Is Architectural sketching on the verge of extinction?

It is hard for us, as architects to imagine our profession without sketching, irrespective of whether we love to draw or not! When I say the word ‘architect,’ you envision a human with a big sketch spread out and a pencil in hand. But in recent times we have seen a quantum shift towards an automated way of working. So, in this era, does the traditional tool of pencil hold any good?

Today’s generation labeled as ‘The tech generation’ has slowly and effectively shifted to the world of gadgets, software’s and fast-moving technology. Evolution in IT has thus become more popular in architectural circles too. Does that proclaim the death of sketching?

What has happened to us, our art, our profession, our conceptualization vis-a-vis the computer which has arrived and here to stay for as long as mankind inhabits this planet!

The computer with the massive ability to organize and present data is modifying the methods of architectural work, right from sketching the first idea to complex designing. The outburst of computer-aided design tools has again questioned the relevance of sketching. While pen and paper are increasingly vanishing from the corporate world, they remain essential to the field of design and architecture.

We may have all of Auto CAD, Revit, Archi CAD, Grasshopper, etc. at our disposal, but the proficiency of sketching is unmatched. Today, computers are able enough to create life-like renders, generate accurate construction details, maintain activity logs and track the development of a particular project. Despite it all, can sketching be completely abandoned?

No. Like Pier Vittorio Aureli says, “Drawing is the means by which the architect defines his role. He doesn’t build — he draws.” Architects like me have been practicing architecture since the late 80s. Like most architects, there are routinely used software’s for developing designs and making presentations, but that isn’t our only option. We architect cannot divorce ourselves from sketching, no matter how impressive the technology gets. Hence sketching will always be a part of the thought process of architectural design. It expresses the interaction of mind, eyes, and hand.

Ideas or thoughts are the complex human mechanisms, while sketching is a tool that simplifies these complexities and turns them into executable objects. The elementary difference between using a computer and paper is that on paper we are tied only to our thoughts, whereas on a computer we are also tied to the framework of the software that we use. This is why sketching is still vital at the stage of conceptualization in a design paradigm. It is the definition of creating art on a blank canvas.

Computers processes tons of data to create what we call, a digital model that requires hours or even days. But the same could be achieved in a matter of minutes with sketching. Clients today prefer 3D visualization to anything else, but during meetings and discussions, sketching comes to our rescue while explaining a particular detail or to make changes instantly. Another critical area that sketching is useful is while conveying spot site instructions in the event of confusion or a mistake. It may take hours, or sometimes be impossible to produce a computer rendered drawing, which could possibly delay or halt the work at the site, causing loss of time and money.

Graphic tablets have been around for decades but they haven’t captured a sizeable segment of the market even now. Today, touch-enabled tablets are fast replacing pens and papers as tools for sketching. Architects are increasingly using apps like Sketchbook Pro and Arch sketch. This seems like a step towards the future, where digital rendering and the look and feel of pencil and paper go hand in hand. Though mediums may change and scopes may get redefined, the future of sketching isn’t bleak; it’s there to stay.

Specified how often we use our fingers for multi-touch gestures on smartphones, tablets, and computers, it’s almost impossible to imagine ever needing the aura of sketching again. The real future of sketching would be a technology which creates digital models or images right out of the brain within seconds. Till then, sketching is ours to exploit!

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