Text & Visuals | Iftikhar Azam

Issue 55

The Creative Process: What is a creative process and how does a creation create? So many questions fill one’s mind. Does the hand of the Master guide the servant? How does one imagine what there is not? How does one imagine the final form before the first brick is laid or the first batch of concrete is poured? To know what it will be before it ever is, is it a gift? An architect doesn’t build but he knows what it will be like after it is complete. He is a painter who paints through others. One wonders if this struggle is part human and part divine. Is it man’s struggle to be more than a mortal or is it his innate desire to reconnect with his Master? Is design a journey of self-discovery or is it the search to touch the divine? As the concept exists in an ethereal state and needs to be communicated to become a physical reality, a sketch becomes the first manifestation of the idea. Sometimes when a mistake is made while drawing these ideas and these wonderful blemishes lead to even further innovations and one wonders if these were mistakes at all? Some of the great architects of our time were very accomplished artists. We have the most well-known example of Zaha Hadid whose paintings were so profound that many found it difficult to even accept her as an architect beyond an artist genius. Obviously, she proved many of us wrong. Great conceptual architects like Lebbeus Woods also had an incredible array of conceptual drawings that created a body of work worth being displayed in a museum. Every sketch is an idea and every stroke of pen is a concept received and communicated: Maritime Square, Karachi, Pakistan. Architect’s Drawing and Artistic Expressions: On a fundamental level sketch is a tool for communication. It is the language of design. Hence, I find it interesting to note that renderings done by architects as opposed to those done by visual artists are quite different. The artists usually get a feel for the building and draws a “picture” that represents his or her perception of the object. An architect on the other hand is usually concerned about conveying the concept behind the design and concerns himself with the construction and materiality. The way an architect draws is remarkably similar to the way the building is actually built. He draws layers of edifice as it may actually be built. First comes the structure, then the skin and then the final color and texture. While drawing a sketch I sometimes get too hooked on these details. There are details that I draw as an architect that a visual artist would see no reason to draw as they are not even visible. However, drawing these details are important as for me renderings are a design and not presentation tool. Materiality plays a big role in these drawings. If one draws an elegant cantilevered slab projecting forty feet, then simultaneously he is thinking that this will have to be in steel construction as concrete will be a very different proportion. There is no doubt that these sketches help in communicating an overarching idea but that is not the only purpose of drawing. Hence one can summarize by saying that the artistic expression deals with the human perception of the structure while the architectural renderings are the language of the building itself. Reality Before Reality: Any rendering helps one see what does not exist; in this way it is a window into what the future might reveal. If you draw a rendering and you do not like it then it shows that there is something wrong with the design. Meaning you have more work to do. The honest rendering does not lie.

Another aspect of architectural drawing is its environment. What you imagine the place to be when it’s built and in use. How you see it landscaped; how the public and vehicular movement will happen in and around the structures and how busy or serene you would like to see it. You may want a rendering that is very noisy and colorful or another one that has serenity and silence. Over the years I had an opportunity to observe many wonderful renderers very closely. There were people like Rael Slutsky in Chicago who worked on drawings as if each rendering is a piece of art. Then there was a senior associate of Lohan Associate who drew so meticulously that you could see each window detail in the drawing. He was a senior architect who eventually gave up practicing architecture and strictly became a renderer. Then there were people like Robert Kaminsky in Ellerbe Becket offices in Los Angeles who could draw conceptual options at an amazing pace. All of them are wonderfully talented individuals. Talent to imagine, construct and communicate. It is a fantastic power of imagination. It’s also interesting to note that when the designer of a project is different from the person actually drawing the renderings there is a definite need of strong chemistry between them. One has to understand what the other’s intention is and then translate it into a tangible visual expression. This liquid current of thought must carry from one mind to the other. There is something special about it. How do you catch hold of an idea and then turn it into an image that a large group can appreciate and understand.

Light and Landscape:
As in a real building, light plays an important role in a rendering. You can emphasize an aspect of design by highlighting a design element and or make it fade with softer light. The renderer communicates his own emotions as well as the character of a building. I find some renderings more cheerful than others while others are somber. The aspect of light is twofold. One side of the light effect is the intensity of color and shade on the building façade while the other is the effect on the environment. The physical representation of sun and moon can add a romance to the rendering also. All these elements along with the trees and foliage can help create some aspects of the building design such as emphasize axiality or monumentality. An entrance can be focused upon by the introduction of colorful flower beds or a space can be defined by a row of palm trees in a geometric fashion. Interior renderings are more challenging as the light may come from multiple sources. The cumulative affect can be quite difficult to capture but offers opportunities for a dramatic impact.


Technology and Dinosaurs:
Most people feel that technology has made hand drawn renderings a craft of the past.

People like me are now the dinosaurs from the yester years. But, I feel, it is very similar to what happened to painters and paintings after the advent of the camera. The renderings, like paintings, are becoming more artistic in their expression. Computerized renderings are closer to reality but don’t necessarily communicate the concept in their essence. When you are drawing a sketch, you can emphasize the conceptual bearing of design. It is the difference between a photograph and a painting. In a painting you can do things that photo reality does not allow you to do. We see that even the computer rendering software is trying to make the renderings “softer” and less perfect and more human. It is a struggle; first you try to make your drawings perfect and as photo realistic as possible and then you try to add blemishes to it. In older days we used to add blemishes to our renderings too. Nature is perfect with its imperfections.

I have experimented with many different media. When in a hurry we use sketch paper and pen and ink. The most skillful of this medium that I have seen is Helmut Jahn. His ability to draw hundreds of sketches in a very short period of time was quite mesmerizing. The other technique we used a lot is marker on blueprint. But this usually turned into a mixed media as we would put pastel effects and add tempra highlights. Tempra is opaque and markers are transparent, so the highlights start to sparkle on the drawing sheet. It is interesting because it makes the image more complete by adding blemishes to it. When one would have time and can draw without a timeline, color pencils on greyboards are very enjoyable. This is a very time-consuming process and offers minimal tolerance for mistakes. All these techniques offer a variety of exciting options and are great fun to work with. With the latest softwares and powerful computers it is also quite interesting to mix the hand drawn renderings with computer manipulated affects, the result is usually quite unique and interesting.

Rendering and drawing has always been an architectural design tool and a communication device. From the age of early European Renaissance, perspectives have been an integral part of design. Interestingly the device has not only been a way to document design but has actually affected design in numerous ways over the centuries. With the advent of computers and the computer generated 3-D modeling the architect’s ability to visualize forms and shapes has touched new heights. Today architects are not only designing forms and spaces that seemed unimaginable before but also have the ability to convert these shapes into workable construct-able formats. So far, the human hand and mind has controlled the design approach and its physical reality until the day that Artificial Intelligence brings a new set of rules.

“I’m not interested in living in a fantasy world. All my work is still meant to evoke real architectural spaces. But what interests me is what the world would be like if we were free of conventional limits. Maybe I can show what could happen if we lived by a different set of rules.” – Lebbus Woods

Iftikhar Azam is a prolific designer based in Pakistan. He has a master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Houston and his career spans over three decades in United States and Pakistan.

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