Sketching during the design process | Liesbeth van der Pol

Liesbeth van der Pol, architect and owner of Dok architecten, located in Amsterdam, talked to us about the way she and her firm make use of sketching during the design process. In the interview she explains the advantages and disadvantages of sketching and why students should sketch more.

Liesbeth manages a firm of around 20 architects. The employees use computer and hand techniques parallel to each other, which is quite extraordinary. At the start of a design process, the whole firm comes together to draw from architects and interns to the administrative employees, they all take part in these interactive workshops. Liesbeth explains Dok held a workshop just the day before: they brainstormed about combining sustainable solutions with the Amsterdam School style. This workshop raised countless questions, for instance: what does combining these elements mean for a design? What does the combination mean for a façade? These questions were answered in various hand drawn sketches.

Liesbeth’s passion for drawing and painting started at the beginning of her architecture studies. According to her, anyone who chooses to study Architecture has the insight to create something with their hands, including herself. The form, however, varies: it can be painting, drawing or even model making. Architects or architecture students are more makers and creators than they are writers, she explains. When Liesbeth was a student, there were a lot of teachers and supervisors who were very good in the field of form studies. There, she learned how to draw, to watercolour, to take photos and videos. She feels blessed to have had these great teachers, since they initiated her passion for drawing by hand.

There are a lot of advantages in learning to draw, says Liesbeth. Drawing and painting frequently keeps the depression and stress away. It is a relaxing activity, because the process takes time. By adding colouring, you make sure it takes even more time, making you look at your painting longer and also think about it longer. “Now, you have the time to assess your own work of art. Whether you like it or not, make sure to finish it, and have a good look at it: it gives a feeling of peace. Is it still not what you want? Start with something new”, she says. Liesbeth also advises not to be afraid to draw in the middle of a fresh piece of paper instead of making small sketches in the corners: “Dare to draw!”

Of course there are also disadvantages; you need materials. Liesbeth showed us which materials she has lying on her desk, like pencils, brushes, markers and acquarel paint. She holds onto all of her drawings. After a few years of using hand techniques you’ll have over 300 drawings lying around. “You do not throw a drawing away as easily as a document on your computer”, she explains.

Liesbeth is proud of all of the buildings she has designed or worked on, especially when she feels like she can walk away from the final construction knowing that the building can ‘take care of itself’. That the building has its own characteristics. This feeling also gives her a sense of pride. Liesbeth explains she is also proud when looking around her firm, especially when she sees that interns who had only been using the computer at the beginning of their internship, leave the firm having (re)discovered their passion for design by using hand techniques.

In Liesbeth opinion it’s very sad that students are not encouraged to use hand techniques parallel to designing in computer programs while studying. It seems to her like hand techniques don’t really matter anymore in current education. As an example she tells about her time at the university; how she presented with only sheets of paper during her studies. Starting with an A5, she worked her way up to an A0 size paper. Everything drawn by hand, she presented the end result on that A0.

Although she did this at the university, she also says it doesn’t always work like that in reality. She refers to a recent submission set of hand-drawn details. The handmade drawings were not accepted by the municipality. There was a discussion because everything on there (materials, types, patterns, …) was correct. The only reason these drawings weren’t accepted, or even taken seriously, was because they were hand-drawn. But of course, hand-drawn designs can be perfect as well.

Designing on a computer can make you feel safe. On a computer, you can rummage around. Liesbeth advises to split your desk in two sides: one side for a computer, the other with a nice view to gain some inspiration, where you have the space to draw. She said that drawing does not have to take much time. “It doesn’t even have to take a minute.” Drawings keep inspiring you, even by just laying around after you have ‘rejected’ them, in contrast to working on your computer, where ‘deleted’ is really ‘deleted’. “All students’ heads are full of inspiration. You do not express it nearly as easily with the computer as you do with the pen.”

A tip to make hand techniques easier to start with: “Keep it simple. For instance, you only need three brushes to start aquarelles”, while holding up her brushes. “Lay all your materials out on your desk, like you would place your computer mouse on your desk as well”, she concludes.

“There are no ugly drawings. You really need to draw by hand to create something in a relaxed way!”