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I am a student at a large technical school that calls itself an "Institute of Technology" yet an entry level course called "Architectural Planning" insists that course work be completed with pencil or pen on vellum to be submitted for a mark and course credit.

Today I had the temerity to ask why, and was told,

1. because we won't mark it otherwise.

2. because the day students do it that way

3. Some great architecture was done that way

4. because this is a design course (and?)

I have been messing about with CAD for years and like most of you it is like an extension of my arm, much like some people are with pen or pencil. I have produced building permits drawings etc for a number of houses, illustrations, models, the works.

I thought a "planning" course would help me get beyond just redrawing some architects (no disrespect meant) sketches.

Any thoughts gentlemen?

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I feel I can answer this one.

I'm an industrial designer and teach design in university in Italy.

We use to ask the students to make a "test" technical drawing, something very simple, just to evaluate their drawing skills (I don't teach technical drawing or drafting, just industrial design).

I can understand teachers asking for a hand made drawing vs. CAD drawings. I do the same to understand if the students knows the geometry/theory of the technical drawing.

The common use of 2d/3d cad systems sometimes is a workaround to cope with drawing deficiencies. The computer might help the students to "hide" some of their drawing errors.

This is my view.

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As an architect I design with pencil and paper. Those designs then get input to Vectorworks. I agree that the use of hand drawing is very much a part of design.

You will find architects crawling all over Italy taking photographs. You wil also find some with a pencil and sketch pad. To capture Michelangelo's David, you can take a photograph or sketch it. Which do you think would lead to a greater understanding of the sculpture?

I understand your frustration, however. As an architectural student, we were required to use slide rules in our engineering courses. We all had those new fangled electronic calculatiors by Texas Instruments. The instuctor's defense of his position was that the batteries in our calculators could go dead.

So today I have a slide rule in a glass-doored case that says "Break Glass in Case of Emergency".

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I feel your pain. Having been in design for almost 30 years, I disagree with those who say design can only begin on paper, or the computer may hide drawing errors -sorry Paolo, the computer actually emphasises drawing error because of its precision. My partner is computer handicapped. He also is one of the finest with hand drawing. Put us side by side and our approach to a design problem is different, but often with the same results. Design approach is different using hand-drawn techniques vs computer. My hand graphics are horrible, My computer graphics are fairly good, especially with many of the improvements programs such VW provide.

That said, I often find the design process inhibited by the difficulty of learning computer graphics. Getting good training is hard to find for certain disiplines, and usually expensive (a mistake in my opinion - how better to promote your software than teaching your users to use it to the best of their abilities - word of mouth and product will sell a program faster than an account exec.)

Take using hand graphics for what is worth. One never knows when you may need to create something on the fly away from a computer or plotter. I have designed many projects on the back of a napkin.

[ 01-26-2006, 11:37 AM: Message edited by: tvetter ]

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the explanation I got for requiring the use of a slide rule was that the user had to know what the approximate answer would be, and would intuitively know if the slide rule solution was correct. The user has no way of knowing if an answer returned by a calculator is correct or an error.


If you don't teach technical drawing, why are you testing your students drawing skills? What sort of drawing mistakes do your tests expose?

Our class project is a site study of about 5000 sq ft, with a slope from north to south with an elevation change of about 6'. A 6% slope. Nothing very challenging. Draw the property lines, setbacks, copy over the contours, generate a site section.


everyone at the school uses "autocad" as a generic term for "CAD". I think this speaks volumes. They are definately thinking of cad in a very limited way, and saying things like you are looking at the problem "through a little window". I think it is their limited ability and imagination that is the problem.

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A solid background in the 'old school' of draughting as well as illustration, graphic and industrial design prior to computers offers both a perspective and appreciation built on years of real world practice.

All I can add to this discussion is that CAD is NOT drawing but rather programming a computer using a GUI ( thanks to all the core technology programmers ) . It's all about communication and the transmittal of vital information. The simplest approach is usually the best regardless of the level of complexity. What would creative folk do without their pen & paper ... and napkins.

Take a look at the NFL ... all the stadiums are returning to real turf. The home town fans love it ... so does the TV audience. With Astro-turf you could never tell who was actually playing or whether or not it was the beginning or the end of a hard fought contest. But with real sod the game is punctuated with disequalibrium... as the fickle finger of Mother Earth comes into play...

by the 4th quarter the players are covered with it ... the harder they scramble the more they are marked with earthen valor. Like the good old days ... clods of grass get stuck to the helmets. Once immaculate jerseys become soiled with experience.

