Written by: Marina Brletić
I’ve been drawing since the very beginning. At first, I would draw anything that came into my sight, and later I tried to draw what was on my mind. During my studies, I was shown how to learn whilst drawing as only by drawing you can understand the space, its intricate relations, compositions, protrusions and voids. The technique is not crucial, but helps you show your perspective in a simpler way similarly as reading helps you become more eloquent. In time, I’ve learned that a drawing can be a clue to a person’s intelligence, as it suggests the way s/he interprets the space around him/her. In my work, I need a sketch as a common language with my colleagues from different walks of life I come into contact with in projects. Only by a sketch you can unmistakeably turn an unforeseen detail into a benefit during the execution. If you have a good look at the bare concrete in the offices we designed for e.g. Booking.com, Span or Bruketa&Žinić, you’ll still be able to recognise traces of the steel sections scrawled onto concrete with a chunky black pencil during coordination at the building site.
Architects often debate the importance of a hand drawn sketch in the digital age. Is sketching a rudiment, make-believe, if you wish, to win the client over or is the genericity of projects a result of the pencil and paper being done away with in the designing process? Can the computer give a free rein to an idea like a simple napkin used to do for great architects? The napkin sketch leitmotif runs throughout the history of architecture from the EXAT members to the world renowned names like Bjarke Ingels, Wolf D. Prix, Robert Venturi and Zaha Hadid, who donated their napkin sketches to the San Diego NewSchool of Architecture and Design to raise funds for tuitions and students’ programmes. Michael Graves and Patrick Schumacher sit at opposite ends. While Graves believed, inter alia, that the computer would never be able to replace the pencil and paper, Schumacher in fact prefers the infinite possibilities of the computer. Given the experiences recounted by architects and designers while describing their creative process and many tools they use in different ways, the topic of the computer or the hand has started resembling the ever unresolved “the chicken or the egg” dilemma.
Some use the computer to sketch from the start, while some continue to use their hand as the shortest link between their brain and a blank piece of paper. Many use both. If it is pivotal to hold on to the concept from the very beginning of the idea to the final execution stage, then the matter of transforming the concept onto a piece of paper is virtually a matter of personal preference of a creative person. Nowadays the multitude of different tools enables anyone to use those that allow the greatest freedom to convert a concept into a line. Once on paper, it is (only!) important to keep it till the end of the project. I see sketching as no rival to the hyperreal renderings; they are at best vis-à-vis in a creative process. The sketch comes first, and as soon as the idea is clearly honed through schemes, blueprints and mock-ups, the renderings come into picture. If you skip the steps, you can easily lose the concept. Sketching an idea is the most exciting part of designing as it allows you freedom, but also a very serious part, as the vision comes along with responsibility. The sketching method is completely arbitrary. It’s almost become more important to provide a working environment in which one can sketch in peace and at leisure. In the digital age, leisure has become a rudiment, not the hand.
Whilst attempting to write this article, I was rummaging around, trying to find my old sketches. Some of them evolved into more concrete visualisations, most of them vanished in the piles of scrap paper, and a few wobbly lines were saved in small notebooks I tend to stack up eventually. Some sketches have remained etched in my memory more vividly then the final, often published photographs of materialised spaces. For The Culture of Smoking exhibition, we sketched cylinders, lines, contrasts and shadows, as it was the only way in which we could convey to the team the mystical atmosphere of the taboo we wanted to achieve and the impression that the exhibits hover overhead in a network of thin, slender, smoke-inspired lines. The first sketches, whilst sketching the Umami restaurant, were colourful lines triggered by the concept of a “creative laboratory” travelling through space and turning into something useful. At the time, we did not know into what exactly and how. Only after having them thoroughly worked out, making blueprints and spatial analysis, did every line become meaningful and positioned in the space – as illumination, electricity, machinery, water. Some of my favourite drawings are those that have never come to life. They remind me how strong imagination is when unburdened with experience. I might need them when I gain enough experience to go back to the beginning.
This seemed to be a good opportunity to unbox from the storage those that have pulled through. Penny came by to sniff them around, and I hoped she would eat up my homework and deliver me from my task to write an article. Alas, she didn’t eat them, but she did help me see the parallelism. When I come across her photos as a puppy covered in fleas, I feel a similar kind of nostalgia as when I take a look at my old sketches. At the time I had no clue what to do with them and where they might take me, half-finished and clumsy as they were, but even so they made their way to become the first creations to take shape in the space.