The Language of Architecture: Sketch, Model, Draft

How does your architect speak to you?

I see space in my head long before it’s built. I see every surface, how it feels to be there and even how the light is going to fall.

But this vision does me no good unless I am able to communicate it to builders, craftspeople and most especially my client.

There are many ways to communicate visually and like artists, every architect has his or her style. I tap into a variety of methods, none of which are too precious or life-like. I believe that a client’s own imagination used to fill in the gaps of a loose sketch will often render a more compelling story than if I were to present a photo-realistic model.

Testing my own ideas along the way turns out to be the primary reason for drawing and modeling and produces the most interesting results.

In the beginning, during the discovery phase I typically get my colors out and connect with the site and the people through gestural sketches and adjacency diagrams. These don’t usually get me very far in solving complexities but oddly, at the end of most projects, these first instincts are what remain.

Often my exploration begins with black-and-white massing models which can resolve basic forms and volumes of space. Although typically an unpolished presentation, I always allow my clients into my process in this way. It helps us both bring the big picture into focus and easily compare ideas.

Sectional sketches are some of the earliest drawings I play with to understand the spatial connections and how the light enters the space. I might present these on trace paper or right out of my sketch book.

Along the way, I usually find opportunities to present some hand sketches with color.  Every project presents its own style and I try to convey this with the type of presentation methods that I use.  Sometimes it needs to be quick and dirty and other times it more refined but it always conveys the special quality of the project and the people involved.


As things begin to develop in a certain direction, I might return to the model and bring in some simple value and color. I zoom into certain spaces to capture the user experience. The model remains very gestural; just enough to get clients excited about the possibilities and enough to prove to myself that it will work.

Photography is almost always used throughout the design phase. Images are sometimes the only way to convey the desired mood, product, or spatial relationship. I may start with an initial mood board, incorporate photos into a PowerPoint, or even just present a single photo for reference.

Depending on the client, we might share a Pinterest board.  Some clients can get overwhelmed with too much visual information, so I research and edit and present only the most important applicable ideas.

As the project develops, so do the presentation methods. Models become more refined. Rather than simply picking a 3D image from a model and printing it, I will sometimes invite the clients on a digital walkthrough or flyby. The experience becomes more fluid and interactive, spaces are tested from different angles.

The project becomes more refined and the drawings become more informative. These “nitty gritty”, black and white, scaled drawings are almost always a part of the client presentation.  They are beautiful and full of information.

As the project evolves, I like to assemble a materials board with vendor’s samples. There is nothing quite like touching and feeling the real thing.

When all other presentation methods fail, and a client is still having a hard time seeing what I see…there are always grandiose hand gestures and animated storytelling; I try to not rely too heavily on those, but they certainly come in handy.

When an architect is speaking clearly, pictures will likely outnumber words.

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