Sketching and hand drawing are integral to the architecture program at FAUP despite the growing digitalisation of architecture
Chalky shadows play across the south-facing facade of the exhibition hall block of the Porto University Faculty of Architecture (FAUP). The horizontal line drawn by a window canopy carries the eye to one of several terraces, reached by ramps, which lead up to Álvaro Siza’s pavilion of 1985-86 − a prelude to his design for the relocated school, completed in 1993. Against the background noise of motorway traffic to the north, a gentle hubbub rises from the shady café patio at the lower level of the sloping site, where students chat and drink coffee. Laptops and iPads share tables with overflowing ashtrays and empty paper cups.
Alongside this familiar detritus is something rarely sighted in architecture schools today. On almost every table − or under the arm or in the bag of almost every student − is a sketchbook. This should not come as a surprise. Sketching ‘can be considered our core didactical tool’, says José Miguel Rodrigues, director of the MArch programme. And he means it; ‘first and second year students are not allowed to use the computer, in order to have a direct relation between thinking and doing’ through hand-drawing. This credo informs a curriculum which incorporates drawing as freehand representation of the built environment, as a tool to analyse design problems, and through drawing live models.
For Rodrigues and Manuel Montenegro, who together teach drawing as a research methodology in architectural history, pencil and paper are significant for more than just pedagogical reasons. The sketch is central to the 20th-century tradition of the ‘School of Porto’ in which FAUP is anchored. Associated with Siza as well as Eduardo Souto de Moura, Portugal’s other Pritzker laureate, the School emerged according to a regional concept of modern architecture.
Filipa Ferreira’s first-year sketch sensitively delineates the rambling paths in the hills surrounding Massarelos
Scholars Eduardo Fernandes and Jorge Figueira, who completed PhDs on the topic at FAUP, both trace the School’s origins to Fernando Távora’s ‘permanent modernity’: a timelessness that arises when a building resonates with its physical and cultural context. Initially set out in his 1947 publication O Problema da Casa Portuguesa, Távora developed this idea in his teaching and in canonical built works. As Fernandes explains, the School subsists in ‘a way of thinking connected to a way of doing’. Important to this legacy is what Figueira calls ‘the reinvention of the sketch’: an emphasis on analogical drawing as a vehicle for architectural creativity.
FAUP today honours this legacy, harking back to the spare artistry of its eminent forefathers, and also to the faculty’s origins in the School of Fine Arts. This tradition is brought together with technical skills and social awareness in the studio which, Rodrigues explains, is envisaged
‘as the place for the synthesis of knowledge’. Undergraduates follow a three-year course leading to
a two-year master’s degree. Professional training consolidates core School of Porto themes, in particular the give and take between architecture and the city. The drawing board is endorsed as the key setting for design education and experimentation. Accordingly, Siza’s site plan prioritises the studios which occupy four playfully sculptural, blocky towers boasting views out over the river Douro.
Context is crucial to the FAUP pedagogy, and a project by student Tomás Cambão, sited next to Porto cathedral, painstakingly negotiates historical and topographical constraints to propose a new urban landscape offering clear views of the Romanesque monument. Promenades and platforms invite the public onto a sculpted roof that connects the proposed, half-buried buildings to one another and to the ground. Sensitivity to context is systematically cultivated in students through exercises in freehand drawing: ‘the lingua franca of an architect’ as Rodrigues puts it.
A topographical card model by student Tomás Cambão proposes a series of public spaces stepping down the north-facing slope from Porto’s historic city centre, while maintaining views up to the 13th-century cathedral
First-year student Filipa Ferreira’s sketch of a small dwelling, reached by meandering paths in a 19th-century district not far from FAUP, uses lines on the page to imaginatively reinsert a house into its urban setting.
Differently calibrated drawings provide a counterpoint to the freehand sketch. A technical section by Francisca Lopes translates her design intentions into constructional details. The facade articulates intersecting volumes: brick-clad below, relating to existing buildings across the street, and plastered above in a neighbourly gesture towards a social housing scheme next door.
Too often, context is reduced to either temporal or spatial criteria, but at FAUP the visual dimension of cultural knowledge is reinforced by combining drawing with essay-writing. Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital Chelsea elevations are redrawn by Ana Rita Fernandes, Ana Santos, Diogo Pereira, Francisco Pais and Iolanda Tavares as part of their third-year historical studies, close-reading Wren’s design logic in relation to scale and composition, proportion and architectural order.
This article is part of a series examining the state of architectural education across the world. More discussions of academies and schools from other nations can be found in Pedagogy