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Trecento re-enactment
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Trecento re-enactment

Posted 31.01.2018
By Gabor Gallov

In his book Dominion of The Eye, Marvin Trachtemberg reveals to us that during Florentine Trecento urbanism a paradigm shift occurred where it was recognised that art and power expressed through architecture is not simply through a formal manifestation but through space, through the void, the space surrounding a monument. A realisation that the void is as important as the edifice.  It is shown that the state-sponsored conscious creation of space as a work of art and a show of power was inextricably linked to the current development of perspectival drawing. An understanding that a building can command space around itself and even share and transfer power and atmosphere.  I believe it is important for every architecture student to re-live and re-enact this development

A blog entry’s circumference does not allow for a full article on the merits of teaching architecture through hand drawing and its continued importance for the future of architecture. Therefore I will focus on only one aspect among many: the student’s realisation of the importance of void/space in architecture and their capability to understand and command this tool.

It is a wonderful experience to witness a student’s realisation that not only is space as important as the building but also that by accepting and harnessing this principle they have a new developing muscle, a forceful tool to express ideas and theses in the most poetic fashion. My years of teaching have repeatedly shown the same results: that the realisation of the importance of space and the development of this tool does not come about by using computer programs with the smartest three-dimensional capabilities. It comes about by hand drawing and in particular perspectival sketching. Even students whom I have temporarily weaned off the computer have admitted to this realisation. Hand drawing, and in particular three-dimensional drawing, invites one to move in to and fully inhabit a project spatially. It allows one to develop a project to a greater extent volumetrically whilst remaining at the idea stage. Drawings also allow for the professors to engage in a forensic investigation of the progress of a student’s project and engaging with them, continuously suggesting elements to be pulled forward or suppressed.

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Hand-drawing by Jagoda Borkowska, year 3 student at Nottingham Trent University Faculty of Architecture

A student’s mind will tick over differently when attempting to sketch in three dimensions than when nudging a mouse about or inputting information via keys. It is incomparable. Paper asks a multitude of questions about space, light, darkness, materiality, detail, atmosphere, of which finality, precision and prettiness/slickness are the last things considered, if at all.

Unfortunately most students today are more confident on the computer than facing a blank page with a pencil in hand which is asking them these questions. This is mainly due to the look of the end result. It is very important that confidence is built up and therefore it is crucial that the student is made to understand that the beauty of the drawing, of the prettiness of the result, is thoroughly unimportant. It is the act of doing it which is crucial. Some students are more talented draughtsmen than others, of course, but it is mainly a matter of toning and developing a muscle.  An act that the computer will happily take over offering a permanent set of crutches but where the muscle will eventually show signs of atrophy or underdevelopment.

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Hand-drawing by Jessica Booth, year 3 student at Nottingham Trent University Faculty of Architecture

It must be made clear to students that understanding and practising perspectival drawing is not merely about how things look but as a tool to inhabit and understand space and engage simultaneously in other aspects of architecture. Drawing is not exclusively a presentation tool but one of investigation and development. Schools should continue to make sketching and life drawing a portfolio pre- requisite for entering an architecture programme, as well as teaching it and weighing it heavily in the first year’s curriculum. I strongly support teaching methods where the computer and its many 3D software programs are absent from at least the first year of architectural education and that in the following years it is introduced as a tool to further investigate an already formed architectural resolution. An architecture born exclusively out of computer-aided investigations – whatever one’s opinion is of that kind of architectural end result – can always be learned down the line but the Trecento paradigm shift must take place in a student’s mind at an early stage if it is to occur at all.

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Hand-drawing by Jessica Booth, year 3 student at Nottingham Trent University Faculty of Architecture

This post forms part of our series on The Architecture Drawing Prize: an open drawing competition curated by Make, WAF and Sir John Soane’s Museum to highlight the importance of drawing in architecture. The winning and shortlisted drawings will be exhibited at Sir John Soane’s Museum 21 February – 14 April 2018.