Design Tools: A Critical Look at Computer Aided Visualization and Hand Sketching for Architectural Drawings

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Design Tools: A Critical Look at Computer Aided Visualization and Hand Sketching for Architectural Drawings

As the foundation of any architectural design, sketches and drawings have long been known for their ability to enable the architect to effectively interact with his design and express concepts intuitively. While the importance of hand drawing is widely understood in architectural schools, what happens to those who are unable to draw by hand? Many students have found it extremely difficult to cope with the intensity of the hand drawing exercise during their first year of architectural education. Among these students, some would choose to give up architecture simply because they do not know how to draw well, some would decide to focus more on learning generalized design drawing techniques by computer.

As a result, these two types of hand-produced and machine-produced design drawings become two distinct styles of presentation and generate heated debate in academia and the professional world. This article will take a critical look at the application of computer aided visualization and hand sketching in design drawings, and discuss the pros and cons, respectively.

Courtesy of Frank O. Gehry
Courtesy of Frank O. Gehry
Courtesy of Frank O. Gehry
Courtesy of Frank O. Gehry

Plastic production versus spontaneous modification
When starting to design, he / she is most likely to come up with conceptual drawings first, which can be a set of reference sketches, a visual journal, or a random record of the architect’s inspiration. . Because at this point it is enough to express the concept of the design without worrying about many details, these sketches can be simply sketchy and spontaneous, drawn on sheets of tracing paper, ready to be layered on top of each other. This can be seen as an evolutionary process that one must follow when initiating a design proposal.

Courtesy of Mies van der Rohe
Courtesy of Mies van der Rohe

For example, when a design project is assigned to schools of architecture, students typically perform a site scan by hand-tracing property lines, zoning, planting, arteries, and the existing adjacent building. , and layering them on top of each other to see how they converge or diverge and where the design opportunities lie. Hand drawing can be a preparatory process that allows the designer to get a feel for the scale and become familiar with the condition of the site, while also arranging the items on a grid.

Courtesy of Renzo Piano
Courtesy of Renzo Piano

Nonetheless, the traditional design process, as we saw above, is challenged by the introduction of powerful computer visualization. Nowadays, when students are given projects, it is more and more likely that they will grab the satellite image of the site directly from Google Earth and then rotate and resize it in software like AutoCAD or Rhino depending on needs. This process of rotating and scaling can be done by simply entering a value or command, making it purely mechanical with a lack of intuitive thinking.

Hand sketch of Thom Mayne.  Image courtesy of The New School and AIAS San Diego
Hand sketch of Thom Mayne. Image courtesy of The New School and AIAS San Diego

As computer-aided programs are adopted for their unmistakable precision, architects could then go ahead and 3D model the entire site based on the line drawing they digitally plotted, they could zoom in and out and cut sections where they want. In addition, computer-generated images greatly facilitate sales in the real estate market. For clients who are not comfortable reading plans and sections, they are encouraged to virtually walk around the site and quickly understand the design. The digitally rendered design makes it accepted by a wider audience as anyone can read the realistically rendered drawing rather than messy hand sketches.

Courtesy of Tatiana Bilbao
Courtesy of Tatiana Bilbao

As a designer or architect, we need to be careful when designing or presenting with digital visualization as this often makes the design plastic and duplicable and presents a deceptive reality. If you rely too much on the computer at the design stage, your design will more likely look like a collage of all the elements you’ve collected from other previous ones. Without in-depth intuitive thinking, you’ll be closer to the production mode than the design process. While browsing online, it is not uncommon to see the ready-made design blocks in the CAD or 3D furniture warehouse, which you can easily insert into your project. product elements really counted as a design? Or they are simply a copy of other designs without sufficient consideration of the condition of the site.

© MIR
© MIR

In addition, without going there and sketching the design by hand, it is almost impossible to really perceive the light, humidity and shadows, which are distinctive elements of the built environment. Computer generated images are ideal for sale to a targeted group of audiences such as banks and developers as they tend to illustrate the design in a perfectly clear and clean condition. Digital renderings are often quite promising with a balanced composition and carefully planned sunlight angles and shadows all aimed at a better result, which can be misleading compared to the actual post-construction state. With the varied environmental factors such as weather, people, and dust, not all of the materials we see in the renderings look like they are in real life. Ironically, it is becoming controversial whether or not the “realistic rendering” really presents us with reality.

© MIR
© MIR

Hybrid approach
“Hybrid approach” is a new term that architects have suggested when it comes to choosing between hand sketches and computer visualization. According to a 2014 survey of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs), members were asked how they preferred to work: on a computer or sketching out ideas by hand. About 23% chose a “hybrid approach”, which uses “the computer for efficiency” and the “hand for creativity”, as one respondent argued.

Visualization of unbuilt architecture.  Image courtesy of SAN Architectural Visualization
Visualization of unbuilt architecture. Image courtesy of SAN Architectural Visualization

The “hybrid approach” can be seen both as a combination of tradition and technology, and as a compromise in the growing takeover of the digital design tool in today’s world. It is suggested that architects should always keep traditional hand sketches as part of the design iteration at the schematic design stage, as hand sketches will allow for the stimulation of ideas and spontaneous modification. When finalized conceptual design comes later, computer-assisted programs can be more practical and efficient, as they generate a myriad of design proposals based on given parameters. However, we must keep in mind that the built environment is not static but full of dynamics, all parameters are subject to change over time.

© MIR
© MIR

For a young architect, one should be aware that drawing is essential in architectural training because it expresses the interaction of the mind, hands and eyes of the architect. Drawing is very important to conceptualize architecture, instead of just relying on the computer to do the work for you, because the whole experience then becomes impersonal, indirect, sort of futile.

Visualization of unbuilt architecture.  Image courtesy of Daniel Gillen
Visualization of unbuilt architecture. Image courtesy of Daniel Gillen



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