Similarly, those who lack the fundamentals and ignore the basics seem to enjoy playing a game of CAD on their utterly predictable artificial turf. The final score may be the same but the game is just not as interesting.

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(A little off subject, but what the heck - Superbowl is upon us - and I am not particularly a football fan.

One of the newest NFL fields, Quest Field in Seattle is semi-exposed to the elements, has artifical turf. Safeco Field (baseball) has natural turf with a retactable roof.

No account for the experience.

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I recommend learning with Pencil and Paper first for the following reasons:

Using Pencil and Paper first gives the student a practical experience in Line weights and a Great sense of layout for the whole drawing.

- I have seen horrible drawing examples from students with just cad experience/no hand drafting. They Look too Cad'y (not really a word, just a feeling). I believe that there is an esthetic that must be maintained to be considered a good draftsperson.

The Painful hand experience of Pencil to paper teaches one not to dwell to long on any line, just get it down and move on...the Fedex truck is two doors down and coming your way. This is a lesson not entirely applicable to Cad, but more to drawing in general.

Personally the only way I could learn Axiometric projection drawing was by pencil and a lot of eraser.

I hope this helps.

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These crotchety old professors wish the best but are 1) behind the times and 2) luddites

Yes, CAD looks like garbage compared with a quality hand drawing on velum. But CAD and CG are in their infancy compared with pencil and paper. Computer graphics will not develop better aesthetics unless students have to freedom to experiment with new mediums. Besides, computers are here to alleviate tedium, so use them to their advantage. I don't know what architects did before workgroup references!

Frack the low grade - you're in school for yourself, not for your professors.

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There seems to be a concensus that there is value in being able to draw by hand. I don't disagree, although, islandmon, saying that CAD isn't drawing is like saying that a pencil doesn't draw, it just leaves black marks on a bit of paper. In the end they are both just tools, only used differently.

However, I think that most of the above responses have missed the point. If demonstating the value of drawing - with a pen or pencil - is really the aim of part of the purpose of the execise, then this should be communicated to the students. Students will always learn more if they know what is expected from them. The fact that this aim couldn't be communicated even when requested by a student indicates to me either ignorance on the part of the instructor, or that this wasn't in fact the purpose. The nature of the execise itself and the fact that that it doesn't matter if it is done in pencil or ink (different techniques) adds to the sense of confused thinking. If drawing is important enough to be taught then, well, teach it properly.

Furthermore, seat of "higher learning" such as this institute should be welcoming students' enquiring minds, not fobbing them off with inanities.

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thanks for the well wrought replies.

the current assignment is a puzzle for presenting the information.

On my comp. I can have a layer for the site plan and more layers for the various information, such as contours, sun angles, prevailing winds, views, noisy side of the site, and so on.

I can display on screen or print any combination of information.

The way we are told to do the assignment is to do a D size vellum with the site plan (property line info and setbacks) then do up to 5 tracing paper overlays with the various data drawn on. Each drawing might look good on its own, but how about conveying all that info at a glance, along with various building alternatives?

What would Tuffte do?

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A can of worms has been opened, or is it Pandora's box?

When I did my engineering degree I worked all night on a VAX mainframe to construct a 3D solid model of a car front axle assembly. Today I could repeat the entire 4 months work in a couple of hours. In those days I could have drawn it, hand made a prototype and tested it in less time!!

I get a lot of students applying for jobs with no CAD skills at all because the Universities didn't insist on it. That leave me having to train them only to find they move on after 6 months.

we need to move away from this old school thought process of thinking of CAD as replicating what can be drawn on paper. To me, the value of using IT is what it is - computer AIDED design. For me that means 3D most of the time.

In many respects architecture is maybe 15-20 years behind engineering in the use of 3D CAD. Architects (on the whole) think of CAD as 2D. It is really only since the advent of true design apps like SketchUp that they actually start designing in 3D, and use it as a tool.

But, to me the important thing is what ios the outcome?

The outcome is not a work of art, the outcome is a high quality building or product. Does it matter how this is achieved? Well, yes and no. Ask yourself how much time is spent actually designing and how much time is spent preparing presentations to those who need to interpret the design intent (customers, toolmakers, planners, investors etc etc).

