Last fall, architect-designer Michael Graves lamented the current state of architecture in an op-ed for the New York Times. Contemporary architects, he wrote, seem all too willing to realize the “death of drawing” in favor of the unlimited operations offered by computers. Graves, though, just couldn’t imagine a practice without its “most powerful means” of conceptualization and representation: sketching.
Ironically, Graves’s argument reveals more about the preoccupations and worries of the aging architect himself than about current methods for making architecture. Nearly all students and practitioners agree that sketching continues to be critical to the design process. A series of drawing apps, along with the responses to Graves’s article itself, attest to that fact.
A:LOG, a new sketchbook made expressly for architects (and by architects), is the latest of these drawing-centric projects. Developed by three students at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), A:LOG does what no other sketchbook can. According to creators Paul Chan, Richard Angus Duff, and Ebberly Strathairn, the book was designed to solve “architect problems.”
The trio means the time-intensive task of looking up building details, dimensions, and other “stupid facts” that take away from design. A:LOG incorporates this information into a portable drawing-friendly format. The group has launched a Kickstarter to put their prototype into production, and support for the project has proved overwhelming. With 10 days to go, the campaign has already exceeded its $25,000 goal.
Strathairn tells Co.Design that the team came up with the idea after working collaboratively on several projects in and outside the studio. These design challenges exposed a gap between the design work and professional resources, such as technical reference books, that are necessary to fleshing out a project.
The team thought to simplify the entire model. “We set out to create a notebook for ourselves, but that turned into our obsession about creating the best notebook for architects.” They combined a sketchpad with a professional design manual to make the ultimate architecture sketchbook.
“We think it’s rather odd that there aren’t more notebooks tailored to different professions on the market,” Strathairn says. “While we love that Moleskine offers a wide variety of paper and cover choices, the A:LOG really focuses its content for architects and designers toward their specific design needs.”
The A:LOG notebook is split up into two (unequal) parts. The first comprises some 30 pages of useful design information, including building elements and dimensions, technical guidelines, and more. The book’s remaining 130 pages are devoted entirely to sketching, with gridded paper that lets the user sketch to four different scales. The dot grid is open-ended and given over to everything from doodles and form-finding sketches to plans and sections. (Strathairn and his cohorts plan to invite architects, designers, and artists to fill up their own A:LOGs and to host an exhibition displaying the results.)
It’s ironic, given the team’s reverence for drawing, that all three were trained in the first “paperless” architectural school. “We love exploring different digital platforms, but sketching remains a vital part of design,” Straithairn says. “There’s just something about the ease and speed of drawing on paper,” he underscores.
Still, contra-Graves, they’re not inclined to romanticizing or privileging drawing over other design processes. “Whether it’s digital or physical, it doesn’t really matter. It’s more about not trying to hammer in a nail with a screwdriver," Straithairn says.