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Sketchbooks: draw like nobody’s watching
现在
2020
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Sketchbooks: draw like nobody’s watching

The late Italian architect Adolfo Natalini (1941-2020) once suggested that sketchbooks are comparable to diaries. They offer a means to order thoughts and reflect the concerns of an architect at the time each page was used.

That these concerns are not always strictly architectural serves as a reminder that architecture is the product of human thinking, and that building and drawing are both human pursuits. The sketchbook is the place where these endeavours can occur in idiosyncratic ways: where architects can make mistakes and figure things out; where they can get frustrated and distracted. Where they can draw like nobody’s watching.

A cartoon of a rabbit and a horse competing in a swimming race, for example, is a surreal image. But in an architect’s sketchbook, interrupting a sequence of design drawings for an art gallery, it is even more so.

The two creatures make their unexpected appearance in a sketchbook used by Tony Fretton while designing the Lisson Gallery in London’s Marylebone – a project for which he used over forty sketchbooks, all now in the Drawing Matter collection. Strange digressions like the pair of swimmers often turn up in architects’ sketchbooks; intimate, non-architectural interruptions to usually very intense drawing practices. These drawings can be revealing of how an architect thinks in ways that their design drawings alone cannot – in Fretton’s case, with a dose of humour.

Because the Drawing Matter collection holds a number of sketchbooks for individual projects, it is clear to see the tendencies of architects to wander between design drawings and drawings of other things. Those used by Álvaro Siza, for instance, contain a large number of portraits and figurative studies, as well as self-portraits and drawings of the architect’s hands – almost always drawing (and smoking).

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Figurative drawings by Álvaro Siza. Details of pages in Caderno 42, September 1979. Images courtesy of Drawing Matter.

The frequency at which these drawings appear suggests that for Siza the impulse to draw is indelible and goes beyond his process of designing buildings. But aside from showing his dexterity in switching his line between figure and building, Siza’s non-architectural interruptions also give texture to his sketchbooks, reminding us that they are objects that are carried between sites and contexts, sometimes over long periods of time.

This texture is illustrated well by another sketchbook in the collection that once belonged to the neoclassical architect, Louis-Hippolyte Lebas. One of four travel sketchbooks dating to the start of the nineteenth century, Lebas’ sketchbook holds dried and pressed leaves between pages of extremely precise drawings. While it is not clear why they are there, the leaves suggest a simultaneity of activity and a life behind the sketchbook – both ultimately ending up in the same place.  And the leaves bring back to mind Natalini’s notion of an architect’s sketchbook as a diary or journal, something personal and very humane.

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Pages from a travel sketchbook used by Louis-Hippolyte Lebas, 1804. Images courtesy of Drawing Matter.

Drawing Matter is an organisation dedicated to exploring the roles of drawing (as action and object) in architectural thought and practice. More about the organisation can be found at www.drawingmatter.org.

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.