Single-Handedly: Contemporary Architects Draw by Hand
Nalina Moses, Tom Kundig (Foreword)
Princeton Architectural Press, May 2019
Hardcover | 8 x 10 inches | 256 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1616897260 | $50.00
Part of the generation of architects who were trained to draw both by hand and with digital tools, Nalina Moses recently returned to hand drawing. Finding it to be direct, pleasurable, and intuitive, she wondered whether other architects felt the same way. Single-Handedly is the result of this inquiry. An inspiring collection of 220 hand drawings by more than forty emerging architects and well-known practitioners from around the world, this book explores the reasons they draw by hand and gives testimony to the continued vitality of hand drawing in architecture. The powerful yet intimate drawings carry larger propositions about materials, space, and construction, and each one stands on its own as a work of art.
Architect/writer Nalina Moses and I are of the same generation. I attended architecture school in the first half of the 1990s, starting my education with Lettering and Drawing classes but then taking a CAD class at a local vocational school (the students on year after mine were required to learn on computers, forcing me elsewhere for CAD training) during my last semester so I would be able to get a job upon graduation. Likewise, Moses writes in the Preface to Single-Handedly that she started working in 1994, “at that moment when production work was migrating from the drafting board to the computer screen.” That shift was nothing compared to the subsequent one, in which CAD has been supplanted by BIM; while architects still draw lines in CAD, in BIM the various 2D drawings are generated by the 3D model they create in a virtual environment. The shift from hand drafting to CAD to BIM is not just about production, though, it also affects the cognitive shifts that architects would undergo when they learned how to draw and then drew in practice: shifts of seeing the world around them, of visualizing space, and of grasping scale. Without a foundation of hand drawing, architects produce what Moses sees as “hollow, imagistic” buildings that “feel less like structures than projections.”
The dozens of contributions to Single-Handedly are the antithesis of the imagistic buildings designed and envisioned through computers. They are weighty, saturated, often colorful, sometimes dreamlike drawings of real or imagined worlds. When they are parts of architectural design, as with Brad Cloepfil or Massimiliano Fuksas, the drawings are the first stage of a process that will eventually become digital. But these early gestures infuse their designs with certain traits (weight, thickness, and shadow in Cloepfil’s case) that are difficult, if not impossible, to produce via CAD or BIM. Other contributions veer to the wholly imaginary, be they spatial exercises, hypothetical futures, or even just doodles. I’m not sure how many of the book’s contributors come from the generation of Moses and me (I’m guessing some are older but only a few are younger), but one of them is an old classmate. Dwayne Oyler, of Oyler Wu Collaborative, continues to fill sketchbooks with perspective drawings that are “like traveling through different worlds,” in Moses’s words. Though they are not direct steps in the production of buildings, his drawings (best seen on Instagram) inform the studio’s complex designs that are equal parts manual and digital. If anything, Moses’s book is a clear case for this balance: “hand drawing,” she writes, “richly complements the work of the computer.”
Nalina Moses is an architect and writer in New York City. Her writing on art, architecture and design has appeared both in print and online.