When I were a lad…

19 May 2023

In an age where architects are tied to extensive lead designer duties which include clash detection, document controlling and BIM using a vast array of complicated software, it is hard to imagine how things were done ‘back in the day’. I have written this article as I am, sadly, of a certain age where I do remember (just)…

Producing a drawing involved actually drawing on tracing paper taped to an A0 drawing board. Pretty much everyone had their own ‘art box’ of drafting materials which included an assortment of rotring pens, ink, scale ruler, putty rubber, compasses (with an extension bar for those big circles), a set of french curves (look it up), letter stencils to write with and, last but not least, a pack of razor blades to scratch off the ink on the tracing paper! One of the nicest things about drawing by hand was that everyone had their own unique style of drafting and way of communicating information.

Computers were in their infancy and 3D renders did not exist in the way in which they do now. Tippex was the photoshop of the day, and rendered drawings were done either with watercolour paint or pantone pens on hand drawn 2-point perspective images.

Today, issuing a drawing is more about exporting a .pdf and uploading to the cloud, but in the 1980s it was all about the ammonia printer. Tracing paper originals were placed on light sensitive phosphorescent sheets and passed through a UV light source, followed by exposure to ammonia which made a readable print. Because the base sheets were light sensitive, printers were generally in dark, poorly ventilated rooms. Ammonia gas was suffocating, made your eyes water and gave you headaches, so printing was done in manageable batches with fresh air breaks!

In almost every way, CAD has surpassed drawing by hand, except for one. CAD has definitely improved the ability to co-ordinate, render, draw in 3D, detect clashes – the list goes on, but the ability to sketch out a detail on site or hand draw a concept design is definitely being lost and, along with that, is the mental processes associated with putting pen to paper. This physical act does, in my opinion, contribute to developing and communicating an idea. It’s a bit like the difference between an email and picking up the phone. Drawn or verbal communication was, and will always be, a human thing which other people resonate more with.

Sometimes, there is no school like the old school.

Article written by

Martin Bransby