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Old-Fashioned or Extraordinary?

8 June 2021

Hand or computer - in architectural drawing, too, the question is what will prevail in the future. Even if digital is ahead today, analogue is - fortunately - showing strong signs of life again.

An icon among hand drawings: Falling Water House by Frank Lloyd Wright, pencil and paint on paper.
© Photo: Modern House

As the saying goes: There's life in the old dog yet. This applies to many things, but especially in the media sector, where technological progress often leaves no stone unturned in a very short time. And that's a good thing, because development must not stand still. Nevertheless, certain things should not lose their reason for being, just because they cannot be achieved as quickly and need a little more effort and material.


Frank O. Gehry used CAD programmes for 3D models as early as 1992 when designing the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
© Photo: Gehry Partners, LLP

In the architecture industry, this discrepancy becomes visible, among other things, where the graphic virtuosity of an architect reveals itself: in architectural drawing. In the past, it was created by the practiced hand and excellent powers of observation in dealing with a place; today, fingers have excellent command of the keyboard to grow structures that were unthinkable at the time, because of their complexity. A digital graphic, which can most likely also be animated, cannot compete with the unique charisma of a hand drawing, no matter how realistically it is depicted. On the other hand, the computer-generated representation opens up unimagined possibilities for disclosing the most diverse perspectives for the viewer. Of course, this can also be done by hand drawing, but not in a matter of seconds at the push of a button. This debate reflects a growing dichotomy in architectural drawing.


"Mechanised habitable vertical farm for a COVID generation" by One Drawing finalist Ian Lai, Perspective category.
© Photo: Ian Lai /architizer

Today, every architecture student and graduate applying for a job is required to have excellent knowledge of CAD. Under certain circumstances, with BIM it goes far beyond that. Actually, this is the logical consequence of a trend in which CAD drawing is also becoming increasingly important as a design tool. Around the world, much of the work is done only digitally, and the advantages are clear: several people can participate in a drawing and seamlessly pick up where someone else left off, the method is efficient and practical. But doesn't this mean that the characteristic handwriting of an author is lost?


"ellitanium city" by One Drawing finalist Hosein Mosavi, Sketch category.
© Photo: Hosein Mosavi /architizer

The hand drawing scores with completely different qualities. It shows emotions, it is timeless and crosses the border of a pure technical drawing into a form of art. It can be complete as a sketch with fine hints of the volumes, or lost in minute details as a meticulous graphic, where every single stroke must be well thought out, just as in the CAD counterpart. In each line there is the personality of the author, who stimulates the viewer to his own interpretations and thus his imagination. The analogy means that the author is forced to think about things that in the other scenario are partly taken over by the computer.

The art is in the expression: Colombian finalist Yennifer Johana Machado Londoño shows "Architecture without architects, a slum made out of stories".
© Photo: Yennifer Johana Machado Londoño /architizer


Both types of architectural drawing have their advantages and disadvantages. The digital version is continuously advancing, and the architecture industry can no longer be imagined without it. But to ensure that the art of hand-drawn architectural drawings is not forgotten, the Architizer platform has launched the "One Drawing" competition to draw more attention to the art form. In 2020, this competition took place for the second time, with stunning works submitted once again. Both methods are permitted, because the focus is on telling a story with architectural relevance. Thus, a form of comparison was chosen that offers to both approaches - the digital and the analogue - an equal stage.


The private Museum of Architectural Drawing at Berlin's Pfefferberg was designed and realised by Moscow-based architectural firm SPEECH Tchoban & Kuznetsov.
© Photo: Ansgar Koreng

The Tchoban Foundation in Berlin - Prenzlauer Berg, where a museum for high-class architectural drawings has been established, takes up the cudgels for architectural hand drawings. On three floors, which for light protection reasons have no windows, one can admire outstanding works, paired with their own special exhibitions of individual top-class artists of the fine pen. The affinity for hand-drawn architecture even manifests itself in the concrete façade, which carries the exhibition theme to the outside in the form of cut-outs from architectural drawings.


Originally written by Barbara Jahn

Old-Fashioned or Extraordinary?
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