Design, By Hand

 In Design

In our last post “Digital + Design”, we discussed the benefits of retaining hand produced methods in the design process, and integrating those steps alongside the digital.  Balancing the immediacy and communicative power of a manual approach, with the efficiency and precision of digital technology, leads to a deeper understanding between architect and client in their co-creation of a space.  So, what does this process look like?

Conceptual Sketching:
Sketching offers a fluid way to explore a design’s intention with bold, abstract forms.  Hand-drawn sketches, and loosely assembled rudimentary models, transform inchoate ideas into tactile forms.


In exploring a design, any concept can serve as a catalyst.  What is the purpose of the space, and what metaphors, associations, and inspirations come to mind when describing that purpose? For this home, located in a copse of tall trees, the metaphor of a cluster of mushrooms appeared early on – not as a literal inspiration, but as a way of describing a home meant to serve as a safe retreat.  In these images pencil strokes, colors, shapes, and materials are used to describe the broader concept of being enveloped and protected — of a sanctuary, under layers and in the shadows, blending the home into the existing ecosystem.


From those embryonic sketches, the concept is reiterated and examined with layers of tracing paper.  Every design has a story: these layers reflect the narrative and trajectory of the design, in a way that speaks to its intent.  The immediacy of hand drawn sketches grants flexibility and encourages a constant dialogue.  The purpose and functionality of the space comes into closer focus with this reiterative process.


From a purely interpretative model assemblage, to a refined model to scale, a physical model allows for consideration of geometry and function in a way that a 2-D image cannot.  In its final state, the model is considered in relationship to the landscape, the contours of the land and trees.  The initial concept is further reinforced by the decision to nestle the bulk of the building into the environment, underneath existing trees, integrating it seamlessly and with minimal impact.


While digital technology offers options in imitation of these methods, there remains something irreplaceable in the character of a hand drawn sketch, or hand assembled model.  That quality cuts to the core of the design process: communication.  Through these methods dialogue and creativity remain open and flowing, generating a harmonious process and ultimately, a functional and rewarding design.

Gettliffe Architecture is a Boulder, Colorado architecture firm offering green design services from straw-bale homes to eco lodges around the globe. We believe that beautiful modern architectural design begins with careful consideration of earth, culture and community. Working with your ideas and vision, our team of green architects brings inspiring spaces to life that are kind to the planet and a pleasure to be in.

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