Rendering The Complexity Of Tokyo By Hand

Just navigating Tokyo’s dizzying Shinjuku Station is a challenge. Drawing it is even harder.

For as long as rendering software like AutoCAD has existed, architects have debated the merits of computer-aided design over the tradition of drawing by hand.


Lucky for us, Japanese architect Tomoyuki Tanaka is firmly in the latter camp. His stunningly intricate sketches of train stations, shopping complexes, and large-scale public spaces are made all the more impressive when you consider that they were painstakingly done by hand.

Tanaka says that while he does use CAD and CGRendering programs for architectural design, he still sketches by hand during his design process or when presenting for clients. Over the years, he’s developed a reputation in Tokyo for being a master draftsman, particularly when it comes to train stations (an area of study he has focused on during his career).

In 2005, he created a drawing called Dismantling of Shinjuku Station for a Japanese train magazine–a drawing that captured, in exquisite detail, the train station’s 36 platforms, 200 exits, and many intricately-connected hallways. Now, the rendering is being featured in the Tokyo gallery 21_21 Design Sight’s new exhibition, Doboku: Civil Engineering.

Whether he is drawing a train station or another large-scale public space, Tanaka says his process always starts out the same. He draws a draft of the basic layout with a pencil, then fills in the details and people with a ballpoint pen. For Dismantling of Shinjuku Station, for example, he began by drawing large square planes on a map like a grid. He then sketched roads and city divisions according to the grid, followed by buildings and the more detailed aspects of the station. After drawing the train station, he moved on to the surrounding buildings to give it context. “Incidentally, I started drawing from Studio Alta,” a famous shopping complex next to east entrance of Shinjuku station, he writes in an email. “I continued as if I was ‘going round in the city’ in a counter-clockwise movement.”

Though he uses software in his practice, Tanaka considers hand-drawing a more accessible connection between what he imagines in his head and what he is designing on paper. “It is easy to express the atmosphere of space and place intuitively,” with drawing, he says. “And it is possible to correct or invent rules of perspective, enabling me to make a composition freely.” See more of Tanaka’s amazingly complex renderings in the slide show above.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.