Although sketching can be used at all stages of the architectural process, it is most commonly employed at the initial conceptual stages. This is because it is the simplest way to explain complex ideas.
There is no set rule as to the detail of sketches ─ they can be a quick way of trying out ideas, or can be detailed and produced to scale. You can even find software that attempts to recreate the spirit of sketching, such as SketchUp.
The idea is key
Sketching isn’t a test of accuracy or technical skill: it’s about ideas. As it is a loose drawing, you can rework and redirect it to explore different possibilities.
You can create something impossible and surreal, or outline the details of a concept and how it can be applied to a piece of architecture. Once an idea is sketched out on paper, you can start to develop it.
As the name implies, these sketches are created the moment an idea is conceived. They can simply be a doodle that starts the design process.
These are used for examining ideas in detail and are normally part of a series of steps. They may aim to explain why an area or feature is the way it is, or how it will eventually be.
Analytical sketches can depict anything from small spaces to entire cities. Analysis can be in terms of something measurable or a function, and needs to be clear and concise.
Just like artists develop a greater understanding of the human body through life drawing, architects can develop their knowledge of form and structure through observational sketches. For example, they can explore the design of individual components or how different materials are used in conjunction with one another. Some of the best ideas can come from studying something that already exists.
Sketchbooks: idea collections
Sketchbooks display collections of ideas and design narratives – different journeys of exploration and understanding. They contain a combination of visual notes developed through observation (how buildings are) and theoretical ideas (why buildings are).
They are used in conjunction with computers when communicating architectural ideas. For example, concept sketches are then drawn to scale on a computer, analysed and redesigned through the sketchbook, and finally developed digitally as a finished proposal. The two tools represent the different skills needed for architecture: the imagination of the sketchbook combined with the precision of the computer.
Source: Farrelly, Lorraine. The Fundamentals of Architecture. 2nd ed. AVA Publishing SA, 2012