Morpholio Trace’s Joey Swerdlin and architect Jim Keen have teamed up to discuss the art of illustration in architecture and how it impacts the communication of design to our peers, clients and ultimately the public.
With the inundation of photo-realistic representations of architecture, it seems that far too often we lose focus on what is important in design and what needs to be conveyed at the early phases of a project. “These high fidelity images lend credibility to a project vision, but draw more attention to surfaces and details when the argument should be forming around space, place, and use,” said Joey Swerdlin, Morpholio community director. It would not surprise many in our field that when asked, several architects admitted spending more time representing their work than actually designing it. There has always been a fine line between process and presentation, one feeding the other, but have we gone too far? Have we forgotten some of the most powerful tools in our storytelling arsenal and how they operate to filter and convey meaning?
Jim Keen would say yes to this proposition. A seasoned architect with an extensive portfolio of built work, Keen ultimately turned his focus back toward illustration, where he finds the most satisfaction. His professional experience provided insight on the delicacy required to communicate a persuasive yet open-ended view of a space or project. According to Jim, “Today, computer renderings have lost their impact, leading the client to obsess over carpet colors or door handles meanwhile losing sight of the overall design. Hand drawings and sketches return the conversation to the design of space by focusing on architecture, form, and people.”
Morpholio, a software company founded by architects, seeks to create tools that bridge the gap between the vitality of hand drawing and the intelligence of digital workflows. Jim’s work provides a fascinating case study for such experimentation and is a telling example of the desires that have shaped one of their most widely used apps, Trace Pro. The app replicates trace paper and the tools architects use to sketch, draft, and render. This new kind of interface for design is something in which Keen finds not only creative comfort, but also artistic freedom. “When I work through a design illustration with a client, I need software that ‘disappears’ and allows me to concentrate completely on the work.”
Keen’s work powerfully demonstrates that the act of illustration by hand can return the focus to that which should be central in architectural communication by editing out extraneous details, especially in the early concept phase. The diagrammatic nature of the images seems to leave room for evolution, and interpretation, thereby encouraging concepts to be further probed for new and perhaps even more novel possibilities. With the gift of the touchscreen, architects would be crazy not to find ways to integrate analog and digital methods of designing, taking advantage of the intuition and delight that working by hand is known to amplify. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to advance a discipline and language that was honed for centuries into the next era of style, culture, and craft. Reincorporating the hand drawing into a seamless digital workflow is fundamental for the post-digital architect, something that Jim Keen has found by drawing in Trace.