Tag Archives: Drawing

On Stefan Davidovici

Trevor Flynn, director of Drawing at Work and founder of Sketchmob, on his admiration for architect Stefan Davidovici

Stefan Davidovici is a visionary architectural draughtsman – consummately skilled, starkly singular in his vision and immensely prolific. His work centres on speculative architectural interventions on the Martian landscape, which he conceives using collages of NASA photographs, and a future-focused Milan.

Since 2013 our correspondence has included exchange visits and numerous Skype calls, one of which he conducted from his laptop in a pass in the Alps. His unshakable passion for drawing is matched only by his love of mountain climbing, as evidenced in the vertiginous views pictured in many of his fantasy structures.

Stefan teaches at the Fondazione dell’ Ordine degli Architetti in Milan, and organises Sketchmob gatherings in Milan and Genoa that attract large crowds. Our Skype conversations inevitably revolve around two questions: what is the pedagogy underlying what we do, and how does the act of drawing build our knowledge of the world? Despite all the conversations we’ve had, we’ve never fully drained these subjects.

Stefan has uprooted and resettled several times in different European cities, and his fictions often reflect the viewpoint of an outsider, relying on fragmented impressions in an attempt to make sense of the whole. The act of drawing, he says, “fruitfully excites your imagination in the way a book excites you more than a movie, forcing your mind to create a complete 3D model of a particular space out of the partial image the eyes meet.”

I founded Sketchmob in London in 2007. Our meetings eventually became a way to keep in touch with architectural clients and friends who’d lost their jobs in the economic crash. We sketch together in great locations and then have a beer (actually, several). To draw, you only need a piece of paper and a pencil, so it‘s easy to resource these big recreational gatherings, which over time mature into rich cultural exchanges as a group identity begins to form.

The growth of urban sketching through programmes like Sketchmob is evidence of new generations ‘discovering’ drawing anew. Stefan is part of the last generation of sketchers who cut their teeth on paper with thick trace and a razor blade for scratching out errors. He has embraced computerisation as a post-digital freehand artist, using photographic underlays as his blank canvas. This is a fascinating aspect of his work.

When you draw, you inhabit the space you are sketching. Through empathy you ‘feel’ and assess the scale, texture, proximity and vistas that pour out of your hand in a physiological circuit linking your mind’s eye to your pen. Drawing is a complex intellectual process that is both an act of cognition and an embodied experience where your hand ‘knows’ the moves it should make to capture momentary abstract glimpses projected from the unconscious to the conscious mind.

The generic, unfeeling quality of computer-generated images is nobody’s fault, especially not the computer’s; the computer cannot feel. Typically we use computer renderings as underlays for drawing on, once they have done the donkey work of setting the views up.

What Stefan’s drawings exemplify is a tension between the ‘knowing’ of a recognisable space and the not knowing of the space being assembled by the imagination. Add to this the sensation of drunken imbalance that accompanies the drawing experience, manifest in the frail exactitude of the human hand.

His extraordinary body of work – including his futuristic animated drawings, in dialogue with photos of Milan by Stefano Gusmeroli – can be found on YouTube, Facebook and his blog: the architecture draftsman.

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. 

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The role of the concept sketch

Illustrated by the house at 6 Wood Lane

by Mike Russum, Director, Birds Portchmouth Russum Architects

Much has been written about the benefits of hand drawing and our practice has over the years developed a particular way working through drawing. We use hand drawings in many different ways; to evolve projects conceptually and for presentation purposes to inform and delight our clients and other audiences. Some of our drawings are simply for ourselves as a device to reflect on our work and play with ideas.

The concept diagram is the starting point for developing our design approach.  We prepare analytical sketches investigating the parameters and the opportunities of each project. Critically these are not driven by aesthetic preconceptions about achieving an architectural style. The intention instead is to unearth objective clues that can lead to delivering optimal as well as interesting architecture.  Collectively we appraise and debate these initial ideas – a process that transcends into a magical carpet ride, with playful hand-drawn sketches emerging that help further refine the brief, set out strategic solutions and which often trump earlier proposals.

This process leads to a series of concept sketches / diagrams that distil our vision and objectives for the design.  Sometimes we pursue a single ‘ideal or pure’ direction or more commonly a hybrid solution which embraces a number of possibly competing ideas but also address the implications. A robust concept sketch becomes the touchstone for the design development – and it may even become a motif that informs the detailing of the constructed project.

