Let’s Get Back to Drawing

A Photo-Essay from a Panel and Exhibition on Architectural Drawing in London, 28 October

November 6, 2014

Principal, NBBJ

Last week we hosted an event in NBBJ’s London studio titled ‘Let’s get back to drawing’. We have noticed that, when it comes to design, clients and the public are ever more demanding in their requests for realism and photo-realistic CGIs. But we wanted to see if, as architects, we still need to be able to draw.


Today we work in 3D to generate images and coordinate design. It’s practical and it’s visual. We’re constantly evolving and our tools are becoming ever more intuitive. We use computational design to rapidly prototype designs: these complicated algorithms allow us to explore multiple options for our clients so we can design the best building we can.

Crucially though, we still always start with a drawing. Sketchbooks and pencils are still very much part of the tool box; computational design is simply an additional tool. Drawing is a way of thinking through and working out problems. It too allows for rapid prototyping. And it’s a clear communication tool: we demonstrate a thought process, the evolution of an idea and a solution.


Richard Rees, The Society of Architectural Illustration

Our guest Trevor Flynn, founder of Drawing at Work, often finds that architects are afraid of drawing. His classes, held in-house at practices, aim to dispel this fear. He uses a series of exercises to free his students up. Freehand drawing is a form of interpretation: he calls it ‘selective inattention to detail’. He might ask his students to sketch a subject 20 times in an hour: a kamikaze approach, fast and with a high failure rate. But out of this plenty he is looking for scarcity. The most simple of lines can offer the clearest view.

Our second guest, Richard Rees, former director of BDP and now President of the Society of Architectural Illustration, said the purpose of a drawing is to make you see the essence of something. The best drawings can be the most simple, a few lines which allow the viewer to interpret to form the image. CGIs, in all their accuracy and finesse, can dull a subject down: too much information and the mind doesn’t need to work. Flynn is concerned we have lost the idea of the present; we’re always looking down (usually at our phones) and missing something. He asks, ‘where did the view go?’ His goal is to reengage our spatial and visual intelligence, rewire us and help us draw once again.

Drawing is the ultimate communication tool. Since the time of the caveman, drawing has been used for thinking, recording, explaining, imagining, questioning, recollecting and expressing. It makes us inherently human.


Installation view at NBBJ London.



Worm’s-eye view axonometric of City Court, David Lewis, 1989.



Flipping through Drawing on Architecture, a publication by Richard Rees and the Society of Architectural Illustration.



Watercolor and pencil sketch of Dulwich College, Christian Coop, 2014.



Listening to the panelists.



Detailing for NBBJ’s iAlter installation at 100% Design, David Doody, 2014



Listening to the panelists.


All images courtesy of Ming Lee/NBBJ.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Follow nbbX