University of Florida (Jacob)



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    You want me to do WHAT with a pencil?!

    By jpeel
    Mar 22, '10 5:18 AM EST

    We just had a quick spring workshop take place here, instructed by Harvard professor Kelly Wilson and focused on developing talent for hand delineation and architectural rendering.

    I haven't yet seen the work that was done in this class, but I look forward to it. However, there has been a story that has come out of this class and has been floating around the school, and it seems each new set of ears receives it with wonderment. Kelly Wilson, a specialist in the crafts he plies, travels from school to school to offer his expertise in hand drawing. In one school, he asked how many of them [graduate students] had ever drawn by hand. Out of the small class of ten, only two could admit to having put pencil/pen to paper with the intention of etching out some image.

    This is amazing to me. I know the computer has taken center stage, but I didn’t think it would be replacing something so basic as learning to draw by hand. It seems to me that the practice of making something by hand provides the intuitional foundation for digital drawings to become more robust.

    I am hoping I might be able to ask any one who reads this to let me know what their experience with hand drawing has been while in school. Is it encouraged? Is it not? Is it non-existent? If so, do you feel like you are missing something or no? Is hand drawing dead? Will it simply become an heirloom one day soon as our schools forgo the instruction of it in favor of digital classes? Is this good?


    • I went to Southern Polytechnic State University for my undergraduate degree (B. Arch). I didn't use a computer for an architecture studio before my 3rd year in school there, but I believe my class was the last to be trained this way. Students there now begin to intensely learn and apply computer skills in 2nd year. Sketching has always been essential for me in architecture, and I generally fill at least one sketch book per studio. I'm graduating from Penn Design in May and I've had the experience of having two studios here, neither of which essentially resulted in the design of a piece of architecture. However unfortunate, this also has meant that the need to sketch has been considerably less. The curriculum here lends itself, at least for the M.Arch II program, to being entirely computer focused (or in the case of my second studio research focused). I had Winka Dubbeldam in the fall for a studio that was heavily focused on scripting. Given that I had no background in computer generated design sketching felt detrimental to the overall process and was all but outright discouraged. Regardless I tend to gravitate towards sketching more instinctually, and it remains an invaluable tool for me in the design process of anything I've ever designed. I am not the first to say it, but the computer will never be able to do what the hand can.

      Mar 22, 10 8:25 am
      Lian Chikako Chang

      Kelly's the greatest! We had him for a six-week module in our first semester of the MArchI (at the GSD). He teaches how to draw, but what he is *really* teaching while he's doing that is how to observe and interrogate and think (and talk) about architecture. I believe drawing will always be important, even though it's been less visible lately given interest in algorithmic design, hyper-real rendering, etc.

      Mar 22, 10 9:24 am
      Ryan Joseph Simons

      I transferred from Valencia Community College in Orlando to Pratt Institute in NY. Valencia's studios- from Design 1 through Design 4- involved hand drawing at every level from simple sections to abstract site drawings involving mixed media. We had a rough crash course in digital media, but nothing beyond developing portfolios in order to transfer after earning our 2-year degrees.

      Here at Pratt, things tend to be all over the place depending upon your studio critic & their preferences. While I was using pencil on vellum, other classes in the same year were using Rhino. My studio this semester is all digital & I find myself missing the act of hand drawing. The lack of hand drawing also takes away from the actual craft of sketching-- or even handwritten material-- and I have found myself having to make a conscious effort to sketch.

      I recently pinned up some sketches of my project during my mid-term review & caused a huge argument amongst the critics on whether or not it was helping or hurting my process & whether or not hand drawing was a "dead language". Bringing up obvious examples of Lebbeus Woods & Raimund Abraham led to an even larger argument with one juror proclaiming "If you want to hand draw, go to Cooper Union!".

      And the dialectic continues...

      Mar 22, 10 8:28 pm

      That is wild! Thanks for sharing, Ryan. I don't understand how that sort of discussion can even take place in the realm of architecture. How is it that in such a short time [really in only about 15 years] everybody has forgotten that the hand used to exist without the computer and was quite successful at it.

      You should check out Bolles+Wilson, and Smout Allen. Lately, I have been really interested in what they do with their hands. "Notation of Herman Hertzberger" is an awesome book if you are into sketching.

      Mar 22, 10 9:06 pm

      Wow, I am astonished at this discussion! I finished my M.Arch at UMD in 2006 (not that long ago I thought!) and at that time, while computers were certainly important and frequently used, the predominant method of communication was through hand drawings. I believe that the program still requires undergraduates in their first semester to use hand methods only.

      Regardless of a particular academic programs' ideology, I feel that hand drawing is essential to the craft of design - any sort of design. In practice I sketch by hand on a near daily basis. Whether it's to jot down my design thoughts during a boring meeting or to sketch an idea to explain something to a client - the ability to clearly express ideas and concepts through hand drawings is essential.

      I agree with ahaney above - hand drawing is an invaluable tool in every stage of my design process.

      Let's face it, not many clients will be able to take you seriously when you're sitting across the table and have to say "I can't show you here, I have to go back to my office and render it in (fill in computer program here)".

      I can only hope that the 10 students in the rumored story were in their first week of architecture and all had previous degrees in something like economics or political history!

      Mar 22, 10 10:54 pm

      I also went to UF, for my B.Design (arch), and as I assume is still the case you wouldn't think of getting through there without some decent drawing practice. I personally do a lot of sketching simultaneous to other computer/physical modeling. It is still just a much more fluid way to work through schemes/ideas quickly than messing with the clunky computer interface.

      Modeling in the computer is like working with just one finger that you have to tell what to do each time you use it. Design programs need multi touch technology to enable us to transmit ideas to them as fast as we think.

      Mar 24, 10 2:49 pm

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