Mapping and Design Process

How does one begin learning the design process? Start teaching, and you will relearn it in a whole new way! Coming across students with a variety of approaches, intellectual understanding, creativity and methodologies begins to teach the teacher how to teach. Nearly all architects claim to be good designers, because all of us got to where we are today after having been through those grueling studio exercises and years of professional experience. However, those who stay in academics after school form a completely different design vocabulary than those who practice in firms. Needless to say, it’s a process of relearning when a practitioner delves into academics after staying afar for years. Welcome to my world!

One side effect of teaching is that the educator has to read a lot. Fortunately, by this time through your experiences, you have formed a deeper understanding of what you are reading than the time when you read similar content as a student years ago. Hopefully. Reading now is far more eye-opening, inspiring and enticing. Suddenly spending your Saturdays catching up on reading doesn’t feel like a daunting task, but something you’d look forward to.

Mapping and the art of drawing has always been a curious subject to me. As a student I invested some energy into getting inspiration from the processes of mapping and composite drawings. But once you start practicing in the professional world, you normally tend to lose touch with such theoretic approaches. The priorities change, and design process becomes mundane, if I may. I am revisiting the subject now as a “part-time academic”. I just finished reading about “The Fundamental Principles of Analytical Design” in Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte. Not only is it applicable for students in design studios, but for practitioners creating drawings, documenting their work, making presentations, conveying ideas we might say. A great read, for the academic or professional within you. Read it, and let me know what you think.

Architectural Representation

The varied modes of architectural representation have always fascinated me. I have played with watercolor washes, collages, composite drawings, and abstracts in academic work and competitions. Yet when it comes to the office environment, the representation of ideas takes a more literal vocabulary. Few architects practice the “romantic” side of expression of ideas. The same architects who jury the out-of-the-box work of students at universities return to their offices filled with realistic renderings, BIM models and physical models. Other than the sanctuary of competitions, does our profession truly honor the creative means of expression of ideas?

The academic world helps open our imagination to ideas beyond the mundane. In years past, the education system used to teach methods of generating a spatial expression from 2-D drawings. With the technological shift, we now generate visual models of the result first, and later extract the 2-D drawings from the multi-dimensional models. This shift in means of representation has changed the way our minds develop the ideas. Whatever the steps of arriving at the result may have been, the expression of the development of ideas impacts the whole process. If the means of expression were altered, the results will be dissimilar. While we look at a solution and create another iteration, in our sub-cautious mind, we are trying to develop further what we have already drawn; it is a linear progression with few diversions.

This is where the value of composite drawings comes into play. A composite drawing has no beginning or end. It is often unclear whether the plan or the section or the perspective was drawn first. The beauty of such drawing is that similar to a painting, the composite drawing can house multiple layers. Objects may overlap, intersect, or morph, resulting in a spatial condition that you wouldn’t think was possible if you were only drawing in two dimensions or in a 3-D model. If we introduce a foreign factor in the composition, it begins to impact the overall scheme. This disturbance may help arrive at a solution unperceivable by dimensional drawings or even physical models. As one begins to extract information from this composition, one may be selective in what they see, prefer, and choose to discard.


The purpose of drawing thus changes from ‘relay of information’ to interpolation of various suggestions. When viewed, different people envision diverse trajectories of this form of drawing, making perception, preference, and personal understanding a possibility. It can be an invaluable tool especially during the early stages of a project when we are trying to marry our clients’ desires, community input, user interface, and our team’s ideals. More often than not, the client will extrapolate different information from a composite drawing than the architect meant to convey. Hence the difference in opinion and giving the client what he wants, not what the architect wants.

Architectural expression knows no language barriers. One of the best designers I have met can neither speak nor write in English, but his drawings convey his thoughts intelligibly. Architectural expression knows no time restraints. Some of the most beautiful drawings were done in early centuries. Architectural expression is not bound to a place or culture. Architectural expression is a valuable skill that needs to be constantly explored and used, as we develop our ideas, and as we move towards the future ‘yet to be developed’ drawing tools.