Tag Archives: Drawing

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.

Tagged ,

When drawing becomes architecture

By Owen Hopkins, Senior Curator of Exhibitions and Education at Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane’s (1753–1837) biographer, Gillian Darley, describes the great neoclassical Regency architect as the ‘accidental Romantic’, as visionary as the poet William Blake or painter J.M.W. Turner. The comparison has a pictorial connotation that brings to mind the detailed and imaginative drawings that informed both Soane’s pioneering thinking and his teaching. A skilled and prolific draughtsman in his own right, he also engaged master watercolourist J.M. Gandy to help visualise his distinctive architectural vision.

Design for the Royal Gallery in the House of Lords, by J.M. Gandy.

Architectural composition to show the comparative characteristics of thirteen selected styles of architecture, by J.M. Gandy.

For Soane, drawing was fundamental to architecture – as it has been for countless architects before and since. Thinking about the nature of that relationship, we might say that it is actually through drawing that architecture – both on the level of the individual building and as a discourse – has been conceived for much of its history. Unlike the instinctual fashioning of a rudimentary shelter that constituted the first buildings, architecture is fundamentally an intellectual pursuit, with a process in which drawing plays a pivotal role. Visualising a design in a drawing requires decisions to be made: how a building should be planned, what its elevations will look like, how will it be constructed and many others besides. Once these design decisions are committed to paper or to the screen, they become communicable – whether to builder, client, public or other architects. And it is through this act of communication that a building becomes architecture, when it is brought into relation to a shared culture of ideas.

Presentation drawing of the Bank as a cutaway axonometric, by J.M. Gandy, 1830.

Imaginary view of the Rotunda and the Four Per Cent Office in ruins 30 Study for drawing 29, by J.M. Gandy.

This idea takes us back to Sir John Soane’s Museum – a place that above all is about architecture’s place in culture over time. Walking through the museum is to revel in the way that the myriad objects Soane assembled and then carefully arranged throughout its spaces communicate both individually and as a collective, with the meaning located not just in single objects but also in the relationships between them. Immersed in the museum, we are never far from architectural drawings, whether those on display or tucked away in drawers and cabinets. Soane was an avid collector of drawings, amassing a collection of over 30,000, including major holdings from the office of Robert Adam, William Chambers, George Dance the Younger, Wren, Hawksmoor and many others. The presence of architectural drawings throughout the museum – ranging from the highly technical to virtuoso pieces of art – reminds us that while our individual experience of the museum – indeed of any building – is a personal one, architecture itself rests on shared knowledge, expertise and history.

Designs for a Triumphal Bridge, by J.M. Gandy.

The centrality of drawing to the practice of architecture and the dissemination of architectural ideas, which Soane understood and held great store by in his own time, has inspired us to help create The Architecture Drawing Prize with Make and WAF. We hope that the Prize will inspire architects today to understand drawing both as a way to reveal and represent their ideas.

Tagged , ,
%d bloggers like this: