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Do You Even Draw (Like An Architect) Bro ?

I was the student in my class at architecture school who couldn't draw. At all. Here's why THAT'S probably the reason I aced every year.


If you can't draw - you can't be an architect.

I was never an 'artist' in any sense of the word. I was also definitely NOT that student in architecture school who was able to produce jaw dropping perspective drawings that looked amazing when pinned up. To be honest, I was terrible at the 'art' components in the curriculum that made up a huge portion of the grade points in the 1st year *1 of 7. toxic . endless . beautiful years*. I was so bad at it that after the first 2 months I was certain I would be a below average student and would have mild panic attacks in the studio *which, thankfully no one cared enough to notice*.


Let me be clear about one thing - it was never for a lack of trying. After a long walk home from university everyday, I used to make it a point to sit and practice perspective drawing on a page in my sketchbook. I was so embarrassed by each sketch. I tore each page out and it ended up in a pile next to the garbage bin *by this time my awesome high accuracy basketball jump shot had completely disappeared*. I am an avid architecture nerd *most of you who know me personally know this well* and by the end of my bachelors I had read *almost* every single book in the library. This 'craze' began with the books related to architectural drafting and perspective drawings. I used the techniques and tips in those books to try to improve my drawing skills. It's safe to say that my efforts didn't amount to much in improvement of my skills as an 'artist'. After the initial disappointment in myself slowly faded, what I would realize quite quickly, was that this failure directly resulted in a set of unique skills which I began to use to my advantage that gave me a clear edge above the rest:


I failed at learning to replicate popular artistic styles but I developed a keen eye to deconstruct what made the drawing 'look good'. This ultimately resulted in understanding how components were put together to create a whole.
I failed at learning how to shade or blend shadows on a drawing but I understood how to visualize the quality of light in a space simply by studying a plan and section.
I failed at learning water-colour painting but I understood colour and how just little of it is needed to completely change a space and how the lack of colour in architecture *and the drawing of architecture* is as important as colour itself .
I failed at learning to 'draw' beautiful 'artistic' perspectives but I developed a very refined skill of sketching.

Wait wait...so you can't draw but you can 'sketch'??!? *come on! what on earth are you talking about?*


let me explain...


I still needed to deliver the art components of the curriculum at a very high level *The Grand Master, in charge of the 1st year, would not accept anything mediocre. I mean he would literally tear up the original drawing that you spent days drawing if he deemed it inadequate* - but I was not one to concede to any grade below the highest *such a nerd*. You see the thing is while many were either artistically gifted or resorted to getting these components drawn by a 'friend', that was not my style *rather fail than cheat*.


My less than average skills as an artist meant that I needed to spend nearly 5 to 10 times as many hours on each exercise as the next person. This too would end up just barely making an acceptable outcome. Luckily, the grand master welcomed the effort of re-doing submissions (This could backfire and get you a lower grade than the initial submission too *yikes!*). I kept at it and finally successfully completed the art components of the 1st year curriculum. Below are some of the 'artworks' I spent hundreds of hours on trying to get them to an acceptable level *I know they are not great. I am not implying they are either*

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1ST YEAR PORTFOLIO - Artistic Representation Exercise of a Stone Sculpture. The exercise was meant to capture the texture of stone and the way the light illuminates the material. This took me no less than 100 hours to draw. Still a mediocre drawing compared to some of the others it was compared against.


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1ST YEAR PORTFOLIO - Master Plan Drawing of the 'Grid House'. This was the only 'building' design exercise in the curriculum of the first year. A villa design with set guidelines to be positioned on a 10ft x 10ft grid that needed to be used to plan out the spaces. I kept failing to come up with a design that was approved by the Grand Master. Until I came up with the idea to completely break up the spaces into pavilions that make the visitor actually experience the large site. My 'pavilion' grid house was the first of it's kind among my colleagues. It inspired many more such 'pavilion' designs among them (although none of them would ever admit mine was the original). "Be good enough that others will copy you and you can't be ignored". The only reason I came up with this reinterpretation of the design brief that was given to us is because I kept sketching tiny layouts on my sketch book trying to workout an original plan. This idea only came to me towards the end of the exercise after failing so many times and after hundreds of sketches.


