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pencil and paper? or CAD?

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What about writing? Computers are even better at text than they are at design. Should we continue to teach children to write with pens and pencils? I think we should.

I was leaning a little the other way on this forum thread, since the only thing I've used a pen or pencil for in the last few years has been to take phone messages. But Fred's comment about solving a problem at a construction site made me realize that I take my hand-drawing ability for granted, and because of that I was discounting its importance.

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I was trained in hand drawing/drafting while in school in the late 80's/early 90's, and only picked up CAD in my spare time and on-the-job with my first firm.

I now have my own Architecture practice, and have yet to have a client meeting where I don't end up sketching something out to communicate an idea when I am many miles away from my computer (to steal Fred's line.)

Being able to draw manually is not outdated any more than being able to write longhand (as opposed to typing.) I've worked with 6 different CAD systems in the past 16 years... don't get too dependent on one way of thinking about the tools you use.

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Originally posted by Robert Anderson:

I come down firmly with Fred on this one. Drawing, sketching, is a fundamental form of thinking. It will be a very long time until computers can replace this essential human activity.

Robert you would be appalled at the way working with CAD was portrayed at the last class. It is as if there have been no advances in technology in the last fifteen years.

-it was claimed 50% of CAD produced permit drawings had errors, while hand drawn plans rarely had errors.

-working with CAD can't give you a big picture as you are looking at a little window

-drawing have to be printed to be checked anyway

(what no redline tool, revision clouds,version control, pdfs, etc)

Do Gehry and Assoc. print drawings for editing and checking?

http://www.gehrytechnologies.com/products.html claims reduced documentation (printing) costs as a selling point.

Drawing is not being taught in this class. Design is. I can draw. I often draw to convey ideas.

I am sure you all have spent sleepless nights thinking about a project or problem, and developed a fully formed idea in your mind, and got up to either with pencil and paper or computer record that fully formed idea.

It was pointed out that Mozart wrote his music with pen on paper, but I would point out that Mozart had the music fully formed in his mind, merely recording his thoughts. The notation is not the music, only a representation thereof.

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  • Vectorworks, Inc Employee

Gehry and Associates design using physical models, which they then laser-digitize and refine using Rhino and Catia.

Your story about Mozart made me think of a story (very possibly apocryphal) about Thomas Edison. Supposedly Edison slept with a ball bearing in his hand (draped off the side of the bed) and a pencil and pad of paper on his nightstand. When he would drift off to sleep, the BB would fall on the floor, bang, and wake him up. He trained himself to write down what was on his mind at the moment.

Sort of a way to generate "a conversation between the conscious and the subconsious".

I think sketching is very similar; architects like to sketch, not only to represent their ideas but because it -gives- them ideas.

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I'm on the side of those who feel that learning how to draw - by hand - is a way of learning how to look at the world. It sharpens your perception. It's the same with moulding or sculpting - or even photographing, despite what other people might think.

If it however comes down to technical drawing, you're much better of with CAD. Every generation sees disadvantages in new methods. I remember my dad who had to use a ruling-pen, while drawing pens were already on the market for a couple of years. I myself had to use a drawing pen at school, while every professional was using a CAD-solution. Nowadays you hardly see anyone using pens anymore.

Is that a loss? I don't think so. Your understanding of technical things is not influenced by the drawing methods you use. But your spatial experience is without a doubt defined by the ways used to register and represent space.

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Roberts statement on Gehry is right on. The design for Disney Concert Hall was done in a model and then transferred to computer by 3d digitizing. Comments by Gehry and the Engineer were that without the computer they could not have built the design as it was so complex. But the genesis for it was in the real world of a model.

The same is done for computer animated films. The character sketch is just that.. a pencil on paper sketch. That artist's sketch is then made into a 3d model which is then digitized into the computer.

I hope I never see the day when a nude drawing class is done on a laptop computer.

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Ah, the topic that refuses to die.

I must have misunderstood vw_vectorworker's question. I thought that he was referring to technical drafting: by hand vs by computer.

In that case, I don't believe that experience with hand drafting leads to better CAD drafting. In fact, it's a disadvantage because the hand drafter still has to learn CAD eventually. Otherwise he won't be able to compete.

To be a drafter in any medium, one has to be able to visualize in 3D and to know how finished drawings should look. The medium, by hand or by machine, doesn't matter.

