do you speak architecture?


You might consider it trite, banal or even so simple that this is not worth discussing. However, we as architects (and a host of other professionals in our industry) use drawings to speak a language. To draw is a special skill using a special language. Don’t underestimate the power of a drawing, especially a good one. This is a skill we teach to first year students and they find it harder than they thought. Drawing is a means of communicating ideas, thoughts and intentions. It is amazing how a two-dimensional entity can relay three-dimensional ideas when done correctly. They can evoke strong opinions and strong emotions. Oftentimes the strength of a drawing can be the difference between selling an idea and losing the job

Drawings are often thought of as experiential like a perspective or rendering. They’re usually understood by most people. Furthermore, most of us are well versed in the basic reading of orthographic drawings like a floor plan, a section or an elevation. However do we still appreciate the important relationship between a plan and a section? Can we unravel some of an architect’s intentions merely from viewing a drawing? This is the challenge we put to our young students these past few weeks as they were assigned a house from the early days of modernism to study and to draw. It is so simple, yet so difficult to put so much meaning into a simple drawing. We don’t have words or phrases, but we use drawing conventions along with line quality (types, weight, etc.) to convey meaning. Some drawings add other ‘splash’ to augment the character of the drawing or convey more information. Other drawings have too much icing and not enough cake. I still think a simple well prepared drawing is very powerful.

These simple conventions that we all take for granted are part of a special language. To communicate one’s ideas clearly, they must be well versed in the grammar and syntax of architectural drawing. Most of this language is objective; you get it right or wrong. However, there is room for interpretation and beauty based on the skill of the one making the drawing. Besides the parts of any one drawing, the method of relating one to another is equally important in making one’s ideas clear. For instance, the infamous Renaissance drawing of Villa Rotunda by Palladio, one we’ve all seen hundreds of times, is amazingly clear as it simply places the plan below the section so one can see how they relate together. The geometry of the plan and section are consistent. The square is the primary geometric form generator and this house is probably one of the most evident works to see this.

Drawing has come a long way since our Renaissance and Beaux Arts predecessors. Today drawings are often produced so quickly that we fail to appreciate it as a study tool. It is looked at as a means to an end. The digital world has masked the process in some respects so the traces of the drawing’s development are lost. Now, I am not interested in stirring the pot of digital versus manual drafting. In fact the method of creating the drawing is someone moot because both methods have infinite potential in conveying ideas beautifully as well as horribly. Any drawing can be really good, any can be really bad.

The bottom line is as architects we draw. We must draw; we like to draw. It’s our language, it’s what we speak, and it’s how we think.

do you speak architecture?

2 thoughts on “do you speak architecture?

  1. Ted Rusnak says:

    It is very interesting that you bring up our language.
    One of my pet peeves is the lack of information, or perhaps the manner it is conveyed, that is contained in the drawings that I’ve worked with. We all start with a general idea of the final “product”, study the layout, consider the interior, exterior, the utilities, the visual impact of everything within the structure and then begin the process of drawing.
    I’ve told clients that every drawing set starts with exterior elevations, then a floor plan, then sections, then details (as many as may be required). Each level takes the contractor further into the product so as to convey my intent. And all cross-referenced back and forth so the path is clear.
    My other full time job is running an estimating/bid development department for a local contractor (exterior metals and custom metal trims) On a yearly basis I review between 350 to 450 sets of architectural drawings from many different firms
    Of those, to be kind, maybe 3 or 4 sets are developed sufficiently to be considered clear enough to fully convey the final product. The rest should be in your class.
    Needless to say the poorly developed sets cause the bids to come in high…a clear picture, spoken in our language, would eliminate this situation.
    Those lines are important.

    ciao, Ted

    1. Ted, I agree with you completely. However my point was less about technical drawings and more about a simple architectural drawing expressing an idea. Nevertheless, we are accountable for every line (and every missing line).

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