This is as much a part of any design profession as learning to use the software or learning how to draw. Teaching drawing skills I think is important, provided it is taught in the manner that it will be put to in professional life - ie - sitting in front of a customer and being asked to explain something!

So getting back to the original point, no I think your teachers are too prescriptive in their outlook, but you should learn how to draw manually, in the same way that you should learn how to use apps like SketchUp, or Adobe Photoshop or Indesign or Powerpoint or Excel!

Use your time as a student to experience all the techniques you will struggle to have the time to learn while you are a professional.

In the words of Bob Dylan, the older I get the less I know!

( I should point out I'm not a great Dylan fan, but I did once have a boss who was - part of the interview was "do you like Bob Dylan?".....they don't prepare you for questions like that at college!!!)

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In my experience, knowing how to pencil draw is to no advantage whatsoever when in a CAD environment. I've spent years doing both pencil (also ink) and CAD.

It's just a tool. What is important for the drafter is that he can visualize in 3D and knows how the drawings are supposed to look.

The rest of it is just learning how to use the tools. Twenty-five years ago, one had to be able to use drafting tools. Now one has to be familiar with CAD systems.

Some people are better at one than the other, which indicates their aptitudes. Maybe the good professor loves to draw by hand, but has never been able to get comfortable with computers.

I was a mediocre hand drafter, but really took off with CAD. Others never were able to make the switch.

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Waste of time.

Do we insist students use slide rules ?

Do we insist students use a nib and ink before they are allowed to use a ball point pen ?

Do we expect a carpenter to cut a frame with a hand saw before he can use an electric saw ?

Put a frame together with a hammer before he is allowed to touch a nail gun ?

etc, etc, etc

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Here is my two cents worth. I went to college and received a diploma in Architectural technology.

By the end of three years I was very proficient in CAD. When I started working I quickly found out that my CAD skills were light years ahead of most of the engineer and architects who I started to work for. I made fairly good money right out of school for this very reason.

However I always felt that my education focused to much on the tools of CAD and not enough on the science of buildings and understanding how they work. What good is drawing a work of art on a computer or by hand if it doesn't make any since in the construction of the project.

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Originally posted by tvetter:

wv- I disagree with those who say design can only begin on paper, or the computer may hide drawing errors -sorry Paolo, the computer actually emphasises drawing error because of its precision.

Well, that's exactly what I mean. If you can't draw on paper neither can you with CAD. As you say, CAD will even worsen you drawing deficiencies!

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Originally posted by wv_vectorworker:


If you don't teach technical drawing, why are you testing your students drawing skills? What sort of drawing mistakes do your tests expose?

Well, unfortunately not all students have the needed drawing skills, even if they have attended the previous year a Technical Drawing class... We ask them to draw a very simple object like a pen or a small box, with sections. Most of them do it right, but some need to refresh their Drawing class!

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Originally posted by P Bartoli:


Originally posted by tvetter:

wv- I disagree with those who say design can only begin on paper, or the computer may hide drawing errors -sorry Paolo, the computer actually emphasises drawing error because of its precision.

Well, that's exactly what I mean. If you can't draw on paper neither can you with CAD. As you say, CAD will even worsen you drawing deficiencies!

um, I think he means that the computer exposes the error, not makes it worse.
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All the above so far is both an interesting question and a series of experiential opinions. Since I come to CAD differently than most please read this carefully and thoughtfully.

I was taught "engineering drawing" as a prep fro a technical career. The old classics of "drafting" study state that draftsmanship (Draughtsmanship) is a means of communication. That is what I learned. The use of line weights, readable consistent lettering, shades, textures and hatches were "letter forms" which aided i constructing that communication.

In Architecture school I discovered that if I could draw it in a manner which communicated the ideas and information accurately and make it quickly understood (in the proverbial glance) I would get a high grade.

Working in construction to afford my education, I discovered that drawings which made the way to build clear and did not impose problems on the construction workers made the job go much faster and the quality go up.

In architectural apprenticeship I discovered that those who made "art" drawings and drawings which did not use "the graphical communication language" in the manner I was taught, were often regarded as imbeciles by the "lesser" educated carpenters. e.g. Drawing wall centerlines without regard to the fact that concrete, 2x4's etc. are not transparent and do not come with centering cross hairs. Drawings which dimension to outside of finished surfaces are a contstruction crews nightmare. The practitioners I worked with who insisted that we draw to baseline surfaces, e.g. face of concrete, outside face of foundation walls, face of studs, etc. were enormously admired.