The medium, pencil or CAD, relates to other aptitudes such as being able to pick up a pencil or triangle with dexterity, or being able to hold a pencil without shaking, or understanding how computers think, or how files are organized. Some people are good at one and poor at the other. Or they may be great at them all.

If vw_vectorworker was talking about free-hand drawing, then there might be an argument for sketching because the computer really doesn't sketch well. And, it would be difficult to sit at a conference table with a client while sketching on a computer. Also making field sketches can only be done by hand (unless there are wonder pocket computers I don't know about).

Even so, I don't believe that skill at free-hand drawing helps one to do CAD drafting. Like most children, I tried free-hand drawing. In high school, I took a class in mechanical drawing; it was a whole different world. One did not relate to the other very much.

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Is this post about obtaining the thoughts of others, an inquiring, open mind.

Or is it, along with the other thread regarding workflow/processes, an attempt to gain supporting opinion for strong held beliefs and opinions you have formulated about how you should be taught, what you should be taught and now how a business should be run, to use against any teaching or procedures expressed by others that differ from that of your own.

As I read it at the moment the opinions are weighed towards retaining and the inclusion of hand drawing skills to your skillset, not just for the direct and obvious results it brings, but the connection this makes within the thought processes.

I for one would not wish to go back to the days of hand drawing all my work but if that hand drawing capability was taken away from me I'd feel the loss of a very important element in my skillset.

Its not enough to know how to use the tools, its knowing what you are trying to say, how you convey the knowledge, thoughts, ideas in your head to others.

I've heard the comment that new young staff members may know how to use the computer and how the software works brilliantly but draw or design things that simply cannot be made.

We should let the computers take over those repetitive tasks etc. but safe in the knowledge that what we ask it to do is feasible in the real world, gained from knowledge and experience.

Usually obtained from others who indeed may not possess the same level of speed or competence in the software but have that something no training course or software can provide - experience.


[ 02-02-2006, 06:37 PM: Message edited by: alanmac ]

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I don't want to comment at the risk of seeming aguementative, or dismissive of the replies so far.

I think it is worthwhile so far, everyone has technical questions about the software specifically and or how to use it. It is interesting to get a bigger picture of where we are at or headed.

It is futile to try to gain support or evidence for my argument with the school, the school is not going to change.

Yup, David, I am talking about technical drawing. I guess it is technical drawing? scaled site plans with setbacks, point elevations, contours, sunlight, wind, views, etc (noise! - how do you represent road noise? it bounces off everything!)

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Comming from someone else in the same situation, wv_vectorworker, I can comepletely understand where you are comming from.

I work in stage lighting, infact I am at my last semester in a well know theatre school. Also working for a company as the 'CAD Specialist.' I am going to have to say that I really should have payed more attention in the hand drafting class that was required. Yes the computer drafting class is what got me the job, but I am just now (6 months into the job)begining to realize how much I rely on the information taught in hand drafting.

From a technical stand point, it is much easier for teachers to deal with the problems of teaching a hand drafting class (forgot paper, table isn't smooth, 'how do I tape this up?' ect. ect. ect.) than to deal with every student's computer having a virus, or things are reformated and you don't have the right reference file.

On a side note, because of an over-inflated ego (I admit it, it's to big) in designing my final project I did it all on Vectorworks. As I get into implimenting it, I NEVER had an up to date hardcopy with me, and the laptop was just no where near as verstal as even notebook paper and a magic marker. I also came across several instances where I was spending more time trying to solve the technical problem (the refrence file missing, and the notorious 'why can't I edit this feild?') than it would have taken me to hand draft it.

Memory is better added by a tactile sensation, that's why you learn and remember thngs better when you right them down, rather than type them. It my not apply to you specifically, but how many of the students do you think have the exact line weight of a wall compared to a suspened beam memorized. Learning it by hand drafting you remember it better than just setting the line weight to 6 and 24 and moving on.

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It was billed as "Architectural Planning" not Arch-Drafting drawing, whatever. They are not teaching how to use a pencil or how to use the computer. They should be talking about how the building should be affected by the site's relationship to the sun, wind, noise, views, setbacks, height restrictions, etc.

students could produce drawings with a sharp knife, some slabs of hinoki, india ink, and rice paper, if it adequately expressed their ideas about dealing with the above to make a habitable, enjoyable dwelling on the site.

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  • 4 weeks later...


