Forgive me for the cheesy 80’s movie reference, but there is a tenuous connection between the rigor and discipline of young Daniel in the movie and the rigor and discipline I believe one ought to have as an architect. Architects draw a certain way that is distinct. We think distinctly as well, thus this blog, but today I am going to share how I use a specific type of drawing as part of my process and as part of practice.
In my many years of teaching, I’ve had scores of students come who “like” or “love” to draw, but rarely if ever have one shown me an architectural drawing technique they learned prior to architecture school (except for bad output from a high school CAD class – not good). People tend to represent the world as they see it – or in perspective methods. Had they been born prior to the 13th century or the early Renaissance (thank you Brunelleschi and Masaccio), they would have likely used some other method, but in today’s world, most young students are still stuck in realism, not having been trained to think or draw as an architect. To be honest, I am often disappointed at architects who don’t draw like architects.
What is an axonometric, isometric or plan projection drawing?
I’ll spare you the history lesson, but the use of isometry can be traced to extensive use in the 17th century, but some can trace it back to the 9th or 10th century in China. Axonometry comes from measuring along axes and isometry comes from equal measurement along axes. The drawing is “distorted” from the way our eyes interpret vision by eliminating the convergence our eyes perceive as an object extends away from the viewer. The drawing method is also not limited to architects.
Simply put without a long exacting commentary…
- Isometric – axes generally remain equal and measurable, but the plan geometry is distorted (30-30-90)
- Axonometric (plan oblique) – axes can vary, but plan geometry remains intact and measurable (45-45-90)
Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but you’ll need to read up on your own.
A few books that I recommend are the following:
- Axonometric and Oblique Drawing: A 3-D Construction, Rendering, and Design Guide, M. Saleh Uddin
- Drawn to Design, Eric J. Jenkins
- Architecture: Form, Space, and Order, Francis D. K. Ching
- Architectural Drawing Course: Tools and Techniques for 2D and 3D Representation, Mo Zell
Let’s focus on how and why I use isometry or axonometry in my practice or just how I draw as an architect. For you experts, let’s put away the pedantic tendencies and agree that I use a plan projected method, but whether it’s an isometric or a plan oblique is less important than understanding the fact that we draw to understand, we draw to explore and we draw to test. I generally use the generic term axonometric as do many architects and I prefer it to realistic methods for design and analysis. This drawing method allows for a quick, measurable construction of a design element without being concerned about accurate realism in space. No one actually “sees” in an axonometric view, except Peter Eisenman.
The sketches that I’ve included from my sketchbook were never intended to be shared, let alone hung on the wall for show. Occasionally, I share a few with my clients to explain my thought process, but whether they’re pretty or not is not an issue. They’re untouched and I’m unapologetic as their level of incompletion or level of mess. I just think this way and it’s very natural for me to avoid perspective methods unless I’m concerned about experience or perception of space.
This first series are sketches used in the initial stages of concept development and overall exploration of an idea. Since the verticals are generally at 90 degrees and the other axes remain parallel, an object or space is constructed quickly and proportionately. I’ll often include a quick (thumbnail) perspective to also study the experience of the object or space simultaneously. Typically, volume or massing is of interest.
This next set of sketches were created to understand the nature of an accepted idea where specific relationships or details needed to be tested. I create these drawings intuitively without thinking about the method – primarily to capture the scale and proportion of the object/space. The plan is generally retained, rotated and projected upward on the page to establish the third dimension.
These sketches continue with this method to study the relationships of materials at the construction detailing methods. Exploration continues, but we use the method at a smaller scale with the same intention to think, explore and understand. Again, the proportion is important as the relationships of the parts is what is most critical rather than the experience of seeing it in person.
With the use of BIM or 3D modeling, we can easily use isometric views in our construction documents to explain an object or construct more clearly than a flat or 2D orthographic drawing (plan, elevation, section).
I love these types of drawings – especially ones done by hand. Feel free to share examples with me and the rest of our architectural community.