Drawing from an Architect’s Perspective: Interview with Ken Shuttleworth to Mark 5 years of The Architecture Drawing Prize

Drawing from an Architect’s Perspective: Interview with Ken Shuttleworth to Mark 5 years of The Architecture Drawing Prize

This short essay, written by the author and critic Jonathan Glancey, coincides with the launch of the inaugural Architecture Drawing Prize – a competition curated by the World Architecture Festival, the Sir John Soane's Museum, and Make. The deadline for the award is the 17th of September 2021.

“Is graphicacy a word?” asks Ken Shuttleworth, founder of Make Architects and instigator of The Architecture Drawing Prize. It is. “Like literacy”, he says, “, it’s certainly what I’m interested in when looking at and judging drawings. It’s about a fluency in making and understanding them.” The Architecture Drawing Prize is in its fifth year now. “We tend to see very few hand drawings by young architects - they mostly use computers - and, today, most architectural students come from more of a maths and physics than an art background. I still believe, though, that hand drawing is very important.”

Why? “I think of the pencil as an extension of the body and mind. My brain works by drawing. The drawing and the idea are one and the same thing. Drawing is a process of discovery. It allows me to think quickly about what a building wants to be. You can revise and change drawings quickly as you think through a project. We used to talk about architecture drawn on the back of a “fag” (cigarette) packet. We say “napkin” now, but the idea is the same. If you look at some of the famous instant sketches through architectural history, you’ll see how sometimes those very first drawings shaped great buildings. I’m thinking of [Jørn] Utzon’s competition entry drawings for what became the Sydney Opera House.”

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“We have returned again and again to the study of these drawings”, said the judges’ report, and are convinced that they present a concept of an Opera House which is capable of becoming one of the great buildings of the world. Because of it very originality, it is clearly a controversial design. We are, however, absolutely convinced of its merits.” The power of Utzon’s sketches did indeed lead to one the world’s most memorable buildings.

“You can pin a sketch on a wall”, says Shuttleworth”, and see immediately if there’s a good building there, or not. Rapid hand drawings are not intended to be art. They’re part of a process, a means to an end, but they’re also more than just spur of the moment ideas. They express modes of thinking, approaches to design nurtured through both experience as an architect and through intuition. When architects draw, they’re using their spatial awareness to think in three dimensions. The computer will create 3-D drawings quickly, convincingly and usefully, but hand drawing is even quicker!

Drawing from an Architect’s Perspective:  Interview with Ken Shuttleworth to Mark 5 years of The Architecture Drawing Prize - Image 2 of 2
Jørn Utzon's competition entry, East elevation, Jørn Utzon and Erik Andersson | Hellebæk, Denmark. . Image Courtesy of State Archives, NSW

In Shuttleworth’s mind, there are other advantages to drawing by hand. “Clients tend to be intrigued by an architect’s ability to sketch ideas for a building. It allows you to explain a project as if from scratch while revealing something of the creative process. They’re really impressed if you can draw upside down, so if you’re sitting on the other side of a desk, no one has to move.

“The Drawing Prize does show how young architects can do wonderful things with computer and hybrid drawings, and we give prizes in these categories along with hand drawings, but my background in wanting to and having to draw everything by hand effects the way I think about sketching. We use computers a great deal at Make, as most studios have done for years now, but I’m still happiest with a notebook and a 0.9mm mechanical pencil.

“When we did the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank when I was at Foster Associates - from mid 1970s to the mid-1980s - everything was done by hand. The Bank might look like a computer era design, but it was anything but. We had 150 people working, most of them at drawing boards with parallel motions, to produce the working drawings. You could do the same building, working with computers, with just twenty people today. And where it used to take a month to go from conceptual to presentation drawings for a client, we can now do the same thing in less than 24-hours. In this rapid computerised process, we can also print 3-D models. These cost less than a pound each and are recyclable, so we can make changes to a design and see the result in 3-D very quickly.

“Computers have allowed architects to work on several and even large numbers of complex projects at the same time. They help optimise structures, saving days and weeks in the process during which a building becomes real. Architects can also outsource computer drawings at this practical stage. I don’t think many of us like to talk about this, but drawings can be mass-produced in India and Vietnam, for example, for a tenth of the price it costs a London studio. Faced with fierce competition from big global firms, the cost of drawings has become very important.”

Almost, if not quite as an antidote to all this computer-aided production aspect of architecture, Make holds regular drawing classes. “They’re very popular”, says Shuttleworth. “However intriguing, helpful and creative computer technology can be, the fundamental tool for thinking about and discovering architecture, is still, I like think, through drawing by hand.”

Details of The Architecture Drawing Prize 2021 here Entry deadline 17 September 2021.

Watch The Architecture Drawing Prize August 2021 Workshop Event here with Narinder Sagoo, Ken Shuttleworth and Jason Parker.

About this author
Cite: Jonathan Glancey. "Drawing from an Architect’s Perspective: Interview with Ken Shuttleworth to Mark 5 years of The Architecture Drawing Prize" 10 Sep 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/968184/drawing-from-an-architects-perspective-interview-with-ken-shuttleworth-to-mark-5-years-of-the-architecture-drawing-prize> ISSN 0719-8884
Jørn Utzon's competition submission drawing number 11956, Jørn Utzon | Hellebæk, Denmark.. Image Courtesy of State Archives, NSW


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