Where am I going? Just that however you are educated, hand sketching or CAD - if you do not understand what you are drawing and who you are drawing for, you will not produce a useful set of instructions for building a widget or a building. It will be gibberish to the client, constructor, material supplier, etc. who will have to "design" it for you, guess at what you intend and curse you into a hell of their choosing for the frustration you have caused them.

I believe a balanced view of "drawing" education is this:

A hand drawing process to study by drawing objects freehand, still life and "plein aire" to develop understanding of what those objects are.

A practical course series on making the information clear - using hand drawing techniques such as line weight variations, textures and hatches to make the point, then transferring those concepts to the appropriate tool use in CAD. (This is why I prefer VW - It allows all the best of the "old" and the "new").

A course series (or Intern Development Program) which teaches how things go together. Hand draw some to understand. CAD

create to know how to use the CAD tool correctly. I want an architectural drafter who Knows(!) why a detail for roof flashing will exclude water correctly while being simple to construct and uses currently available "best practices" and materials understood by tradespeople who will build it. I want my apprentice architect (IDP) to Learn why his building should not leak and how to keep it from doing so!

Design is not the merely concept - but the execution! I design all the appropriate details of my projects because when the workers build according to my drawings the end result will be the fully realized design.

There are far too many "designers" using "CAD" who fail to use the 1D, 2D and 3D of the electronic ether to make showy "design concepts" and fail to instruct the machinist, builder, carpenter and parts assembler in a clear, unambiguous and complete manner.

As an Architect, I do not "design" buildings - I get them Built!! CAD is a tool I use to instruct the Contractor/building team partner on what and how to build it. I then go into the field and observe, interpret the drawings and assist in solving the various unknown variables which always seem to come up.

Because the hand drawing I learned by taught me how to see my design, improve my design and communicate it, I can now use the CAD tool (99% of all work - schematic to final inspection report) to multiply the "old" principles, and efficiently communicate the design.

Anyone who produces those lame reasons given to nw-Vectorworker doesn't know how to teach the proper way to use the CAD tools either!

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Originally posted by bclyeb:

Drawing wall centerlines without regard to the fact that concrete, 2x4's etc. are not transparent and do not come with centering cross hairs.


I agree with your statements, that was my point as well.

It's interesting to note that as per your quote VW (as far as I now I'm fairly new to this program) does not allow you to dimension to the cavity lines. You can only dim to the finished face or centreline of the wall. The statement I've heard around this office is that guys in the field will simply have to do the math when they layout their tracks.

I worked with a draftsperson who went to school in England, he told me that as part of his apprenticeship he had to spend six months working in the field on a construction site. I live in Canada and in the fifteen years I've been doing this work, I lucky if I've spent more than a total of one week on sites.

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in VW You can put the dimensions anywhere you want. I was told by both a previous building tech instructor and the architect I worked for to dimension as noted above, to the wall sheathing on building exteriors, and to the centerline on framed interior partitions.

I don't understand how hand drawing objects will lead me to better understand their nature or how they fit together, I agree that the best thing would be for students to get actual building site experience, actually having to read someone else's drawings and converting them to the finished product, a building, rather than what it seems the product we are being taught to produce is the drawings.

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My two cents.. the issue of learning to hand draw or more correctly, to think with pencil & paper should be an important one. How many of us have been in a situation, away from our computers/cad when we had to convey some sort of instruction or idea, or solve a problem on a construction site. In those instances a computer is useless (yes you can take a laptop but to set up to solve a particular issue can be very time consuming). the ability to convey your ideas graphically in a clear manner should be a skill that most should be willing to learn as a value in itself. I was taught to be able to study/plan a building and produce the necessary construction documentation using just pencil and paper, yes I've been in this business just short of 40 years and trained as a draftsman in pre technical pen days.

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Life is about balance. Architecture is no different. The purpose of a formal education is to give you that balance.

After all, aren't you in school to learn something new? So relax and learn how to use that pencil and paper. As Robert Anderson, and others have said, sketching is a fundamental form of thinking.

One of my greatest regrets is questioning "the reason" for some of my classes during my schooling. Now that I am older and wiser, I appreciate the reason and purpose of those classes. I only wish that I could have had that appreciation back then and have paid more attention to the course material.

There is more to life than being proficient in CAD drawing.

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