Tag Archives: Mike Russum

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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