Sketching in the computer age

by Darren
Sketching in the computer age

Hand sketches still remain the most important creative part of building design.


By Lood Welgemoed, Boogertman + Partners

It must be fascinating and bewildering to be a kid in 2014. Modern technological advancements in the media have made it impossible to distinguish between what is real and what not. My kids are at an age where Santa and the tooth bunny/fairy (I am just as confused) are a definite maybe, but Transformers and Spiderman are the real deal. Of course they are, because seeing is believing.

Rewind a couple of decades and nobody questioned the joy and wonder of a Disney classic, which was clearly not realistic but equally as entertaining if not more. As a young child I never questioned the meaning and feeling portrayed by what was then considered as an art form. The Lasseter/Jobs quest for the first 3D full-length animated feature changed all of this and the computer now dominates this art form, as it does many other sectors of modern life.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no technophobe, as I am typing this on my iPad at my favourite coffee shop, whilst referencing Google and Wikipedia from my phone (thank you Steve). No, all I want to suggest is that, as with modern animated movies, the mouse and keyboard should not be the starting point. Watch any “the making of” feature and you will see a series of pencil sketch stills of each movie key frame, in the Disney tradition. I believe that this is because sketches originate from and stimulate our creative right brain lobes, whilst the act of CAD immediately engages the left lobe.

To me, architecture is an interesting hybrid of creativity and mathematics, science and planning. Most architects would agree that the truly inspired, initial spark of creativity which sees the form of the building appear is a mere 5% or less of the effort which ultimately goes into a building from start to finish. Unfortunately this is also the most important stage of any project as it will haunt the designer though the detail design stage to decades after completion. I believe that a construction project becomes defensible over the years if the basics are right – by basics I mean scale and context, orientation, efficiency, fit for purpose, economy, proportion etc.

This is where sketches come in. The creator is much more inclined to test various high-level options through the medium of sketching than having to set it out in 2D CAD or 3D CAD modelling. The key here is sharing this process of design development with the client from the onset, testing the brief all the way. Very often we find that the brief might not be the best for the site or the end-user. By engaging the client in this design dialogue, they feel part of the solution and end up defending the design on the architect’s behalf. Trust me, this is a thing of beauty to behold!

In conclusion, consider this: By trying to impress a client with fully rendered 3D perspective views at the beginning of the project, the designer takes a 50% risk of missing the mark. If the design development logic is not understood, it becomes very easy for the client to nit-pick all the wrong things in a quest to try and improve something of which the basics are founded on quicksand.

On the other hand, by feeding the client throughout the process with design development sketches and showing only what is relevant at that particular juncture in the project, one arrives much sooner at a result which the client can buy into.

Sketches are a means of communication and, wielded skilfully, can be used to describe only what the designer needs to communicate and not a plethora of irrelevant detail. Finally, when the conceptual design stands the test of time and money, then by all means bring on the wow factor CGI perspectives and share in the client’s delight, knowing that they were part of the design process.

Boogertman + Partners
Tel: 012 429 7300
Website: www.boogertmanandpartners.com

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