Ken Shuttleworth on drawing

How did you get into drawing early on?

Drawing has always been a way for me to express myself. I can’t remember not drawing. My dad encouraged it early on and when I started school, I was always enormously proud if my drawings were pinned up on the classroom walls. In my spare time, at the age of six or seven, I drew houses. We didn’t have a television, so this kept me busy and I developed a bulging portfolio of dream houses and crazy fantasy structures. Illustrated reading, jigsaws and maps also fascinated me, which I guess gives an insight into to how my mind works. I would often use pictures to explain my own thought processes; I still do.

How important was drawing to your education at university?

My ability to draw gave me confidence. As with many other architects – Norman Foster, Birkin Haward, Bryan Avery, Robert Adam – drawing was, for me, a way into architecture. I could draw really quickly, a useful tool when trying to justify an idea then and there. John Lee who taught me at Leicester Polytechnic, as it was then, noted my aptitude with my Rotrings (greatly admired German technical drawing pens) and started calling me “Ken the Pen”. The name stuck.

How do you draw now?

I still sketch a lot with pens and pencils, but I also increasingly use an iPad. Sometimes I scan my drawings and continue working on them with ‘digital brushstrokes’ software, which I learned about through David Hockney’s work. I also like to paint abstracts in acrylics.

Image © Ken Shuttleworth

How do you think digital tools have changed drawing as a way to design buildings?

New generations of architects are using their computers to sketch buildings. This is a much slower and more precise process than drawing by hand and the computer creates what is essentially a fixed drawing. It’s no longer an exploratory sketch, and we don’t see it as one. This can make an early iteration of a building more definitive than it perhaps should be. Then again, 3D models allow you to have multiple points of view of any particular design. It’s so much faster to visualise the whole with a digital drawing or even a 3D print.

But it’s also valuable to have to draw a section through a building – this doesn’t happen often enough anymore – because it makes you think it through differently. All tools have to be used with a lot of discretion and intelligence. Right now I am excited by the potential of VR (virtual reality). My clients are too. As an industry I think we need to invest more in this to really reap its benefits.

What do you look for in architects applying to Make in terms of draughtsmanship?

We like to see pencil drawings as well as drawings in other media. We really want to see the range of what someone can do. This also applies to the subject matter; of course we need to see drawings of buildings, but it shows creativity and inspiration if there’re other subjects included. Once we received an application that included pressed flowers which was a good way of communicating awareness and originality.

How do you support drawing at your practice and how should the profession support it?

We have life drawing classes at Make. They are a great way to encourage our architects to use drawing as a problem solving tool. When I can’t find a solution to a problem, I often start to draw, it helps to clear the mind and to focus. I think a lot of architects do this and it should be celebrated.

The Architecture Drawing Prize is a fantastic way to promote drawing in the profession and reflect on it as a form of presentation and in the context of masters like Soane, too. I think the profession overall should embrace drawing as a way of telling its story. It is about the process of designing rather than the final building. In the world of CGIs this often gets forgotten but can be far more interesting. Digital drawing and VR sketching will be amazing tools for the profession too, no one thing should outweigh another though, each has different uses, each has different benefits, all should be embraced.

Image © Ken Shuttleworth

How would you sum up the role of drawing for you as an architect?

Drawing has always been a part of my life and I basically see it as a way to explore. It’s about curiosity. I worked with Norman Foster for some thirty years. At his practice, drawing was a fundamental part of how we thought about buildings. It was equally as important to me as I set up Make and planned our future. I sketched on theatre programmes and napkins. I still do!

And clients always respond well to sketching. I draw a lot with clients in meetings, translating our discussions pictorially. It’s not as easy for people to type up the minutes but a picture paints a thousand words.

This interview forms part of our series on The Architecture Drawing Prize: an open drawing competition curated by Make, WAF and Sir John Soane’s Museum to highlight the importance of drawing in architecture. 

You can follow Ken on Twitter or Instagram.

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