Pencil Studies for a Proposed College Expansion
Traditionally an architectural illustrator will come in at the end of the project and produce a formal image or two of the final, fully-designed concept, like the sketch above. Sometimes though when a project is very large in scope, and will likely stretch over a number of years and be reviewed continually by many constituents and groups (users, the public, review boards, etc.), I am brought in to produce quick draft sketches and loose renderings throughout the process. Images executed consistently and by one hand can, over a period of time, serve to stabilize for some participants what might otherwise feel like a moving target. If many of the people involved in a project of large scope are lay people (neighborhood groups, users, etc.), and do not have a lot of experience with architectural projects, then they may not feel very comfortable looking at plans and elevations and converting them to ‘reality’. A quick pencil study can be executed rapidly, presented the next day as follow-up to the previous day’s discussion perhaps, and remove many issues that are not yet germane (materials, colors, landscaping, details) which a formal image or digital (photoreal) rendering might raise.
The above sketch and its details are what were produced at the end of one project’s process. It might be interesting to take a look at some of the earlier conceptual studies, though. These predate the final rendering above by a couple, perhaps even three years.
When I’m involved very early on in the conceptual phase, and client meetings and presentations are occurring perhaps weekly, things change constantly. A project may not be far enough along to make a physical model, or it may be changing so quickly that such models (in cardboard or foam) can’t keep up. So a digital ‘sketch model’ is often used to flesh things out. Even then, though, they are often sparse, and contain elements which are nothing more than placeholders or abbreviated mock-ups of what is ultimately intended. Digital stills (shots taken from these digital models) are a great tool for architects, but often the people to whom they are presented, clients especially, find them uncomfortable, oddly un-realistic, or unapproachable.
A pencil sketch done simply and quickly moves the focus away from the odd nature of the computer model’s textures and primitive massing, toward the real matter at hand, in this case a discussion regarding whether there is an entrance to the pedestrian connection between buildings at the higher street level (above sketch). …or whether the path from the street continues downward and under the pedestrian connection (below).
We don’t know yet the color or even texture of the stone, or what the details in the stone trim might be. And we don’t need to spend a half hour coloring the sky for the sky’s sake… The marching orders are to translate the architect’s very rough digital concept model into something which the architect and client can discuss without distraction. Softening the edges and implying flexibility (meaning: the design is still in process) is important. It does no good to spend all day on a formal image, making the architect’s client feel hemmed in, as thought the architect is saying the design is fully resolved and inflexible. Rather, the idea is to encourage discussion and exploration, and assure the client that the process is fluid, and progressing.
Following are some more early sketches, done in white and warm grey on buff paper. These represent maybe a third of the sketches (including alterations and revisions) done in the conceptual and schematic design phases.
I offer these zoomed-in details of the sketches not to show the detail, but precisely for the opposite reason: to show that there isn’t any real detail. What I enjoy about these types of sketches is that the flick of a pencil can be quickly made to establish a window opening, or that a quick smudge of pencil with some darker indications can be made to read as a mature tree. The facile nature of the pencil is what makes the images valuable to the process. Clients can readily understand the overall intent, without bogging down in the minutiae, and the sketches can come as fast and as furious as the design does.
Note the ‘non-trunk’ of the tree, at left. In these simple tonal studies, merely drawing a shadow falling across a portion of the tree trunk is enough to establish the entire trunk itself.
These eventually became more and more formal as the design became resolved, and a suite of renderings, including an Interior, were executed.
That’s not a joke. One of the things often unspoken about a hand drawn sketch like this one is that the human eye is constantly looking INTO things, deeper, seeking detail. At a certain point, the eye stops caring that the building (which is the subject) has long ago stopped giving up new detail when we peer into it, and begins to revel in the human hand, the strokes on paper. If this were a shot of a sketch-up model, the eye would be greeted with nothingness. …maybe a solid color, a hard edge. But here, when the eye has become satisfied that the arch is stone, and has a substantial profile, or that the bay beyond will have mouldings and guttering, it then makes the leap to pencil and paper and finds joy (eye-candy, to be blunt) in the incidental strokes that combine to express the slope of grass or the handrail, shrubbery, or human smudges. And that’s the point. Let the client know that there was joy in this process. Joy in the process will yield joy in the built experience.
There is an economy, believe it or not, to doing a number of iterative sketches throughout the design process, in addition to a few formal “beauty shots” at the very end when all is said and done. Sketches like the looser conceptual kind included here serve to anchor the process, inspire the client, speak to the public and show true intention, and provide focus. Passionate sketches, even incredibly loose ones, will convey their passion. Architects are passionate, and their work is presented best when presented with a like amount of passion by the illustrator. And in a way, despite the extra expense of these conceptual sketches, a savings is realized… The discussion moves more quickly, decisions are made more quickly and more firmly, and with greater conviction. In a sense, three years before the last formal image was drawn for this project, an inkling of that view, and the buildings within it, were understood by the client. Quite literally, an early sketch can provide the client something to pin to the wall, and to pin their hopes on, it becomes a flag planted, toward which the project can move. Passion begets passion. And a client passionate about the work, inspired by visual delight, and firmly committed to furthering it, is the best possible kind of client one can have.
Anything that helps plant that passion more than pays for itself. …many times over.
The Architect for the project is Tsoi Kobus, of Cambridge.