This is part one of a three part series on the art of the near-lost art of hand drawing in the practice of architecture.
scan176As an architectural firm, we’re a bit of a dinosaur. That is, we still vitally practice the art of hand drawing. We apply this archaic craft throughout our design process – from initial sketches to the construction drawings. And, we aren’t planning on changing that anytime soon.

Most modern architectural firms utilize the computer as their main means of composing drawings that will eventually translate into a building. If you visit any given architectural school nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find a parallel bar or a triangle, once the base tools of our trade. Drawing, in the practice of architecture, is quickly becoming a lost art. In all the technological progresses happening in our profession, I’m afraid what’s subsequently slipping away is the actual art of architecture.

I certainly don’t want to come across like some old “back-in-my-day-we-walked-to-school-in-three-feet-of-snow” practitioner. I actually love technology and certain advancements it brings. And we are far from being old dogs wary of new tricks. I think that’s evident in this blog, our website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, Pinterest page or Instagram account. But when it comes to proudly producing the work that feeds all those hungry digital mouths, it was cooked up by a bunch of human hands and pencils. You see, I’m absolutely convinced something profound happens between the creative brain and the end of a moving pencil and that this can’t be duplicated by a mind and a mouse or trackpad. Magic is created and the identifying soul of art is produced.  I hope our buildings reflect that. I’ve often been told there is a certain beauty in our work that people can’t quite put their finger on but they spot immediately. I think that’s the human element that they are subconsciously identifying; this thing of wood, steel, brick, stone and glass that sits in front of them was somehow impassioned by the artist. Life was breathed into the inanimate.

This first post in my series focuses on our initial sketches – the veritable graphite seeds of our work. The ones illustrated here (all produced by the agile hands of Bobby McAlpine) are the initial sparks of creation. They are predicated by talking (and mostly listening) to what our client says. Once we identify the heart of who is sitting in front of us and comprehend why the thing is, we can begin what the thing is. Produced first, these loose, tiny drawings convey the spirt and essence of what will eventually become the actualized dream. Our job is then to carry on the energies of these initial drafts into the end product. But we always return to the beginnings, that is where the idea is and, therefore, where the art is at its purest.

Today, there is much talk of things like farm-to-table slow food, bespoke clothing, organic goods and one of a kind crafts.  The handmade is once again being elevated and glorified. Why can’t architecture be that way, too? It’s historically been considered among one of humanity’s fine arts.  We personally try to maintain reasons for it to be on that list.

Next week’s post will focus on the the development of these sketches and the fully realized design that occurs.
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Greg Tankersley, for McAlpine Tankersley


  1. d2zen says:

    Drawing by hand creates a client/firm experience that is truly unique. Thank you so much for beginning this series and including the genesis of sketches and drawings.

  2. I have been in the field of architecture for 20 years, and I have worked with 100’s of architects, and not one could draw. Personally, I dropped out of architecture school because after two years of study, I never picked up a pencil. I love to draw, and I love to look at hand drawn architectural renderings, but you just don’t see the anymore.

  3. Ashley Eldridge says:

    After admiring the designs your firm produces for several years, it has been a pleasure the read the first two parts of this series. I dreamed of designing homes as a child, spending hours drawing floor plans of homes filled with elaborate atriums and courtyards. My drawings certainly never reached the level of artistic quality of your designs; they are masterpieces far before construction begins. I’ll look forward to reading the 3rd installment!

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