By Charles Hind, Chief Curator and H.J. Heinz Curator of Drawings, RIBA British Architectural Library
A couple of years ago, I was asked to give a talk to the Art Workers Guild on the subject Is hand drawing dead in the digital age. What was interesting was not so much what I had to say but the debate that followed. The general consensus was that the pendulum had swung too far away from hand-drawing in favour of the computer and that the balance needed to be redressed.
A properly trained architect these days needs to master both skills. Some architects then present supported the view that you cannot really understand a space that you are designing if you do not link the vision in your head to your hand and via a pen, pencil or brush, transfer it onto paper. There was also agreement amongst the older architects present that it is sometimes embarrassing for a practice when a young project architect, faced with a question from a client, cannot quickly explain what is intended by means of a hasty sketch and needs to call in a senior colleague to do it instead. One major practice has introduced life classes!
The value of hand drawing as a topic regularly pops up in my world. Recently, for example, an architectural student complained to me that he had been criticised by one of his tutors for devoting too much time to hand drawing when he should be focused on his computer instead. Currently on display at the RIBA is a body of drawings by George Saumarez Smith that is centred around drawing as essential to the making of architecture (until 26th November).
Two very different types of contemporary drawing have just entered the RIBA Collections, both American. Steven Holl has presented a group of drawings for the new Maggie’s Centre that will open in Bart’s Hospital, London, next month. Holl works out all the significant aspects of a new design, its planning and appearance, in a sketchbook and on small sheets of paper before handing them over to colleagues in his office to work up digitally.
This is in a tradition that goes all the way back to the Renaissance. By contrast, David M Schwarz Architects and his client have given three very splendid presentation drawings, plan, elevation and section, of the Nancy Lee and Perry R Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, Texas.
Although largely traditional in style, the building is revolutionary in its use of technology to alter the configuration of the building to allow opera, theatre, ballet, musicals and symphony concerts to use the same auditorium but with the appropriate acoustic background and ceiling. The drawings, by Jeffrey Loman, are beautifully rendered and are very much in the 18th-19th century tradition.
So much for the practical and aesthetic qualities of hand-drawing. We must also consider the archival aspect of digital design, which is already proving vastly more complex and expensive a solution than was predicted. Like the RIBA’s Palladio drawings, which are already nearly 500 years old and are in great condition, these drawings by Holl and Loman will be around in another 500 years. The challenge is to find a way to make the digital as enduring as paper.
Steven Holl’s drawings will be on display on the 1st floor landing of the RIBA at 66 Portland Place, London W1B 1AD from the 1st December – 23rd December.
This post 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 winning and shortlisted drawings will be exhibited at the World Architecture Festival 15-17 November 2017.