What Is Sketching in the Digital Age?

Every good design should start with a sketch. The problem, as everyone knows, is that computers are killing sketching. Or are they?

To begin with, it’s questionable whether there really has been a decline in sketching, given the conviction with which so many architects defend the importance of hand drawing. Even for the most technologically savvy architects, many simply don’t see an alternative to the humble pen and paper.

However, this doesn’t mean that all is well when it comes to sketching. Often the hardest part of the design process is to maintain a great concept - usually discovered through a sketch - when translating a design into programs such as Revit which are necessary in modern architectural practice.

Courtesy of Autodesk

In an ideal workflow, there should be a seamless movement of a design from 1) the mind, to 2) a preliminary design idea, to 3) a design proposal, to 4) construction documents, to 5) a completed building. Moments of friction between any stage are points where ideas can be lost. Sketching with a pen and paper offers total freedom to a designer and is a great way to go from point 1 to point 2, but in order to take this sketch to point 3 it can be tempting to dumb down an idea to make its re-creation in BIM programs easier - not to mention the time wasted by drawing a design twice.

One way to improve these connections is to reconsider the idea of what constitutes the “sketch.” Contrary to the romantic ideal held by many architects, sketching has never been exclusive to the pen and paper; most architects will be familiar with the idea of the “sketch model,” the quick and scrappy pile of cardboard, paper and foam that describes the essence of a building’s form, aesthetic or layout. In reality, a sketch is any preliminary exploration that allows ideas to flow freely from the mind to a physical representation.

Most computer modeling programs don’t allow this kind of free expression of thought due to the complexity of their interface, but an early attempt to break the mold was SketchUp (the clue was always in the name). With its intuitive system of pushing and pulling, adding lines and dragging vertices, SketchUp was a much less restrictive way of digitally modeling ideas than anything that came before it.

Courtesy of Autodesk

Now, Autodesk’s FormIt 360 is taking this kind of 3D digital sketch one step further by connecting conceptual design to Building Information Modeling (BIM). Available for freevia web browser or app for iPad and AndroidFormIt 360 is a lightweight tool designed to capture ideas quickly and easily.

Unlike other types of sketching, using FormIt 360 to express design ideas means conceptual design is no longer a dead-end workflow, as the software lets designers create BIM-intelligent sketches with a direct connection to Revit. Work done in FormIt 360 becomes editable geometry in Revit, eliminating the need to redraw the conceptual design.

“I really enjoy FormIt’s interoperability with Revit,” says Roy Malcolm of DPR Construction. “It’s something I always missed with SketchUp.” It’s a feature that “minimizes the disconnect between the concept and the design,” adds Mike Engel of Elness Swenson Graham Architects. Those with existing SketchUp files shouldn’t fear: you can convert them via FormIt Converter, a free feature in FormIt 360 and available as a downloadable plug-in for Revit.

Courtesy of Autodesk

By offering FormIt 360 as a tablet app, Autodesk also captures another key element that has made the pen and paper popular with designers: constant availability. Often used with a stylus, FormIt’s mobile platform creates a tactile experience that, in a way, preserves the tradition of hand sketching within the digital environment. “I’ve been working as an architect for 30 years, so I started drawing with pencil. With the introduction of CAD, we went from sketch to click and some of us lost a kind of pleasure brought by the more traditional way of working,” explains José Bassalo of the small Brazilian firm Meia Dois Nove. “The touchscreen technology in FormIt has given us back this lost pleasure of designing with a (kind of) pencil. Formit allows us to continue ‘sketching on paper’ without losing the wonders of electronic modeling.”

Many architects are beginning to recognize how BIM programs have made it easier to go from a design proposal to a completed building. Perhaps it won’t be long before the same realization that new forms of digital sketching are making it easier to go from an abstract idea to a concrete design proposal.

FormIt 360 is free for both commercial and personal use - in addition a paid version, FormIt 360 Pro, adds solar analysis and whole building analysis, so designs can be optimized for performance earlier, when it’s easier to make adjustments. The paid version also includes real-time team collaboration. Visit FormIt 360 for more information.

This article was sponsored by Autodesk.

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "What Is Sketching in the Digital Age?" 17 Sep 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/773781/what-is-sketching-in-the-digital-age> ISSN 0719-8884

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