design by hand

Below is a blog post I wrote for the company I work for, which you can also find here.

Building and landscape architecture drawing began with only a pencil, paper, a hand and an imagination. It’s often these little things that matter the most, but are unfortunately the easiest to replace. Today we have computer programs built to help us design faster and more efficiently. They have become popular to the point of replacing hand drawings all together. Computer programs may help us design faster and more efficiently, but it’s important to realize what we are losing.

Something important happens when a person touches their pencil to a piece of paper. He/she begins to create something out of nothing and physically feel the space their mind is signaling their hand to create. In a recent New York Times article titled Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing, Michael Graves writes “When I draw something, I remember it […] That visceral connection that thought process cannot be replicated by a computer.” The hand may be the link between one’s mind and the computer, but there is an added barrier between the mouse and the computer screen that does not exist where a pencil meets paper. He goes on to say, “Drawings are not just end products: they are part of the thought process of architectural design”.

Not only is hand drawing important for the artist in a physical way, but in an emotional way as well. As an artist creates and develops their vision on paper, they include their personality, imagination and even drawing style. Graves notes, “…drawing by hand stimulates the imagination and allows us to speculate about ideas, a good sign that we’re truly alive”. Imagination is essential to art and without it, there can be no art. When a landscape designer draws, they become an essential and eternal part of that design—as with any true artist and their work—they should be.

Seeing a hand rendering of your own property is comparable to receiving a hand written letter in the mail. A letter involves the writer and the personal time he/she took to meditate and compose their thoughts through the medium of his/her own personal handwriting. The letter could have been written on a private stationary, which could have been created by another artist. The letter was touched and shuffled through several hands and minds before it traveled via automobile and was carefully placed in your mailbox. All romantic notions aside, there is a simple truth to the undefinable experience that cannot be easily captured by sending an email. This reality is no less significant when you compare hand rendered landscape design with something similar from a digital medium.

The experience or even popularity of these programs is not fundamentally a problem, but the complete extinction of the pencil and paper may be. Computer programs have made landscape design faster, cheaper and easier. This is good for the client who wants to save time and money, but it is not good for the industry: when the emphasis of landscape design shifts from art to efficiency, we no longer need hand drawn designs; and when we no longer need hand drawn designs, we no longer need the artist behind them either. We don’t need to abandon the computer in order for this to change, we simply need to value the details and the process over the result and how cheap and quick we were able to get it.