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David Goodale Architect, Hand sketch, Study for LAUSD Competition, Flex Academic Building
David Goodale Architect, Sketch, body in the corner of a room
David Goodale Architect, Hotel-Dieu, hand sketch
Yehudi Menuhin, Breathing, the body, sketching, and architecture
David Goodale Architect, Preliminary drawings, watercolor sketch
Iyengar and muscular intellience, Goodale Architecture Planning
Alvar Aalto, hand sktch of building in forest
Wang Shu, Hand sketch, the body, and design method

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NEURO-MUSCULAR COMPUTATION

There's not much data on the extent to which the practice of the hand-made sketch has been eclipsed by machine computation in the early phases of an architectural design problem; but anecdotally, most architectural practices would report a clearly descending curve in exploratory sketches. 

 

This is certainly consistent with the movement of technology in general towards complex robotic layering.  The proven weight of the argument - faster, more data, more options, immediate precision in scale and number - is certainly powerful enough to secure a future of accelerating digital innovation.  Nor is there any longer a comparative contest in beauty or complexity between computer- and hand-generated drawings where it comes to popular representation and presentation.

 

Most architectural schools have embraced this future - (not surprisingly:  the future is their job) -  and any celebration of the hand sketch risks the kind of either/or mis-reading that plagues much current discourse.

 

Yet, arguably, there are critical moments when the hand sketch is, let's say:  profoundly useful, providing early enlightenment into qualitative reasons why Path A may be preferable to fifty other paths.  And it may be so in a way that opens doors for multiple further, keenly-focused explorations.

 

Clearly, the human brain is no match for the computational skills of digital hardware. But, then, the hand sketch - if it is not an idle doodle but a genuine sensual exploration - is not an extension of thinking, but, rather, is a physical experience that employs the full neuro-muscular capacity of the body to breathe, to reach for, to "see" and to understand. 

In this sense, the recording/documenting capabilities of the sketch are incomparable.  The sketch overlays, walks around and combines on the spot in ways that photographs simply cannot.  The camera tells us everything and nothing.  The sketch tells us what we want to know.

 

The sophistication of this neuro-muscular system - what a yogi like BKS Iyengar called cellular intelligence - remains, indeed, more complex than the most advanced computer.  In this complexity is the uncanny ability to leap directly into what a phenomenon or a space "feels like," its haptic qualities - a key destination in the design process that thinking and programming often only end up arriving at as an overlay or an adjustment to data- and option-generation.

 

Alan Watts, among other wise observations, noted that if a centipede had to think about its leg movements, the result would be catastrophic.

The implications of this are both interesting and challenging:  If the physical body is the instrument of the exploratory sketch, then the training and tuning of that instrument is a crucial factor in the production of the work.  That this tuning is different than that of a boxer or a marathon runner is immediately evident, as neither force nor endurance are the objects of the sketching exploration, but rather a haptic sensitivity to the world's encyclopedic qualities. 

 

On the other hand, there may be some kinship with the training of the musician.

 

When one listens to the great violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, a yoga pupil of Iyengar, there are moments that, though he is not a vocalist, you feel like you can hear the music breathing, in and out.  It's unique to his playing, and, arguably, a consequence of his years of practice with Iyengar ("my best violin teacher," per Menuhin).  Might we not seek this living, breathing quality from architecture?

Notably, this kind of practice, whether that of the musician or the draughtsman, is individuated, but it's an individuation that grows not from the ego, but from a sincere bodily dedication to a specific, rule-bound, disciplined exploration.

 

Both historic and contemporary architectural practice reveals this individuating (and humble, dedicated) relationship between the architectural problem, its full-bodied exploration, and its resultant sketch - as in the last two sketches of Alvar Aalto and Wang Shu respectively.