The Importance of Mechanical Drafting for Emerging Architects

One of the biggest obstacles with the architectural profession is the disconnection between academia and reality. I feel as if architectural students are not prepared to reach their full potential early on. One of the key skills that emerging professionals are lacking in this trade is mechanical drafting; not in an artistic view, but more in a practical matter.

There are many talented intern architects coming out of school who have creative minds like Gehry who struggle implementing their ideas on paper. From my experience as an intern architect, the biggest difference between past generations versus present is the change in use of sketching to communicate ideas and thoughts.

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The Importance of Mechanical Drafting Early in Your Career

During my tenure for my undergraduate degree, I was taught the art of architectural sketching but never knew how this would come to fruition in my career. I always thought that sketching was a great tool to use during the schematic phase of a project, but I never put much emphasis on the other facets of architecture where it could be implemented. Now, students tend to align their focus to computer aided programs from the start, mostly because it’s an easy tool to use and is exciting for a novice artist. While computer aided design is important, I believe solely using newer software programs can hinder emerging professionals’ drafting capabilities. The challenge we have now with the up-and-coming generation is that they’re skipping the mechanical drafting skill set that was taught since the beginning of the trade and going straight to the use of computer aided programs. Hand drafting is much more tactile compared to the limitations of a computer’s screen size. Computer aided programs can hinder the clarity of design intent because we lose the perception of the artist behind the screen; a screen that provides no practical knowledge of what the artist is translating from his or her own thought process. This is a process that students struggle with coming out of college.

As young professionals, we sometimes overlook the aspect of communication and problem solving throughout the duration of an ongoing project. Basic communication skills are instrumental to succeeding as an intern architect. We sometimes forget how to convey our thoughts and ideas on problematic assignments among peers. Without these basic hand drafting skills, we’re unable to comprehend the everyday rigors of our career. One of the toughest things to grasp in this trade is the ability to problem solve. The ability to see an object or an image, and conveying that same message in a detailed format; formats consisting of cross sections, details and structural integrity. Without the ability to sketch out these implications, we will struggle to grow and mature like previous generations. The path paved by the same architects we once learned from has evolved.

It’s safe to say, most senior associates and project architects believe that communication is one of the key components in this industry. The best tool to convey a clear message is our drafting ability. If a client has a vivid image of how they want their building to look, it’s our job to interpret and convey this information with our artistry and technical expertise. Mechanical drafting makes it very easy to portray and critique work with clients because the information is provided in front of them. Trace paper becomes a site for negotiation about what’s being proposed, and miscues can be fixed immediately; this is a trait lost with computers. Within the client’s eyes, our sketch work is really worth a thousand words.

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The Drawbacks of Computer Aided Design

When sketching, we replace words with line weights. Hand drafting is one of the quickest ways to learn about line work because it establishes a meaningful relationship within a drawing.  Computer aided programs can portray line weights, but it doesn’t put the same emphasis as hand drawings. In these programs, you can always adjust line work of a drawing at any point of a project. That’s not art; we lose all credibility of the artist. Hand drafting enables the mind to appreciate space within scale, another undervalued skill set that’s not taught with computer aided drafting. If we never sketched by hand, we would lose all practical knowledge of building mass and how spaces work. The transition from our sketches into production drawings empowers the artist to use different means of methods and materials as we evolve through this industry. It’s difficult for emerging architects to grasp comprehensive production like section details. This is why we see more drafters taking longer to prosper in their careers.  Drafting by hand is helpful at an early stage because it enables intern architects to understand the meticulous analysis needed to advance their careers more easily than computer aided design.

The Practical Application of Mechanical Drafting

Most Intern architects have an idea of where they want to be later on in their careers. Whether it’s becoming a project architect, job captain and/or senior associate, we have a vision of where we will be. How we get there requires overcoming rigorous hurdles that challenge us every day. During my three years of experience, I’ve learned a lot and I’m training each day to exceed my own expectations. From the start of my career, hand drafting has benefited me greatly. My attention to detail is more critical because I process information faster. At any point during a project, I can simply address the issue by sketching the situation out, and then break down step by step where any inconsistencies lie. This method is also effective with group work.  In a team setting, it’s much easier for me to understand a complication graphically than with a verbal explanation.  What I take from this journey are the experiences I have gained from my mentors and colleagues adapting their knowledge and skill set, and this will be beneficial to me in the long run.

For example, as an intern I was assigned a task to re-design millwork for a bar. The previous design was ineffective due to changes of the floor plan. My first step was to conduct a field survey and then re-design new millwork within the client’s needs; this is where my drafting skill set became very useful. I examined the changes made to the existing conditions, took the necessary field notes, and provided sketches to my boss to show the differences from the previous layout. From there, I was able to sketch a new schematic design of the millwork and present it to my boss. We were able to communicate our thoughts and ideas through pencil and trace paper. It was then that I was able to implement a new design to present to the client.

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During this process I developed a manifestation. I finally realized how a miniscule sketch could be such a vital tool to use in this industry. Mechanical drafting simplifies communication between our clients and colleagues who share different perspectives in this trade. It gives the design team the ability to combine ideas among each other and develop them into cohesive, yet elaborate, drawings consisting of dimensions and line work, allowing for a straightforward transition to computer aided design. 

When it comes down to it, there are no wrong ways to sketch. The majority of the up-and-coming generation focuses on the use of electronics to showcase the artistic creator within themselves.  In the past, strong emphasis has been placed on the use of hand drawing to convey an idea.  Every intern architect has his or her own artistic trait; the question is how to do we sustain our aesthetic standards without being jeopardized by software systems?  The answer: we need to invest time in mechanical drafting, and make it a part of our daily work.