The Complete Architectural Drawing Learning Journey
Let’s talk about the learning journey for architectural drawing.
This is a very important topic as I think we need to take the mystery out of the whole process and make it as clear as possible that you can do it!
You can start from zero experience in architecture and drawing and get to the level where you can get in pretty much all the architecture universities in the world.
Moreover, if you are an architect and missed out on this critical part of your education – it is fine… you can still get the skills you always wanted (both freehand and technical) and get where you want to get with your career, portfolio and overall skill set.
1. Learning architectural drawing = architectural pre-university education.
So it counts as something you would learn in your late teenage years before you go to architecture school.
You would think yeah, but why isn’t this taught in any highschool/college out there?
Well, architectural drawing, in theory, died out because there is no one left out there to teach it. Think about it, the tutors that knew this stuff are all probably in their 80s and 90s because of the way the world has changed. You see, in the 1980’s something came about that shook the architecture world and that was the personal computers.
So you basically had the beginnings of the downfall of architectural drawing. Why? Computer-aided design has a much more comfortable learning curve which makes it easy to pick up, and you know how the world works. Learn CAD in 4 weeks from zero and that will get you through architecture school… but it will never build up your unique vision as an architect.
Architectural drawing might take you 6 to 12 months to master properly, but once you are there, YOU ARE THERE.
2. Architectural visual illiteracy.
Would you trust an illiterate person to write an essay? Let’s say they got this app that can do the writing for them. All good.
Would the end result be an essay, or a novel or anything that has architectural value?
Of course not, it would most likely be something that either is a complete mess or is mediocre and has zero chances to grow into something better. (so you don’t have the excuse that I will do 3-4 of these app-aided essays and will get better at the skill). Nope, the person doing this is stuck and will forever stay stuck ignoring the perversion of the principle (writing an essay without knowing how to write, that goes against the nature of the craft).
In a similar way, would you design something if you cannot draw it? Zero chance.
You will maybe trick some people, perhaps some will sense the lack of skill set – but at the end of the day, you will most likely fall in the trap of mediocrity.
Like Brancusi said ‘You need to draw something until you really see it’s like Frank Gehry said ”95% of everything built out there is complete sh*t”
Sad but true, but that is beside the point.
Visual illiteracy will keep biting you by the arse in your career, no matter how hard you try to hide it – be it when sketching in front of clients, or not being able to understand why a perspective looks the way it does, etc.
3. Irecuperable creative biases.
Your mind is either too logical and strict or too creative and chaotic. Learning architectural drawing has one of the roles of equalising everything out – if you are too rational, then you will become more creative and can break free from these patterns and be creative.
Come on, if you are an architect – you remember architecture school when you couldn’t keep up with the artist types?
They had that artistic free flow about them. Like they could come up with ideas on the spot, their design work would always stand out, from the crowd etc.
While you were working more and getting mediocre results, this is why that happened.
If you are an artistic type, architectural drawing will ground you in your ideas. This is mostly because of technical drawing, which is logical, straightforward and grows the problem-solving part of your brain.
Ever had 1000 ideas – all good, but never managed to push through any of them and get the end design that you know you could create. I mean, you saw all the nerd work, and they made it – but you had far better ideas, yet somehow you couldn’t get there.
Makes sense? This is how you win with architecture – by mastering drawing and building yourself from the inside out.
The 3 Areas of Architectural Drawing
There are three subjects of architectural drawing that you will need to get familiar with, learn, feel and then master.
These three topics work together, and when you get all three, you are free to flow from one to the other at will, and then you can choose the one that you like most and become a rockstar at that.
In theory, students seem to just want to choose between freehand and technical according to their personal biases.
Everybody loves to design and would just like to go for designing the ideas – but as stated previously, if you do not know both freehand and technical, that would not be such a good idea.
You earn the right to design by first being able to draw the thing, and then you start exploring your own inner vision with design.
Let’s go through the definitions of the three areas of architectural drawing:
- really artistic and helpful for your career as an architect
- builds up most of your unique vision on architecture
- extremely creatively juicy when done right
- with a lot of subtlelties and a difficult learning curve
- it doesn’t make sense some of the times, which can be very frunstrating
- you need to feel it, which again is hard to understand
- gets you architecturally smart like nothing else
- makes you build up a logical, problem solving approach that gets you stability
- builds up spatial vision, essential skill for speed in drawing
- it is very strict and sometimes boxes you in
- 95% is always the same, the 5% that is from descriptive geometry is extremely complicated to master
- it can get repetitive – everything eventually becomes either a triple projection or an axonometric
- builds up on your drawing skills, so you got infinite creativity
- you get your unique vision in architecture, guaranteed
- it is fun and a really good exercise to see creativity unfold in front of you
- sometimes drawing really well doesn’t automatically mean a good idea or concept
- architectural drawing gets you ideas that are not detailed
- you need to spend a lot of time to see them through towards building standard level
How Your Brain Works
This is the general theory of how your brain works – this is pretty much the best information and wisdom you could find out there about understanding who you are and where you can take your natural potential with learning and architecture and architectural drawing.
