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Another Architecture website with images of architects sketching

I think my current favorite architecture website cliche is the image of an architect “working”: pencil in handle, sketches everywhere. (for a good laugh, click on this Google Image Search of “Architect Working”). We do love promoting this idyllic and limited view of what we do. I really wish we could move beyond that.

I lament that my drawing ability has atrophied. Perhaps this will change in the future, but I can say my skills peaked when I was eighteen and a senior in high school. I am out of practice and know my younger self could destroy me in a competition (same goes for my twenty-one year old self and bass playing, but that’s a different story). Fortunately I can still beat both of them not in technical skill but in creativity and functional skill. I know how to think better in both those mediums now. I can explore better now.

I lament that my drawing ability has atrophied not because I think it makes me less of an architect but because I have only so much time to focus on hobbies. And I’ve chosen other hobbies that are more important to me. Drawing is a hobby, not a fundamental architectural skill. Yet we do everything we can to put our favorite hobby at the center of our profession’s image and value.

Does that burn? Can you deny it? You will. And I look forward to reading those comments. And I REALLY want a guest post explaining why it is central to our value. TIME FOR HOBBIES

Professions and tools evolve over time. Do you? For another example of an icon of a bygone era becoming a hobby, read this post about bows, arrows, and machine guns. Subscribe to my blog to read more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century: Shoegnome on FacebookTwitter, and the RSS feed.


  • February 13, 2014

    Hello again Jared BIM guy…(Being In Minnesota, not)

    I hope this story doesn’t bore you. We got a design/build job in 2008 for a couple who wanted a translation of Greene & Greene (early 20th century Pasadena, CA architects) up here in the Rockies. We later learned we somehow beat out their daughter, an architect and ArchiCAD user. But, she had warned them that we still draw the “old-fashioned” way. They agreed, but went with us anyway. Still, that was our signal to move to our ArchiCAD software, and get with the 21st century.

    Now Amy (wife) is our website designer. She laments the loss of hand-drawn images, and encourages
    us to retain some of our “architecty” drawings on our website.

    Beyond this, (a very personal observation), in the VERY early stages of concept design, some clients like
    the “loose” trace paper drawings of Floor Plans and/or Elevations. It seems to give them reassurance that changes (or a complete redesign) is still on the table.

    But as usual, only one firm’s opinion…thanks for your work.

    Steve and Betty Nickel in Colorado

  • February 13, 2014

    Patrick May

    about that google image search… is drafting while wearing a hard hat a key part of passing the ARE? I may still take the test some day, and would like to know ahead of time if investing in new head wear is essential.

  • February 15, 2014

    Then what of the sketch render (like in ArchiCAD) or software maybe like sketchup that gives a sketchy feel to a design. Is this bad? After reading the architosh article on Steve Bell, and his convincing and realistic renders of a sketch design. It’s interesting the way designers communicate a design or a vision can make the target audience feel, be it convincing or nostalgic or trust or comfort etc.

  • February 18, 2014


    Jared, not sure I have time to answer your challenge in long form, but let me give it a quick try. The more generic the tool, the more conceptual possibilities are open and the fewer decisions need to be made to use the tool resulting in faster iterations. A pencil or pen (or brush or whatever) is the generic tool of choice for most Architects. Even in Rhino or SketchUp parameters need to be input to draw even the simplest line or volume while with a pencil the input is the ingrained, intuitive “move hand.” ArchiCAD can be even more intimidating in this respect, as each tool has more parameters and even the naming (slab, wall, door) tends to prompt decisions that may not be ready to be made. I think this also holds true when developing elevations or more detailed drawings; windows as groups of lines are more generic and open to conceptual possibilities than an object with parameters for shim spacing and materials.

  • March 4, 2014

    Hmmm.. I guess I am not aligned with you on this one. If I had to sum up my philosophical beliefs pertaining to the discipline of Architecture, I’d say, “You have to think before you draw, and thinking requires sketching.”

    I wrote two very brief articles why, here:


    Not pimping my site, but I am just fundamentally at odds with those who don’t sketch. I have found, without ANY exception, that when it comes time to construct a project, if the details haven’t been sketched out first, the project will have an incredibly difficult delivery through construction. I am fascinated, perplexed, and morbidly frustrated by digerati who prefer a cool LED screen verses the warm feel of pen and paper. I LOVE SketchUp, I appreciate REVIT, I mastered AutoCAD and Microstation before that, but drawing and thinking are two different things. Sketching IS thinking.

  • March 8, 2014

    I read this post a few days ago, and have been contemplating what my response should be, if any. Hopefully this will come across as well as it is in my head.

    First off, if anyone is stating that a certain technology (anywhere from hand tools to virtual reality) is the only way to think through an idea, they are wrong. We all work differently and each instrument has their benefits for different users. And the notion that you have to sketch to think, is not accurate. Sketching, drafting, modeling is not thinking; it is concentrating what you are thinking on. As you place the lines or families or whatever, you begin to narrow your focus between the items you already know and the ones you are working through.

    Secondly, on the issue of why hand drafting tools are seen as essential to the tool box of an architect, I would add this. I don’t believe the tool is superior to any other that we now have available to us in terms of expressing our ideas. I believe it is the one that will always be part of the tool box. CAD is slowly losing its relevance there while BIM is becoming more dominant; sticky backs and blueprints have been completely eliminated, but the pen/pencil or similar will always be there. I don’t always have my computer or tablet to work out an idea, but I can almost always grab a writing instrument and find something to draw on. So I guess I don’t see the tool as any more important in terms of ability to convey my thoughts, simply as probably the most likely to not be eliminated from our various options.

  • May 15, 2014

    You are lazy. Plain and simple. The hand sketch to generate ideas will triumph over computer generated drawings now and forever. The fact that you said you look back at your 18 year old self… psshh.. get over it. Sketching can be done at any moment in the day, there is always time for a sketch.

  • May 15, 2014

    Alan Manning

    Okay, I was a little heated when I initially read the article. Just put simply, there is always time for a sketch… even while on the shitter. Could be the shitter time sketch of the day, and adds more detail each time the shitter is used… I’m sick of hearing architects say, “oh I remember when I used to sketch.” Sure it’s a hobby, but more importantly, it’s a way of life.

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