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1ST YEAR PORTFOLIO - Plan and Elevation of the Sleeping Pavilion of the 'Grid House'.

I remember being super proud of those temple trees in elevation and plan, until I saw some of the beautiful drawings that the others pinned up. The only reason I aced this project was because of my model - which I will shamelessly admit was brilliantly crafted and really captured what the design was trying to do with it's pavilions.


Back to the 'Drawing vs. Sketching' conversation, Those of you who are either in architecture school right now or have any friends who are either architects or students of architecture *they never shut up about architecture do they?* *self reflection moment*, you will probably know that the 1st year of study is very guided and controlled. It is from the 2nd year onward that you are essentially asked to start swimming, in the ocean, on the edge of the whirlpool, away from the ignited oil spill and man eating sharks... *that escalated quickly*.


In the design studio environment you are expected to present weekly progress on a design project, communicate your 'big idea' to your tutor and discuss how to progress or change direction. Communication of architectural design happens in many different ways *I will cover most of these in future posts I have planned. So keep reading* the most common of which is drawing. Historically the profession of architecture is tied quite firmly to drawing and physical models, making it very easy to understand why to this day the emphasis on drawing in architecture is so strong in it's education.


Drawings range from simple sketches and artistic drawings to more technical plans, sections, elevations and details as the design progresses, gaining clarity and complexity. Initial discussions in the studio (up until the final jury or 'critique') are always done through drawings and sketches.


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3RD YEAR PORTFOLIO - Design Sketches (left) vs Perspective Drawing Requirement (right).

This is (if there ever will be) a perfect example of my skill in sketching vs. drawing.

This project was an awareness center. The brief given was generic and I modified it to be an awareness center for native medicinal herbs and Ayurvedic treatments (just to make it more interesting for myself). The design represented a tensile structure drawn over earth mounds and nestling the spaces within. The sketches (left) represent a small segment in my process of working out the design and the spaces. You can see clear explorations of how the relationships between the interior and exterior spaces are being explored. The sketches from top to bottom show a continuous process of refinement of how the tensile structures interact the solid elements.

The Image on the right shows a perspective drawing which was a requirement to be eligible to pass this critique. I know..it is not good at all. I explained my project purely using the sketches and a detailed model I had made and aced this project and the final critique. If I could do it (with my pathetic drawing skills) I am going to venture to say that you could too, with careful cultivation of your skill set of course.


In this environment the students who were able to draw beautiful images and scenes representing their ideas had it quite easy as the ideas were communicated very clearly and aesthetically. Then there's me, on the other end of the spectrum using sketches and diagrams describing the the concepts and spaces which would hardly get through to tutors.


Here's an unpopular opinion that I have been wanting to get to right from the first sentence of the post, but I wanted to give you some context first so that you would understand what I am about to say *you most likely would still disagree, and I understand that this is a polarizing statement. We can of course have a conversation about this in the comments as is the nature of this blog*. Here goes -


The students able to draw artistic and beautiful spaces tend to hide behind these 'pretty pictures' they drew. Their designs score high in the first few academic years but all of them were unable to be consistent with this. My analysis is that they were able to get away with certain design decisions and hide certain flaws in their designs by way of a beautifully rendered hand drawn perspective or two while never actually gaining the skill to solve issues and 'think' critically about design. They rarely meet criticisms early on in their academic career and this is detrimental to their problem solving capabilities and skills development.


Artistic drawings are a brilliant tool for winning over a client, but their significance in the design process pales in comparison to the sketch *a refined design process is actually what's important to ultimately achieve a crafted architectural space*


What follows is a series of sketches in chronological order that i would like to share with you along with a bit of back story or quip under each. I hope these relate to you in some way.



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4TH YEAR - Excerpt from my sketch book of a small boutique hotel I began working on as a freelancer.