Learning this stuff will also make it crystal clear where your natural talents in architecture are and how to push for them.
You Got 3 Brains in 1:
• Physical – translates into taking action, ending in literal skills that you get. You grow your skills by living them, by repeating them and striving to become better, skills cannot be faked.
• Emotional – the inspiration, sensitivity part of drawing. Although you might think that emotion is very important because it is drawing, hence art. Nope, architecture has its own take on things. Even the good ideas, they are not that emotional. Even the sensitive good ideas, again not that emotional – the quality comes from somewhere else.
• Intellectual – Abstract conceptualisation. Your mind can imagine things that do not exist yet, brainstorm ideas, go into a lot of detailing with this and then focus on making it a reality. This is how you need to live your life, optimising the way your brain works.
These ideas are significant, so note them down and contemplate on them after. You do not want to go into the artistic part of architecture just guessing, this will help you make sense of the chaos that will inevitably come your way!
The 8 Topics of Study
It is really important to have a clear plan of action, what do you need to know, so you do not spin around in circles.
When I learned this stuff, probably 15 years ago – it was mostly hit and miss. You would draw hoping you would get better’.
Let me say that again – you would draw just like a machine, without any goal in mind, without knowing how the things connect, hoping that your efforts will make you 0.1% better.
That was really bad – I remember this time I couldn’t sleep because I wanted to finish a chairs assignment, I spent an extra two hours on the chairs, the second day I got an F because there was a perspective mistake. There’s no wining at this!
You could imagine that when I created an architecture course and started teaching this stuff, something like that would never happen – all my lessons would be sniper rifle precision and get you to upgrade after upgrade in drawing.
Take notes with this stuff, even if you stop reading here, then you got your time’s value – just knowing this will help you get a clear action plan and then you can learn this stuff for yourself or at least improve on the things that are completely missing from your arsenal
These are the most important topics of architectural drawing
1. Houses and Buildings
Here is where we will be studying buildings starting mostly from the principles of constructed perspective
You will get the fundamentals of contemporary architectural visual language
By using both technical abilities and freehand sketching as well as constructed perspective, you will draw and design specific topics
2. Compositions and Conceptual
This is the weird part of architectural drawing where you develope your architect’s sixth sense. Composition can be more towards common sense principles while conceptual compositions focus on building up a creative architectural narrative.
3. Architecture History
You need to understand the logical evolution of architecture, as it relates as a phenomenon linked to the evolution of the human race.
The most important shift here is between classical and modernist architecture – you need to be able to draw and understand both.
This is where you learn to just come up with ideas on the spot and make them look good. There is no way to get good at this except you tanking sketching as well as you can – go and sketch dozens of different elements in the same category: cars, row housing, modernist offices and so on. This will buid up the flow of ideas.
This means basically you doing all technical drawing possible as well as descriptive geometry.
You need to master the triple projection, the axonometric drawing in terms of being able to produce work. But after that comes the problem-solving aspect, which is the most crucial part of technical drawing and the hardest to get.
6. Product Design
For product design, it’s a matter of being able to freehand draw ordinary day to day objects as well as understand materials very well.
Let me be clear about this, the better your material graphics are, the better your graphics of product design will be.
To really understand materials, you need to practice different exotic materials as well as architectural materials (wood, stone, glass, plastic)
7. Urban and Landscape Design
For urban and landscape design, you need to master the large scale plan, be it in precise technical drawing, or in a quick sketch. This large scale implies less graphics and more on the principles of urban design, which you need to express in all your drawings and design.
It isn’t enough to just draw urban design like you would architecture; it needs to have that specific feel to it.
Landscape design is all about soft and hard landscapes – knowing your trees and shrubs is essential to get this right, so you can then adapt to the assignments at hand.
8. Interior Design
The one-point perspective is key for feeling interior space as it describes it best – with three adjacent walls together. You need a decent amount of visual culture in order to get the feel right for interior design. As all drawing types, they have a strong design element to them – if you mess up dimensions, for instance, then the whole drawing will look off. Quite a few elements to juggle to get this one right.
4 Principles of Architectural Drawing
These are the general concepts behind getting good at architectural drawing. Arch drawing is a skill, so it’s not about theory but rather applying the theory and taking things from there – you can never 100% organise it, it will always have a sporadic and random side. Regardless, the principles that work 100% are as follows:
1. Architectural drawing is 80% line drawing – this means you can in theory just hand it line drawing level drawings and still get good results. Focus on having all the lines
2. Go through each assignment you want to study all teh way to the end. There is that tendancy to stop when you hit a mental roadbloack – ignora that, push through it and you will be fine
3. Four step formula for mastering freehand drawing. This is quite important and will get you that consistency so you can draw anything you want. You can read more about it my article on line drawing here.
