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.”