Click to enlarge

This is illustrated in our most recently completed work – the award winning house at 6 Wood Lane. Here the concept sketches were developed initially from analytical investigations into:

  • Elevating living areas above sleeping areas to benefit from views and greater daylight
  • Accommodating off road parking space but reclaiming lost floor area above the cars
  • Optimising sun penetration into this house as well as the neighbours’ houses
  • Considering appropriate construction methods; both in situ and prefabricated

These led to sketches suggesting an orthogonal base to accommodate rectangular beds and the cantilevering elliptical form above for the open plan upper living element. This singular iconic form echoes the individuality of the existing villas that line the southern edge of Wood Lane.  Further sketches considered the cost and fabrication benefits of a traditional orthogonal ground retaining masonry base and the lightweight timber prefabricated barrel vaulted monocoque shell for the extraordinary elliptical living area element above.

These concepts were well established before the outline plans and elevations were developed and became the touchstone for the design development and detail enrichment thereafter.  Indeed the elliptical plan shape has informed many of the elements within the house including the dining and coffee table and an elliptical peep aperture in the boundary fence to the public footpath from the Underground station. A concept can thus vary in its scale throughout any given project giving it, we hope, a sense of cohesiveness , rigour and richness of detail.




This article 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. The article originally appeared in The Architectural Review.

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How drawing made architecture

By Jeremy Melvin, Curator at World Architecture Festival

Drawing is so important to architects because it is what distinguishes architecture, as Reyner Banham writes, from other perfectly respectable ways of making buildings.

It is axiomatic that architectural drawing took a decisive turn in the Renaissance. Less well known is the role of architectural drawing in Renaissance architectural historiography, which Guido Beltramini, director of the Centro Palladio in Vicenza, recently outlined in a discussion with the art historian MaryAnne Stevens and myself.

Guido explained that the first generation of scholarly Renaissance architectural historians, like Rudolf Wittkower, Anthony Blunt and James Ackerman (who died last year aged 97), were essentially art historians who became interested in architecture. Their prime interest was in buildings and the ideas they contained – triumphantly confirming that architecture could be on a par with painting and other artistic media. Think of Wittkower’s Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, which outgrew its initial publication in the scholarly Journal of the Warburg Institute and became, aided and abetted by Peter and Alison Smithson, a touchstone for the intellectual ambitions of the New Brutalism.

A study for the left half of the Disputa | Raphael.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The Conversion of the Proconsul | Raphael.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The next generation, including Joseph Connors and Howard Burns, explored new ground, as second generations do. They put drawings centre stage and in so doing caused a historiographical revolution. Buildings, Guido continued, are evidence of the ‘winners’, not just of architectural competitions but of politics and power. Drawings open up more private and forgotten territories, the realm of speculative ideas and individual fantasies, which may give deeper and wider insights into the architectural psyche.

This also raises the issue of what makes a specifically architectural drawing, as opposed to a drawing for any other purpose. Here the discussion turned to Raphael and his letter to Pope Leo X of 1519, which was a plea to preserve Rome’s ancient monuments in the face of papal urban ambitions. Raphael has a reputation as the most confident and serene delineator of the Renaissance – though Waldemar Januszczak detects a thread of ‘restlessness and experiment’ throughout his oeuvre in a Sunday Times review of the Ashmolean Museum exhibition of his drawings. In any event, Raphael is quite clear that ‘the way of drawing specific to the architect is different from that of the painter’.

Architectural drawings have to give accurate measurements and are principally plans, sections and elevations. Raphael allows that perspective helps architects to ‘better imagine the whole building furnished with its ornaments’, but is firm that ‘this type of drawing . . . is the preserve of the painter’. It took the next generation and in particular Palladio (who was 11 years old when Raphael wrote his letter), to free architectural drawings completely from perspective and depend entirely on orthogonal projections. The stage was set for the next 400 years of architectural drawing, and the flowering of the Beaux-Arts tradition.

Villa Saraceno, Agugliaro: plan and elevation | Andrea Palladio.

As that tradition has run its course, and new digital technologies challenge anew the conventions of architectural drawing, the next generation of architects will no doubt explore the relationship between buildings and ideas still further.

This article 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. The article originally appeared in The Architectural Review.

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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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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.

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