London, United Kingdom
Masdar City, Abu Dhabi
Auckland, New Zealand
New York, New York
Before we get into architectural drawing, can you show us some of the car designs you’re famous for drawing here at Woods Bagot?
Everybody who knows me well at Woods Bagot knows I can draw cars. Sometimes I even get asked to include them in hand drawn project perspectives.
Usually, I doodle in internal meetings that involve a large amount of people (when I’m expected to listen but not be as actively present). I’m listening, but my mind is active via the pen in my hand. I like drawing cars because they’re a passion of mine but I’m not the only one who draws to keep their mind alert – a look around the room will find sketches of buildings and patterns too.
If you can draw well, your mind is switched on and will push out ideas that need to be put on paper. Nothing beats a good sketch when it comes to communicating ideas in the design profession quickly.
A site study of the Australian Catholic University in Abbotsford. Melbourne, 1997.
I’ve always been able to draw. By the age of seven I could draw three dimensionally (but I didn’t know that was impressive until my primary school teacher proudly showed off my drawing of a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle to the principal!). By the time I was in high school designing sets for plays, I knew I wanted to use my drawing ability for practical means. Thanks to the chance to visit a couple of architecture offices long enough get completely hooked on their hand drawn perspectives as a 17 year old, I realised architecture was the obvious career path for me and went on to study it at university.
I studied architecture in the 70s, when hand-drawn perspectives were taught as part of the curriculum and made up a quarter of your final mark. Architectural design firms didn’t replace drawing boards with computers until the mid-80s so, when they picked up that I was good at drawing, the first architectural firm I worked for paired me with the director of design to do his perspective drawings. Thanks to that I became an architectural designer very quickly – the director mentored me and I helped translate his visions, and eventually my own projects, from mind’s eye to paper.
I joined Woods Bagot in the mid-90s. In those days, and during the excess of the 80s, computer drafting programs like Autocad were a part of the design process but the ‘yellow trace’ phase – when designers sketched out their concepts on yellow trace paper as a drafting exercise to get concepts down quickly – was more important. By the time the Y2K bug failed to bite in 2000, hand drawing in Australia had been pushed aside a little more in favour of the speed offered by computer drafting programs. We still drew, but designs were translated into the computer sooner over later.
In 2004, I began to work on new projects for our London studio, spending many months there over the next four years. In London I found that hand drawing was an honored tradition – there were many respected architectural drawing competitions and interest in the process of architectural drafting as a craft. In those days, the London studio was smaller and there wasn’t as many of us to translate the design into Autocad. Instead, our two to three person team would take the process of architectural drawing from concept right through to design development drawing – impressing clients and engineers alike.
These days, architects and designers still draw. Some of us will quickly sketch something by hand to illustrate our ideas in order to make our ideas as clear as possible for our clients and the team members who translate them into our ever-improving drafting software. During the lockdowns Melbourne experienced during the pandemic, I actually found that drawing was really helpful as a tool to get the team onto the same page really quickly. Many designers are visual learners so drawing became a useful teaching tool to show how a detail works quickly – drawing got many of us on the same page quicker than words could.
It’s hard to sum up anything that you’ve been doing for decades, but it’s fair to say that drawing has always played its part in the way I practice architecture – starting by giving me a chance to learn and ending by giving me a chance to teach.
“Drawing has always played a part in the way I practice architecture – starting by giving me a chance to learn and ending by giving me a chance to teach.”
How has hand drawing positively impacted the design process on a specific project?
The main project that called me to London in 2004 was called Inacity Tower. Inacity was a magnificently ambitious project that aimed to establish Manchester as “England’s second city.” Located in the Piccadilly region next to the city’s main railway line, the 60-storey mixed use tower was to sit on top of 19th century heritage railway vaults and become a vertical metropolis of shops, restaurants and bars on its ground plane before transforming into a tower with a hotel offering on its bottom levels and residential on its mid and top. At the time, it was set to be the tallest building in the UK.
Drawing played a huge part in the design of Inacity Tower. The tower started as a sprawled, fat-penciled, five second sketch by the London director and evolved into a beautiful series of technical perspectives and design drawings. The process of drawing helped the small design team because it steadied our pace and really invited our client and engineers along on the journey.