4. Do not have a favorite topic or style. If you create all sorts of categories in your mind, this will pull you back in the free flow of things. You are much better off
Case studies – how my students got really good with architectural drawing
Here are three case studies of my students’ evolution with architectural drawing. This will show you the possible path you can take to get good, even if you are starting with zero and just a plan for yourself. And there will be a couple of struggles that if you feel you can relate to each of the stereotypes… these will be common between you and them.
Which is fine – it is the way things always worked when learning this stuff and it will get you the clarity to push forward when things get intense.
I recommend you go watch the video lecture as you can see the concepts explained there in a more detailed approach. Again, if you find any idea here to be useful to you, then note it down and think about it – chances are you found a very important insight that will help you along the journey to mastery.
The 3 Student Stereotypes
Logical – Farah
The logical people are mostly technical-oriented, so this means that technical drawing comes 100% natural to you – even if there are still a couple of difficulties with problem-solving (that 5-95% principle we talked about in technical drawing and descriptive geometry)
Remember, the 95% that is common to all drawings will come of ease to you and it will very simple for you to express it – it is just a matter of being able to draw the thing correctly – be it with correct graphics, correct measurements, the triple projection and the axonometric matching etc.
This comes natural to you (it won’t for more artistic people) – hence you will naturally progress in technical really fast – both because of your speed and because of your natural curiosity to draw something ‘the proper way’, to understand it.
The difficulties will come to haunt you when dealing with freehand drawing – here you will struggle with freehand drawing mostly, as you will be tempted to draw freehand like you would technical, as a flat, correct object – instead of something that is expressive architecturally.
This is where you need to try to reprogramme your brain so it produces the correct output, that of being creative.
Emotional – Ovidia
If you are emotional, artistic – you will have a lot of really creative thoughts and feelings that you want to express through architectural drawing.
Naturally, this will push you towards freehand drawing – which yes, although isn’t 100% meant ot be an artistic expression – it is a natural outlet for creativity and emotion.
Although, there is the risk of some of your ideas to not make sense yet (no worries, that is because you need more architectural education to be able to fully articulate them), you will get genuine enjoyment and consistent succes from all the creative parts of architectural drawing.
The problem comes when you need to do technical – that is where you will have consistent trouble because of your brain not being wired to think like this. You will see that your emotional self will come out and block you from taking things in the right direction with technical.
You can educate yourself to get good at this however, you only need to understand that technical makes is just about problem solving and not an end game in itself. It needs to get somewhere, but it does not imply you expressing your personality as much, but rather you solving something.
Ballanced – Marina
If you are like this, it means you have no inherent cognitive biases going on, but the troubles just started.
If you ware like this it means you cannot retrat to any area of architectural drawing and say it is ‘your thing’. This makes the ‘you are as good as your last drawing’ thing bite twice as hard. There is basically no way around it – you have to keep pushing forward to improve your drawing style and be able to keep a sane mind while you are at it.
Freehand and technical seem like two different worlds, when you are beginner to intermediate with arch drawing, hence you need to make the extra effort to keep things flowing together and switch the two parts on and off.
Remember though – at the end of the day freehand is much more important than technical, as it translates more towards building up your own unique vision on architecture.
The learning journey towards mastery.
We talked about the theory, the big ideas of how the learning process of drawing works, now it’s time to organise and acction plan that you need to stick to.
Going back to what I said previously, we need to study un in a rotation system where we draw technical, freehand and design… but as a complete beginner you need to start with a solid foundation of freehand and technical and shift towards designing after.
Learning this will definitely not be a quick fix, but that is 100% alright – the learnings and personal growth you will get from all this will stick with you for the rest of your career and help you upgrade everything you ever thought possible about architecture, graphics, concept work and so on.
Inner game – how to organise your study time and get consistent results with your studies.
A systematic approach to drawing will get you result in consistent growth for all of your skills (even the ones you find impossible to understand right now)
This works because it puts the effort on autopilot, hence it is not difficult anymore to organise yourself – you become a drawing success machine.
Just like joining the gym but far more rewarding and productive for you long-term.
So your study time needs to be around 2 hours/day for 5 days a week. This sums up to 10 hours of study time per week and around two finishe assignments per week (one technical and one freehand). Note this down if you plan to start learning architectural drawing, this is the staple.
Go get a year planner or a calendar and tick off the days you spent studying – this will make you feel your drawing journey as something real… until you build up your momentum. After that, it;s game over – you can rock arch drawing and you are all set.
Full Video Lecture Ready
I added the full lecture on the path to mastering architectural drawing so you can see for yourself the logical steps and the transition toward achieving long lasting skills in this wonderful area of architecture. I recommend you note down all ideas from the video that seem interesting to you and also brainstorm your own plan of action on how to master arch drawing once and for all!