Why We Do What We Do #2: Why We Draw


Fault House. 1995. Lebbeus Woods (Image:

This summer, New York’s Drawing Center held an exhibition for recently deceased Architectural Theorist Lebbeus Woods. 

A staple of countless architecture students and illustrators, Woods was known for is fantastical yet highly cerebral drawings. While held in high esteem throughout the architecture profession, Lebbeus Woods never actually built a building …which begs the question: Why do architects still draw?

Why did we draw?

The concept of drawing is itself a limitation. It is an attempt to fit three dimensions into two. And architectural drawings—plans, sections, elevations—are further abstractions. But around the time of the Renaissance, it quickly became clear that these reductions, especially the abstract plans and sections, often showed more, not less of an idea. They showed what couldn’t actually be seen by means of cutting and flattening complex space into manageable parts. In tandem with this, drawings became guides for building. Dimensions were decided before construction, not discovered during it. Early drawings were the sandbox for design and deliberations.

Why do we draw?

Yet, in the relatively brief last few decades, the “pragmatic” function of hand drafting has been all but erased by even basic CAD programs. No ruler will ever be as straight as a mathematical equation. Why then, is drawing (specifically hand-drawing) still practiced? The answer is largely that the role of drawing by hand has changed. The mechanical function has been replaced by more ethereal functions, namely, vision and exploration. The quick exploration hand-drawing allows still out-paces the clumsy ‘freedom’ of a CAD program. Perhaps there is no clearer example of this than Erich Mendelsohn’s iconic, gestural sketches.

Sketch for the Einstein Tower by Eric Mendelsohn (Image:

Sketch of the Einstein Tower by Eric Mendelsohn (Image: )

And perhaps this is the reason most Architecture students are taught to draw (by hand) before they are taught to draft (by computer). Hand drawing also allows designers and clients to portray a vision in a way that computer rendering cannot. A hand rendering has the unique ability to say: “this is what could be” without having to say “this is what will be.” Drawings move the imagination before they move the intellect. However, this is not to say that the line between hand and computer is still rigid. A team of collaborators including Disney Research are developing the NeoLucida, a hybrid computer-sketch device that attempts to allow one to “draw with light”. Alongside this is the 3Doodler, a Kickstarter idea that uses a hand-held stylus to create 3-D digital wireframes. As long as design precedes construction, it seems drawing in some form will remain.

Does CRSA draw?

CRSA places a huge value on the power of hand-drawn images, realized primarily in the work of Donald Buaku.

Donald Buaku Baron Woolen Mills

Donald Buaku rendering for a proposed development at Baron Woolen Mills in Brigham City, Utah.

 Donald is a planner and illustrator in CRSA’s Planning Studio and his watercolors continue to prove their importance, not so much in helping contractors build, but in helping clients dream. Place a water-colored rendering on the far side of a room and it is uncanny the way it draws people closer to it.

USU Roosevelt campus sketch

Early sketch for a master plan at the Utah State University – Roosevelt campus.

We also continue to employ sketching as a quick means of assimilating and analyzing data and ideas. This is the essence of a diagram. One of the key ingredients of our early meetings with clients involves some form of a diagramming process. It is a way to “think on paper”, a way to articulate more concepts, more clearly, and more quickly than can be done with words alone.

For more drawing inspiration, check out the amazing work on display at New York’s Drawing Center. Digital portfolios are available for free on

“Why We Do What We Do” is an ongoing series exploring common practices that architects and builders have employed for hundreds of years, and how those same practices are being reinvented, but not necessarily replaced, in the modern age. Other entries include: “Why We Build Up” and “Why We Model”


4 thoughts on “Why We Do What We Do #2: Why We Draw

  1. Pingback: Hand Craft | The CRSA Blog

  2. Pingback: Why We Do What We Do #1: Why We Build Up | The CRSA Blog

  3. Pingback: Why We Do What We Do #3: Why We Model | The CRSA Blog

  4. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of our human-ness in this technology driven era. That human element should not be overlooked or lost in many other fields besides architecture. Keep on sketching!

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