Excerpt: Book
Architects’ Sketchbooks

In the context of the hysteria currently surrounding all things old-fashioned and handmade, it makes a certain sense to mount an examination of architecture’s low-tech roots: those hand-rendered sketches and schematics that still tend to quietly precede even the most digitally advanced structures. It’s debatable whether the practice as a whole is consciously returning to those roots, as the new book Architects’ Sketchbooks argues, but when the architects who find joy in committing their thoughts to paper open their notepads for all to see, the appeal runs deeper than any cultural trend. “For me, the process is often more fascinating than the end result, and at the heart of architecture, which is part of the process of building worlds, lies the language of drawing,” writes Narinder Sagoo of Foster + Partners in the book’s foreword.

As author Will Jones sees it, two simple factors push architects back and forth along the spectrum of science and art: need and enjoyment. Those who sketch may view the process as an indispensable, practical method both for generating ideas and for communicating them to others — “such drafting and redrafting remains the lifeblood and backbone of an entire industry,” writes Jones — or they may use it as a kind of creative release. “In a professional world that is laden with costs, constraints and client pressure, the chance to escape reality even for a few moments is priceless,” he suggests. The excerpt at right cherrypicks the most unexpected of the featured sketchbook images, paired with portions of the essays written about them, and thus leans heavily towards the latter proposition, but the submissions of the book’s 85 contributors run the gamut from the technical to the cartoonish to the painterly. Jones quotes Louis Kahn on what ultimately unites all these endeavors: “A great building must begin with the unmeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed, and yet in the end must be unmeasurable.”

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Alessandro Mendini, Milan: "Mendini’s eclectic style absorbs influences from multiple genres and schools of design. However, its defining element is the use of color. His sketches, whether for a museum or a hat stand, involve bold form and exciting combinations of shapes."

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"In addition, his design method often involves diagrammatic sketches, surrounded by descriptive notes and key words, or inspirational ideas. 'The designs are the linguistic components of an ongoing puzzle that is never completed,' says Mendini."

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"'The sense lies in the progressive utopian hypothesis of reaching an impossible synthesis; it lies in this expanded, centrifugal movement that has no end,' Mendini says. 'The message of our work lies in this atmospheric dust, this polyphonic rhythm, a throng of figures full of contrasts.'"

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Ben Emmett, Dorset, England: "Ben Emmett is passionate about his home in the west country of England. He takes much inspiration from walking and sketching in all weathers. 'The process of sketching provides a link to a mythopoetic narrative where I can imagine structures that are an integral part of the landscape.'"

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"Emmett draws upon both contemporary and ancient architectural references to illustrate structures in a process of construction and/or decomposition. Sometimes the inner workings burst through the facade, or the facade is peeled away to reveal the hidden. Emmett’s formal training as an architect is clear from his use of construction components — yet these materials are cunningly used to evoke a mythical feel."

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Penelope Haralambidou, London: "Haralambidou uses sketches, collages and drawings to visualize her work … Her unusual graphic style has given rise to intriguing imagery. Some of her sketches and drawings acquire the status of 'pictures' for the architect because they have an aesthetic value or capture in an eloquent manner the unfolding of the thought process."

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“'I am fascinated by drawings as traces of thought, not only in architecture but also in other fields such as medicine, engineering and of course art.' This fascination remains from Haralambidou’s days as a student. 'I was always impressed by the fact that although the design process was very long it was the essence of the very first sketches that drove the design.'"

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Will Alsop, London: "The inspiration for Alsop’s multicoloured, outlandishly-shaped architectural offerings comes from his love of art and painting. Alsop feels that art is a discipline inseparable from architecture. His paintings and sketches have been presented alongside his architectural projects in numerous exhibitions."

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"By attempting to bring art directly into architecture, Alsop has abandoned the hegemony of acceptable style. He has rendered the whole process of architecture one of increasing fluidity and transparency — a new and refreshing position for such a concrete discipline."

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“'I don’t see the point of architecture that simply blends in. I have done lots of work with the general public and what I hear over and over again is that people are looking for something that marks their spot on the earth’s surface. Something that has an identity that is not shared with others,' says Alsop."

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Point Supreme Architects, Athens: "'We generally create collages to illustrate our ideas and physical models to test their application in space,' says partner Konstantinos Pantazis. 'But each project demands work in different techniques and each type of illustration communicates differently. The simultaneous use of collage, model, sketch, painting and render for each of our projects offers the ultimate result.'"

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"Collages help the practice to be both abstract and precise at the same time. 'These first moments and illustrations are the most critical ones. They are spontaneous and free from constraints, which is very liberating, and therefore carry the most creativity,' explains Pantazis."

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"'All the subsequent design adjustments that come from refinement and development are constantly evaluated against the first illustration,' Pantazis continues. 'There is a give-and-take process between the imaginary, which is extracted from the first illustration, and the real, which is dictated by the constraints [such as limitations imposed by materials and budget, and by the physical site].'"

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"'Given that the power of the first impulsive idea is usually unbeatable, the success of the design is dependent on how close we can stay to the very first illustration,' says Pantazis. 'However... the translation... does not have to be literal.'"

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Caleb Crawford, Mississippi: "Crawford exemplifies a surprisingly large number of architects who are influenced by Surrealist art and thinking. He might call his drawings 'useless,' but they clearly rely upon modes of architectural representation — orthographic projection, axonometric drawing and perspective — at times mixing several techniques into a single sketch."

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"Some drawings are intentionally narrative and pictorial, while in others Crawford blurs the line between an architectural representation and an abstract, geometric composition. 'Drawing involves becoming lost and discovering. Though logical rules for the making of form are employed, often there is no rational motivation for a form’s presence… When the drawings are at their best, there is nothing left to say.'"