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Drawing and Education

In previous blogs we discussed the value of drawing as the act itself from which we represent reality, express our thoughts or communicate technical solutions; while creating transmissible knowledge.

Drawings are knowledge, we know when we draw.

On this occasion we like to draw our attention onto the effects that digital drawing technology has on architectural education. We are interested in how widely available digital resources are transforming the way students draw and think; the way they interact within their design studio and how they have changed messy pin ups into sleek slide shows.

As in many other aspects of life, digital technology took over architectural education with an array of fantastic tools and data manipulation that no doubt has transformed design studios and architectural practices alike. The capacity to test, change and visualise are now endless with an underline promise of accuracy and error-proof representation.

In the context of architectural education we are fascinated (and worried) by the shift from a making-based culture into a data-based one that digital tools have imposed in the two dimensional representation of school projects. The design process -which is the centre of architectural learning- has been hijacked by digital tools; as a result we see a proliferation of very accomplished computer generated images of poorly thought through buildings. The process is driven by a series of pre-set operations such as copy, mirror, render, extract solids, mapping, etc.; which in our opinion moves architectural learning away from quintessential notions such as composition, scale and tectonic.

One could argue that it is too easy or even unfair to blame technology for the lack of critical thinking; however very often we find concrete evidence of architectural content and exploration in the always-hidden students sketch books. Those unprecise, messy and unfinished scribbles are charged with intentions and ideas with potential to be developed into clear architectural expressions. Ideas that very often get diluted by the fascination or imposition for finished digital material – otherwise known as the ambiguous Instagram image! For this reason we believe hand drawings should be valued as the lead force behind the design process and celebrated as the carrier of knowledge produced by students.

The effect of digital tools is not only affecting the design process but also the interaction between architectural students. It is not surprising to enter a workshop or studio in any architectural school to find every single student working on a powerful portable computer. These isolated environments came to replace messy pin up walls, explorative sketch books and piles of tracing paper that used to define the studios character. Moreover, we seemed to be losing the learning benefits of having real drawings in sight, accessible and open; the influential advantages of seeing all participants working together.

As a conclusion we believe that although architectural education should embrace digital tools; we should not forget the real value that hand drawings have during the formation stages in architectural schools. We should ask ourselves; are students learning?, are they thinking?, can they explore their ideas without switching on a device? or are they obliviously pressing buttons and screens to get results instead of drawing conclusions?

Ultimately architectural schools are places of knowledge, where architects-to-be learn and form their foundations for the challenges they will face in the near future.

We started this blog on our way back to London after a day of crits at Manchester Metropolitan University, just before the beginning of the lockdown as a result of the Covit-19 pandemic.

Paradoxically, we have found ourselves in the last week reviewing students final projects via online video conferences….. There is no doubt that their proficiency and access to digital media made it possible to continue their education in the current challenging conditions - something that could never have happened if we were still only dealing with pen and paper.


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