The Argument for Hand Drawing

The Argument for Hand Drawing


ArchiHacks is an online resource for architects dedicated to architecture visualization, portfolio, and design tips and tricks for students and professionals. This article was written by team member Tommy Minh Nguyen.

Isn’t it amazing to think about how the urge to illustrate ideas, culture and life on any canvas has spanned humankind and time? The earliest known drawing by humans dates back around 73,000 years ago in a cave known as Blombos, predating the earliest modern human abstract drawings from Europe 30,000 years ago! I’m certainly not a scientist or an anthropologist with in-depth knowledge on this type of research; however, from a designer’s perspective, I can say that drawings are powerful visual storytellers that, at their best, communicate a wide range of qualities about a building, space, culture or life. 

When it comes to designing, hand drawings and illustrations are nothing new. However, with today’s increasing demand for sophisticated, realistic renderings, it’s important to remember the root of architectural communication — hand drawing. Why? Computers and tablets have many capabilities that have advanced how architecture is built and represented but there are still scenarios where a digital drawing does not compare to a classic hand drawing. Although the list can be more extensive, I have come up with three reasons that drawing is still an essential skill for architects.

hand drawing

A story in my mind” by Sebastián Camacho 

Capturing the Design Process

Design is a non-linear progression full of ups and downs, mental blocks, and frustration, so it’s not surprising that our brain won’t remember all the details. However, hand drawings or sketches are frozen thoughts captured in time, showing your progression from brainstorming to concept development and then to detailed design. This is an important reason why the skill is still relevant today. For example, have you ever been in a scenario where previous concepts may have been more potent than the one in front of you? It’s so frustrating to experience this and, even more so, if there is no work to provide you context to reignite the concept you once had. Let’s avoid that by simply sketching. Remember, not all hand drawings have to be art pieces!

The beauty and excitement of sketches transform the mundane moments in our day-to-day lives; they can bring forth inspiration and allow us to capture that inspiration using any media on any surface — pen on paper, chalk on the wall or even coffee on a napkin. Some of the most incredible pieces of architecture started with a simple concept sketch on a napkin. If you are curious about how to improve on sketching, you are in luck. Archi Hacks wrote 4 Ways to Improve Your Sketching for that exact reason! It’s equally important to understand how to make informative sketches and drawings, so you or others can interpret information without a complete contextual understanding. Drawing takes practice, and it takes iteration upon iteration to understand how to story-tell with an image. 

Time Saver and Effective Communication

Sketches are immediate documentation of your work, and they can save you time by simultaneously progressing your architectural concept. And who wouldn’t want to knock two birds with one stone? Meanwhile, fleshed-out physical drawings force you to slow down and allow your brain to understand your design decisions better and visualize what your design could be.

Although computer programs in architecture can make the iterative process faster, hand drawings can be like a rapid-fire science experiment testing your ideas. You can try different layouts or figure out a construction detail saving you time from drafting multiple times on the computer. As some may not be aware, a slight change made in a program could disrupt your entire concept, which is why I advocate for hand drawings when deciding design decisions. The consistent decisions made through hand sketches may take 30 minutes compared to an hour(s) on a digital model or drawing.

Sketching is also a massive benefit for discussions with your team, clients, or peers to clarify any misunderstanding or questions on projects! You can’t just pull up a rendering software or a digital model hoping that they would understand everything! Besides, the history of humankind has proven that drawing is a quick and effective way to communicate ideas without speaking, so why stop now?

hand drawing

SUBURB” by Aremel Tibayan

Portfolio With Personality

As I mentioned above, you get to capture your design process, making hand drawings a great supplement to models and renderings. Hand sketches — particularly concept development — are not often seen in portfolios nowadays. are you familiar with the famous adage, “The journey is more important than the destination?” Well, the development of your concept is just as important as how you arrived at the final product! including sketches and drawings in your portfolio will allow an employer to get a better sense your creative process and critical thinking.

In addition, physical drawings are a fantastic way to showcase your personality! No two drawing styles are ever the same and sketching can almost act like an instantly recognizable signature. Many may never realize the amount of unconscious thought process that occurs while drawing. Your illustrations can show whether you were confident in your lines, the pressure in your media (line weights) and emotions. Architects are artists too, so our drawings will contain underlying thoughts and atmosphere that we want to convey to the viewers. The next time you start drawing, check in with yourself before and see how that affects your drawing!

When architects or designers present their concepts, they unfold a narrative filled context, ideas, and intention to become storytellers. Imagine a sundae; the story becomes the ice cream while drawings are all the toppings you see. It complements the subject. Physical drawings, whether sketches or developed art pieces, will always have a time and place in architecture.

For those who didn’t know, Architizer is hosting the One Drawing Challenge 2021, making this article more relevant than ever! With thousands of architectural images now at our fingertips, the One Drawing Challenge calls for submissions that defy convention, spark curiosity and make us pause to look closer. What kind of drawing captures the essence of a place? What can it tell us about the people that live, work, and play within it? Can an image tell us a larger story about the cultural context of a home, city, or country? We encourage all readers to share their work through this competition and show us your vision! 

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Top image: “Architecture without architects, a slum made out of stories” by Yennifer Johana Machado Londoño





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