Residential design tools

When I worked as an architect in New York City, we used to bring very polished looking graphics to client meetings. It was unacceptable to show up without this kind of stuff. Sleek renderings would sometimes conceal the fact that we had no idea what the project was still in the process of becoming. One of my mentors and teacher, Martin Gundersen Jr., once cut me down for having photoshopped people into a student rendering of mine. His point was that adding people to the image made the presentation look like a definite “space” had been achieved in the design without having gone through the hard work of actually making sure there was a real space in the design. These two are almost the same problem. So as I’ve taken on more residences lately than I expected, economies of scale preclude your being able to bring a meticulously photoshopped, rendered 3D image to the client in schematic design (concept design). 

Back to the drawing board:

What I’ve re-discovered, personally and professionally, is sketching for fluidity of ideas and communication. Sometimes you are only as good as the tools you use. Instead of spending time pretty-ing drawings up and hoping the client presentation goes well, time is better spent in front of the client, communicating back and forth on what they want. For example, a 3 hour client meeting is very long. But 12 hours in your office, and then not nailing the concept and spending more time later is worse. I opt for a 2 hour meeting, face to face, in which values, priorities and relationships are being exchanged over a medium which is fluid, dynamic, and allows an architect to wrap all their expertise into a single moment with the client. 

We usually start with some hard line drawings as an underlay, wherein dimensions and relative sizing (scale) is present. This makes the sketching believable. It also means I don’t go back to my office and wonder how in the world it’s all going to work. Fancy sketches that don’t fit in the property setbacks: not cool. Scale is critical. On top of the underlays, layers and layers of vellum trace paper are exploited in order to draw and redraw until something works! There’s that moment, after you have examined options and discussed pros and cons through drawing, where you know the client is going to like what you are about to draw. This choice of design tools may, on the surface, seem like a lo-tech cop out. However, Dura is fully BIM-capable (building information modeling), and is adept at managing building models and producing renderings. On the contrary, this lo-tech method has immense benefits: 

1. The client gets more for their money. A cohesive, well-conceived design is more important than pretty 3D processes. But they are not mutually exclusive; the computer just needs to follow the hand. I understand my clients better through this means of communication.It gives everyone a chance to think and respond to other’s ideas - presenting 3D drawings and renders is sometimes an all or nothing proposition from the client’s experience.

2. My clients seem to be happier with my work when they have been involved in the thinking and processing.

3. I do better work when thinking through sketching.


4. An architect who draws by hand and communicates through that drawing learns how best to use computers in their work. This is not a Luddite post. I love design software. I have lots of it. But my residential clients in particular are, I believe, better served through a more organic design process.

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