This is a sketch that I did while at a potential client's site. The sketches represent the information I was gathering from the site. (Left) The orientation of the sun, the reservations from the waterline and mangroves the potential orientation of any build structures that could be designed here. (Right) this is a sketch of possible A framed structures that could float above the ground and potentially not damage the sensitive natural landscape. The Sketches are not by any means artistic, They however, communicate very clear information and ideas that can easily be digested by an untrained individual. This is the most valuable component of sketching that I was developing at the time, although completely unaware of it. What I realized much much later though was that no one was going to actually give an eager student of architecture any payment for the brilliant ideas shared *Painful Sigh* *Shrugs*


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5TH YEAR - A small obsession for sketching has steadily developed by this time in my academic career. This image from my sketch book was a project that instigated my passion for building in bamboo (this is a dream at the moment as life has got in the way of my pursuit of learning to design and build using bamboo *Hopeful about the future*. My love for sketching details has it's 'hero origins' in my 5th year of study. I discovered *quite by chance* that the observational and deconstructive skills I developed while *trying* to learn artistic drawing were subconsciously coming through as I was reinterpreting a structure in bamboo. The process of sketching through detail variations of a simple structure that was originally designed to be built in steel, attempting to reinterpret each connection as bamboo joinery *man! this is what I love to do*. see more about this project here

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5TH YEAR - (Left) A process sketch of a recycling center in the Sri Lankan hill side showing the structure cascading down in levels on a sloping site

(Right) A conceptual site plan of the same project showing the functional relationships within the building and how they flow out into the surrounding context

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5TH YEAR - (Left) A process sketch of a recycling center in the Sri Lankan hill side showing a detail of the structure where I am exploring the possibility of re-purposing used corrugated sheets as the material for the enclosure of the building.

(Right) A conceptual elevation of the form of the structure using the material mentioned above and how it would relate to the sloping landscape

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6TH YEAR - (Left & Right) High level concept sketches exploring ideas for a high-rise building which would have a facade skin that tries to accommodate and facilitate the migration of birds.

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6TH YEAR - (Left & Right) Explorations of a breathable facade skin that could have a 3 dimensional quality creating spaces and cavities to accommodate the natural environment / birds and other animal species and passive cooling for the internal spaces occupied by humans etc. This was the initial spark of an idea that architecture should / could accommodate species other than humans. This idea was what I explored in detail for my Masters thesis project and resulted in being awarded the RIBA Presidents Medal Student Awards Silver Medal Commendation. This was and idea that was not received well during the above project *or later* by the local critiques.


Architecture is a lot more than space or ambiance. It is fundamentally about solving problems - how do we create said space and ambiance with materials we have on earth with the money we have in hand? How do these materials go together? How do these connections between materials tie back to the original design philosophy that represents the space and ambiance? These are a few of the broader questions 'young Roven' was always thinking about. I believe this early critical thinking was a direct result of my studies in English Literature and Greek and Roman Civilization and literature *looked down on as the 'Arts' with a smirk, in Sri Lanka, a country favouring science and commerce streams of study*. Architecture requires critical and philosophical thinking. But now I am getting ahead of myself and this post *remember how we never shut up about architecture?...Yeah*


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6TH YEAR - (Left & Right) Sketches done while walking around Kandy town. I recall many curious people stopping and asking me what I was doing *including the prison guards*. These sketches were done in an attempt to capture some ideas to explore in the town. The brief was focused on conservation architecture - and I was trying to decide what implementation or addition to Kandy town would enhance it's existing character / revive a derelict historic structure / solve an existing problem.



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6TH YEAR - (Left & Right) Through the explorations around Kandy I finally landed on this derelict shop-house which I selected to restore and extend with a modern addition for my studio project. The sketches above were the initial studies of the building where i was trying to understand the essence of the structure and it's relationships to the surrounding context and the street.



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6TH YEAR - (Left & Right) Development sketches showing various ideas I was exploring with the tectonics *apologies for the heavy architectural jargon* of the historic structure and how to make the new extension relate to it. The historic structure has a very dynamic presence in the street due to it's distinct architectural features. My attempt here was to capture that dynamic moving quality in the new extension through physical moving mechanical components and spaces that could shift and change based on their usage.



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6TH YEAR - (Left & Right) Development sketches showing various ideas I was exploring for the extension to the historic building. The historic structure has a very dynamic presence in the street due to its distinct architectural features. My attempt here was to capture that dynamic moving quality in the new extension through physical moving mechanical components and spaces that could shift and change based on their usage.




