Leonardo da Vinci study
Leonardo da Vinci study

I wonder sometimes how many buildings designed in pre-CAD days are the way they are because it was too time consuming, expensive, or emotionally harrowing to revise a set of hand-drawn construction documents. The flexibility and power that CAD affords today’s architects is astounding to those of us trained the old fashioned way. But every tool leaves its mark on the work—for better and worse. With the twilight of the drafting pencil upon us, Michael Graves makes a case for the continuing value of hand drawing.  

Architecture cannot divorce itself from drawing, no matter how impressive the technology gets. Drawings are not just end products: they are part of the thought process of architectural design. Drawings express the interaction of our minds, eyes and hands. This last statement is absolutely crucial to the difference between those who draw to conceptualize architecture and those who use the computer.

For decades I have argued that architectural drawing can be divided into three types, which I call the “referential sketch,” the “preparatory study” and the “definitive drawing.” The definitive drawing, the final and most developed of the three, is almost universally produced on the computer nowadays, and that is appropriate. But what about the other two? What is their value in the creative process? What can they teach us?

With both of these types of drawings, there is a certain joy in their creation, which comes from the interaction between the mind and the hand. Our physical and mental interactions with drawings are formative acts. In a handmade drawing, whether on an electronic tablet or on paper, there are intonations, traces of intentions and speculation. This is not unlike the way a musician might intone a note or how a riff in jazz would be understood subliminally and put a smile on your face.

As I work with my computer-savvy students and staff today, I notice that something is lost when they draw only on the computer. It is analogous to hearing the words of a novel read aloud, when reading them on paper allows us to daydream a little, to make associations beyond the literal sentences on the page. Similarly, drawing by hand stimulates the imagination and allows us to speculate about ideas, a good sign that we’re truly alive.

I wonder, though, if having tossed out the pencil as a drafting tool, we can retain it as an instrument of memory and expression. After all, it is by drawing all day that architects master their medium. Without the countless hours of working and thinking this way, will coming generations of architects reach for the pad and pencil to work out their ideas? –B.D.S.