Hand drawing forces designers to slow down and be very deliberate about what they are producing and communicating. It’s almost impossible to draw something you don’t understand so the process requires the architect or designer to know every detail of what they’re trying to build. Intuition plays a big part in hand drawing, requiring a great deal of spatial understanding and trust in your eye. My style of perspective drawing is very detailed, I include a lot of people, trees and other subtleties because it’s my passion to immerse the viewer deep within my images.
Like many projects of its time, Inacity fell victim to the Global Financial Crisis, but the drawings have remained as evidence of its ambition (and our own).
Study of Inacity’s spanish steps. London, 2007.
Incity site plan.
Early concept elevation for Inacity. London, 2004.
Detailed drawing of residential balconies.
“The best drawings use line and colour to portray the same feelings the space will – drawing the viewer in with emotion.”
Harry outside Woods Bagot’s Melbourne studio.
How will the craft of architectural hand drawing evolve in the future? Or is it a dying art?
There’s definitely an appreciation for hand drawing as a way to teach or help a process along. That said, nobody is providing hand drawings to builders anymore because we’ve long moved on to the speed, accuracy and ease of Building Information Modeling (BIM). I’d say architectural drawing is a respected, but increasingly rare, skill. Quick impressionist sketches are still the norm but detailed hand-drawn perspectives are usually only required under special circumstances like architectural competitions.
It’s rare because, these days, there’s more of an emphasis on speed – which is the best thing that computers have given us. Clients and developers are aware that time is money and are used to the quick pace that drafting technology offers – edits that took hours in pen and paper take minutes on a computer. On top of that, CAD renders are photorealistic – you can see how a building will look every hour of the day before its even built! Clients (and architects) love this instant gratification.
When you have this level of realism at your fingertips, its actually easy to feel ‘locked in’ to the look and feel of a design too early. Some design firms go as far as steering clear of photorealism altogether and maintain a more whimsical style involving overlaying their renders with photography, collaged textures or drawings. Woods Bagot sometimes takes this approach when we choose to mix visual formats as a part of the storytelling process – often during the concept design process with both the design team and the client. Peter Miglis, a principal based in our Melbourne studio, is a really great example of someone who follows this approach at Woods Bagot.
To me, this choice demonstrates that there is room in the industry for images or sketches that make it very clear that the design is still a concept. But – nine times out of ten – you’ll only see designers drawing at the very start of a project.
Regardless, hand drawing is still evolving. The modern process has responded to the need for speed and practitioners like me are able to either use computer programs or photographs to get an accurate perspective, view angle and scale and THEN use that as the base for a hand drawing. The trick with drawing now is to make sure that it’s evocative. The best drawings use line and colour to portray the same feelings the space will – luring the viewer in with interesting details and the possibility of discovery.
Take us through some of your favorite drawings?
TREGUIER MASTERPLAN (London studio).
Located in north-western France, the Tréguier Marina Resort was a project that sought to extend the local historic maritime village to include a new resort based around boats, yachts and the waterside lifestyle. What I like about this set of drawings, aside from their obvious detail, is that I had to construct the exaggerated width of the scenes by using multiple vanishing points in order to get the experience of viewing them at human scale exactly right. Blending the new design with the existing historic and medieval buildings was very important for us to visually share with the mayor and the local community because we wanted to bring them with us on the design journey and illustrate how the new design would enhance the tourism potential of their beautiful town.
MINA ZAYED (Dubai studio).
Mina Zayed was designed to be a new marine city – a luxury destination that mixed retail, commercial, civic, resort and residential offerings to create an island paradise near Dubai. The arial (below) shows the project’s meticulous planning in a way that is both visually arresting and easy to understand. I created 3D building forms and landscaping of what it may have looked like working off only the 2D masterplan site plan as reference. I chose to use the curvature of the earth to illustrate the size and scale of this new city on the sea.
STATION PIER (Melbourne studio).
This drawing was one of my first conceptual perspectives for Woods Bagot. The Station Pier Redevelopment was a project for the Melbourne City Council Major Projects Architect that was intended to be built on the site where the Spirit of Tasmania docks. The idea was to redevelop the pier into an events space that included a maritime museum, an education and maritime research centre, a hotel and the Maritime Port Authority headquarters – connecting the new hub to the comings and going at the pier itself. To demonstrate the various activities and functions the new design would take, I decided to draw it all with cut aways to show the services, some of the interiors and pedestrian connections – creating a result I’m still proud of to this day.
Talk to Harry Charalambous