Finally, to bring this all the way home...



Sketching, in design, is a form of thinking and problem solving. While artistic drawing, with it's freedoms, lend itself to be directed at a more aesthetic outcome rather than one of problem solving.


All the failed attempts at improving my artistic skills, pouring over book after book *trying to* recreate the drawings and styles shown, reading about prolific architects and their drawing styles, ultimately lead me to develop a keen eye for detail. I was able to deconstruct ideas using simple sketches in my own style. Designing the connections that ultimately create 'crafted architecture' as a result of problem solving through sketching - was what I was doing all along.



Architecture is the result of thoughtful craft in the design process.

This skill was refined out of sheer practice through 7 years of study and to this day it is the way I design at the studio.The image sequence below will illustrate the progress of this method of sketching.



Roven Rebeira - Architectural design portfolio contemporary architect Sri Lanka blogger RIBA Presidents medal awards silver commendation

7TH YEAR - (Masters Thesis) This sketch is the one I consider to be a breakthrough for my thesis where I was exploring ways to design architecture that relates to elephants and humans that could be located on the borderline between the elephant and human habitats. The sketch (top) depicts a structure that almost resembles a termite mound that blurs the line between ground and architectural space.

The sketches (Below) a technical exploration of house the structure could be formed and supported. see more about this project here


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Post Grad - This sketch was a study done for an international competition that I took part in (we came in runners up).



So let's revisit the opening statement of this post 'if you can't draw - your can't be an architect' and call it what it is - a load of BS. If you ever have an architectural educator say anything along these lines please feel free to share this post with them with a big old YOU SUCK! *catharsis achieved*



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Pandemic Sketches - These are sketches I produced during the pandemic *during which I had absolutely no work at the studio thanks to major economic hit that came along with the pandemic*. Clearly I had way too much time to spend on this * I would say minimum 50 - 60 hours*. This drawing was done digitally which is a great way to get passed the fact that I have no skill for perspective drawing. The sketch was done referencing a 3D model which I traced over to perfect the perspective sight lines. The textures / trees and everything between were all added in through hours of sketching.



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Pandemic Sketches - These are sketches I produced during the pandemic *during which I had absolutely no work at the studio thanks to major economic hit that came along with the pandemic*. Clearly I had way too much time to spend on this * I would say minimum 50 - 60 hours*. This drawing too was done digitally which is a great way to get passed the fact that I have no skill for perspective drawing. Referencing a few textures and images I put together this drawing of a post apocalyptic dwelling *quite apt considering it was drawn at the onset of the pandemic*



My closing advice to you is this: work on developing your own skill set that is unique and tailored to communicating architecture in the way that best suites the craft you want to put out into the world. This could be sketching , model making, traditional drawings, artistic perspectives - anything really. Practice these communication methods as tools and not as smoke and mirrors to hide behind. I learned this the hard way, I couldn't do smoke and mirrors even if I wanted to. I simply didn't have the natural talent to do so, but I am almost certain that you do.




Cheers my friends !

Your Everyday Architect sign off hand written





 

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Leave me a comment below with your thoughts...or just say hi...Let's have a good old fashioned conversation.


 

Peace . Love and Architecture

 
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Your Everyday Architect

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4 Comments


gayanthi mendis
gayanthi mendis
Sep 27, 2022

Such an eye opening piece of work and of course brilliant writing!

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Roven Rebeira
Roven Rebeira
Sep 27, 2022
Replying to

Thanks ! Really appreciate this. I'm glad you enjoyed the read 😊✌

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Adeesha Ekanayake
Adeesha Ekanayake
Sep 25, 2022

Excellent content as usual! As a fellow human who cannot draw or sketch, it is inspiring to see how you were able to succeed in spite of this, and how you were able to turn your weaknesses into strengths!

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Roven Rebeira
Roven Rebeira
Sep 27, 2022
Replying to

Appriciate your comments Adeesha 🙏. Great to see you are following along. Haha yeah, drawing is one of those skills that you need to dedicate a minimum of 10,000 hours just to see results. But, it's doable - which is what I was trying to illustrate here. Keep reading, thanks for the continued support.

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