I trained in the hand drawing techniques which have now been long replaced by (much more efficient and rapid) CAD modelling and drafting. While hand drawing remains a great way to play with rudimentary ideas and as a means of quick communication (and you dont even have to be that good for these purposes) CAD leaves it for dead in developing and communicating designs.

When I drew concepts by hand the only information I got from the drawing was what I had put there myself, ie it didnt tell me anything new about my design. When I started to model concepts in 3D I was amazed to see how much new information was revealed. I saw elements collide in ways I hadn't anticipated. I saw my design from all different angles. It helped me to better understand the implications of my choices. I could quickly make small adjustments and improvements, change materials, experiment, all within a few minutes. To undertake this process manually would be outrageously time consuming and expensive if possible at all.

Not only that, I could produce multiple 3D views along with the 2D drawings. This helped communicate my ideas to my clients and the tradesmen working on the job. Once the model is made views can come thick and fast.

If you are good at something, like hand drawing, you will value it highly and so you should. Use it to advantage where appropriate but be quick to adopt more efficient and powerful techniques if you want to be competitive. Eventually the luddites will be replaced, probably by you...

Phil T

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  • 2 weeks later...

I learned by hand, so I can't be fully objective.

I think, however, drawing by hand is undebatable - one must be able to draw by hand.

Let's not confuse drawing with drafting, though - whether using a burnt stick or a computer, if you don't know how to draft, neither will let you produce good work.

I'm actually surprised drafting isn't taught as a required part of all art and design classes; ask a graphic designer to sit down with a regular old ruler and divide a rectangle into 7 equal parts, and the ruler will receive some hard stares...

Personally, my ideal would be if I could have a giant table with a built-in touch screen, and still have all CAD functionality at hand, but... well... I could use my left hand to drag virtual t-squares and triangles and scales around, and draw with a stylus in my right...

Just saying.


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Personally, my ideal would be if I could have a giant table with a built-in touch screen

I remember hand drafting to be somewhat physically exhausting at times. I think I'll stick with the keyboard and mouse.

if you don't know how to draft, neither will let you produce good work.

So true. You have to know what the drawing is supposed to look like.

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The hand vs CAD question is probably more personal than it should be. There is a hand drawing culture demanding line quality, impression/interpretation, and some demand for a human presence on the page. There is also a CAD culture demanding 2d and 3d precision at the design stage (which often used to be handled by fabricators, builders, site workers - in other words it could be handled by others and still turn out ok), pride of update and tracking ability, interactive zoom and scale, 2d to 3d conversion, etc, etc. A stridant stance in one of these cultures can cause stress or argument. Embracing all methods of design communication, without prejudice, can help with many aspects of your work and life.

Do what the teacher asks and learn from it. If so inclined, prepare an additional submission using an alternate treatment or method. Good teachers love a challenge from a student. It can't hurt to become proficient at both hand and CAD.


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  • 3 weeks later...

well even though I knew my work would not be critiqued and marked for credit I kept going to class for the content, and never got around to switching to audit or dropping it altogether. Lots of people were beavering away at thier drawings and I wanted to see what they came up with.

So the last class came and people presented. Only a couple were actually finished at the start of the class. Disappointingly the best drawer/draftsmans (doesn't do it justice for the quality of her work) didn't present. Stage fright maybe, or maybe didn't want to share . . .

most were neither good drawings or good architecture. some poor drawings but interesting simple ordered design. one student utilised the extra space under the stairs for washer and dryer, another had 4 or 5 riser stairway down to a fully below ground level basement. having to produce sections and elevations for the project didn't expose the glaring problems with these ideas.

A couple students came up with some cool ideas and had great drawings, contemporary and traditional. The student with the best draftsmanship, very beautifully hatched classic drawing, did the most traditional craftsman/arts and crafts style house.

I had a nice chat with the instructor after and I showed him my "sketches" and he invited me to submit them. I put together the whole thing (plans, elevations, sections etc to fill a Arch D sheet )

I don't feel bad as very few of the other students had the required work done on time.

Patiently awaiting my grade.

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  • 7 years later...

I remember the days when I used a drawing board to do my working drawings and then hand render visuals which although time consuming produced a lovely free expression of 3d concepts ....I wonder sometimes if a mixture of the two, are the way to go I say that after working on a large project over the past 4 days I think I could have cut that in half if I had worked out the concept using the good old pen and paper.....and then transferring the design to CAD .........

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