out on paper, the kind of ‘thinking drawing’ that extends beyond the inventive sketch that Belardi values. Perhaps this could be the subject of a third lecture.

Ching

An illustration showing viewpoints from Francis DK Ching’s classic work, Architectural Graphics

Second, because I straddle the analogue and digital worlds, I am interested in the relation between hand drawing and the use of digital media in design. There could very well be more overlap than we care to imagine between analogue and digital drawing. While Belardi sees a proper role for hand drawing in the creative sketch, in making visible the genesis of an idea that incorporates how the idea will be fully formed, it might also be argued that using SketchUp or some other 3-D modelling program can serve as a valid engine for creative thinking. The crucial point is to research how our mind works while working in each mode and to discover what we gain and what we give up while working in each mode. For example, how does one value the precision demanded and celebrated by digital media versus the expressive, ambiguous, suggestive qualities of hand drawing? I hope a future work might study these issues in design practice.

Finally, I am inclined to think that while the imaginary lectures are addressing students of architecture, the real audience might well be fellow educators and teachers. While this book is a worthwhile read for astute students, I am not sure if these essays would convince students enthralled with digital media to suddenly pick up a pen or pencil. Unless hand drawing is introduced into the curriculum and integrated in a meaningful way − as a valued part of the design process and not merely a token presence − then hand drawing might not be seen as necessary to the education of an architect. And this is where we need to convince teachers of the value of hand drawing, even those who might have just recently graduated in a curriculum where hand drawing has been devalued.

I still enjoy the act of drawing and believe hand drawing should be taught not simply as a rendering engine but as a means of thinking and working things out in visual terms. And so I hope this book will resonate among those responsible for educating future generations of designers.

Why Architects Still Draw

Author: Paolo Belardi

Publisher: MIT Press

Price: £10.95

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