By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Drawing on the experiences of life help create better work

If you cannot draw you cannot make architecture. When I was 15 years old I decided that I wanted to learn to draw and learn about the history of stage design.

I enrolled for evening classes at the local art school, and duly turned up for my first classes.

For theatre design I was confronted by a gentleman called Osborne Robinson. In his middle years he had been a stage designer at the Old Vic and latterly retreated to the Northampton Repertory Theatre. He was, in himself, utterly theatrical. He had never shaved in his life and had a silky, soft and wispy beard, capable of being moved by the gentlest breezes. Large, loud checked suits which predated George Melly were the least of his extravagances.

His advice to me was that if you see something you love, buy it, even if you are desperately short of money.Otherwise you would always regret it, as money can always be found from somewhere, but treasures are rare. On one occasion, when he left for three months to paint a mural in Texas, he asked me to keep an eye on the house. His instruction was simple: 'Do what you like, but for God's sake don't sleep with anyone in the bed, because that 's where I've hidden the Picasso.'

He could remember meeting Ellen Terry and Noel Coward, and peppered his talks and chats with other names from the world of art.

And all the time I was drawing. I was not drawing anything of my own creation but rather a rendering of what others had done.

The quality of the drawing was applauded and, indeed, was important, but equally important was the act of drawing someone else's ideas as a means of understanding them. A close examination of the mechanical contraptions of Brunelleschi was not only a lesson in invention but also a lesson in engineering. All the time I was drawing.

Meanwhile, in my drawing class stood a man of diminutive stature called Henry Bird.

Henry was married to the actress Freda Jackson, a fearsome lady with a penchant for leopard-skin coats. She shouted at him and he, in turn, shouted at his students. My first class consisted of him interrogating me on why I wanted him to teach me drawing. (He was an exquisite draughtsman; sadly he died last year. ) He gave me a brick, told me to draw it and promptly left the room. I proceeded to draw it with all its shadows. On his return he went into a rage and chastised me for destroying the vision with shading, shouting: 'What is wrong with a simple line?' He insisted that I redo the drawing with line only so that I could begin to see the brick and its proportions. I drew that brick for two threehour sessions per week, line only, for three months. Eventually, he admitted that I had mastered the brick and I was allowed to progress onto the tin can. After 18 months it was the nude model. His vision was one of economy of line and discipline. It worked.

Today in the architecture studio the drawing is by and large dead as it lays at the feet of the computer. However, in my experience, the people who do the best 3D work on the computer are the same people that can draw by hand. I used to employ a young architect called Benny O'Looney, who I sadly lost to Grimshaw, but he could draw beautifully. He began to exercise his computer skills in my office and just as he was mastering them, he left.Grimshaw got a good deal. However, I believe his computer renderings are among the best I have seen because he can draw.

Traditional skills are important. In my office we are entering into a post render phase, which I find exciting, but I will continue to paint and draw, and augment them with digital means.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters