When working with clients, especially on the very early stages of a project, I truly enjoy creating sketches as part of the design process. I find it invaluably as an interactive tool for many reasons.
First off, I’m finding this is a dying art that sets some architects apart from the competition. The fundamental ability to draw and draw well seems to be an elective nowadays in graduating from architecture school. Even for practicing architects who have decades of experience and the privilege of running their own firm, many find it hard to prioritize the time to sketch out ideas, or justify it as a cost effective tool for Principals who must instead spend their time reviewing the monthly revenue.
For Studio 360, hand sketching is one of the core values and skills we bring to any project. It has the ability to “charm” potential clients on an interview and get them engaged and excited before a project even begins. Often I will bring a roll of trace paper to an interview and may discuss scope, or potential solutions with pen in hand. Sketching with a client sitting at your side communicates not only confidence, but a transparency to the design process. It helps them feel engaged before the contract is even signed.
After signing a contract and beginning a schematic design phase, hand sketches are a quick and cost effective method to tease out early ideas and get the client excited. Investing in some early sketches, perspectives and plans is worth it to ensure consensus before moving into construction drawings. “Paper is cheap”, at least cheaper than a change in the field, so its the perfect way to hash out possible solutions while listening to the client. The sketch below was made early on on a project where I was trying to show a client how their main stair could be reconfigured to create a more impressive and gracious entrance to their home. Replacing finishes on the stair was part of the scope, but they hadn’t even considered changing the configuration. I actually took a photograph of the existing stair and then over-layed my sketch to show them the difference. It was a tough “sell” because I was actually proposing to make the entire entry hall smaller in square footage, by adding a wall and archway. This sketch convinced the clients to modify the stair and in the end loved how much larger the space felt despite the reduced footprint.
Another reason I value hand sketching isn’t for my clients, its for me. Sketching by hand allows me to explore ideas, play with proportions of spaces and find potential treasures in the house. I use the lines to workout issues, and the sketches are faithful to show where problems might arise. For example, in the below sketch I was working out the connection between an artist residence and pottery studio which was located on as steep slope. We wanted to allow plenty of natural light, and terrace the buildings. But this sketch showed me that we might have some serious cost issues with removing dirt, making retaining walls and using various types of foundations. Since we had a builder involved early, we were able to get some cost estimates to help inform the design.
Hand sketching, in my opinion, is a valuable skill for any architect and needs to be practiced just like anything else. Hiring an architect who can’t draw would be like hiring an accountant who can’t count. Its a fundamental skill to the profession. And while computer aided drafting has transformed the profession, and contributed many valuable and essential tools to the construction process, it cant replace the magic and beauty of hand sketching.
That’s why I will continue to do it, even for fun.