Category: - AM Musings
Multiple sketches on Yellow Trace

I'm expanding on my first post on yellow trace.  Exploring ideas is sometimes the most exciting part of architecture.  I use yellow trace and the free Goggle 3D computer program called Sketchup.  With yellow trace or just trace for short, you can quickly sketch over your existing drawing to make changes or revisions.  Drawing is a process of discovery whether by hand or by computer.  My first boss would sketch like this and have layer upon layer of drawings, sometimes using multiple fragments of bits and pieces taped together leaving you to figure out what he was trying to do.

When exploring you can't be not too invested in your current idea so you can quickly move on to investigate more ideas.  Experienced designers soon learn how to draw freehand to scale.  It's very satisfying to draw a 10' by 10' square at 1/8" scale freehand and then lay your scale down and find that you are right on.  Of course Sketchup does this for you and you can "draw" very precisely.
3D sketchup images
Sketchup allows you to quickly visualize your ideas in 3D.  You can build a simple model, then edit, mulitply, copy and rotate the computer images quickly.  On the other hand some ideas are still quicker to express using hand drawings.  It's cheaper to explore on paper or on the computer than in the field.

Folsom Street Chalk Left April 2011 - Right July 2011
I originally posted the image on the left in April 2011.  Look what has happened after 2 months.  Perhaps someone has rubbed against the chalk as the center portion has deteriorated while the edges have not.  Nothing is static.  We are constantly changing and learning.  Applying yesterday's excellent solution may no longer be excellent.

Time plus experience give us a tool to plan for change.  That tool is judgment.  The world of architecture and the building industry is changing quickly.  Like all of us, architects need to look ahead and move with the times.

Anglo American Glasses
I saw these frames at eiwear on 4th Street in Berkeley and are the same brand I wear.  Several iconic architects of the 20th century wore glasses similar to these.  Round thick plastic frames like these usually in black or tortoise shell were found on Corbusier, Phillip Johnson and I.M. Pei. 
Left - Corbusier Center - Phillip Johnson Right - I.M. Pei
Someone once commented when they were reading a note from me that I wrote in that distinctive architect's printing style.  It's true, a uniformity of printing style was demanded during the days of hand drafting.  Filling out a job application meant you were judged not only by the content, but also by your printing ability!  

As I wrote about the architect Robert Stern, the image of the architect is always carefully crafted and how your present yourself to the world represents how you approach all things in life -- with care, precision, thought, and artistic excellence.  If only it were as simple as donning a pair of glasses.
Folsom Street Shadows
Down, back, right, forty-five degrees was the mantra.  That was the angle of the sun we used to cast shadows in architecture school.  At that angle, the length of a object's shadow would be the same length as the object itself.  The shadow would be at a forty-five degree angle on the adjacent surface (if the surface is flat and perpendicular to the object).  If the surfaces receiving the shadow were on varying planes, then the shadow shifts and modulates defining its features.  Light and shadow define how we see form and therefore how we see architecture.  See an example below of how we cast shadows by hand did it by hand.

Beaux Arts Shades and shadow

I was among the very last generation of students who received formal training in the Beaux Arts technique of casting and rendering shades and shadows.  Considered quaint and outdated, it was soon cast aside in favor of more relevant coursework.    This illustration is from a 1896 translation by Julian Millard from a Beaux Arts text, "Shades and Shadows".  See an on-line version here.    

Quaint yes, but at Mock/Wallace, when I use free software like Google Sketchup to cast shadows, I still use the classic down, back, right forty-five degrees. 
San Francisco Civic Center Lantern
Postscript:  I'm glad I don't have to draw this shadow. 

Kaiser French Campus - Paffard Keatinge Clay
I take a class at the Kaiser French Campus on Geary Blvd every Wednesday evening.  Now painted in earth tones, these buildings at the French Campus were originally painted white to emphasize the structural purity as envisioned by the architect Paffard Keatinge Clay.  Paffard Keatinge Clay who now lives and works in Spain, lived in San Francisco during the 1960's and 1970's.  He was my design professor at UC Berkeley.  I hadn't thought about his class for a long time, but recently I remembered how influential he was during my student years. 
Tamalpais Pavillion - Paffard Keatinge Clay
  He was passionate architect and had a lot of energy.  I know now he cared alot about teaching and his students.  A native of England, he talked about building  a flat platform to sleep near the giant stone pillars at Stonehenge  -- experiencing the power of the site and the making of a structure.  He had worked at the giant architectural firm of SOM designing and developing large projects using post-tensioned concrete, a relatively new technique at the time.

While living in the Bay Area, he built a post-tensioned concrete house for his family on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County.   He invited a small group of students to visit.  

It was my first real exposure to an architect using his own home as a laboratory for architecture.  Broad flat plans of raw concrete and glass perched on the side of a mountain accentuated the feeling of time and space.  The sharp contrast of concrete and nature was accentuated by 0ver-hanging terraced  balconies with no railing.  The danger of falling intensified the feeling of life.  Quite an experience for a young naive student.  He served filtered coffee from an hourglass shaped chemex carafe, a design featured in the Museum of Modern Art.  Oh this was the life of an architect?  I couldn't wait. 

Acanthus Leaf

The acanthus plant in our lush garden on Pine Street has bright green leaves.  A symbol of re-birth, it has inspired architects and artists since ancient Greece.  It adorns the top of the Corinthian column. 
The Corinthian Column

History and theory play an important part of becoming an architect.  Without it the 1980's Post Modernism  would not have happened.  Post Modernism was a recall of historical styles and response to the spare minimalist International Style in vogue the previous 50 years.  In the International Style, beauty was found in form and function -  stripped of ornamentation.  Beneath the unadorned building planes, however,  Greek ideals of columns and proportions still resonate.  I remember working in the office of David H. Horn FAIA in Fresno as a summer intern. I overheard him discussing the Greek ideas of expressing a column when he was designing the Fresno Federal Building  (now the Fresno Superior Court) in the "modern style".

Today, we have "rediscovered" mid-20th century design.  All things continually evolve.  Of course some never lost their love of ornamentation.   The Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns are known as the classic order and  the Corinthian column is the most decorative of the three orders with acanthus leaves adorning the top.  

The Greek column went on to influence Roman, European, and world architecture.  Walk down any main street in American and you will see its continuing  influence.  I took this photo (above right) while walking on Sacramento Street where a charming, simplified and stylized depiction of the acanthus leaf adorned the top of a pilaster.
I was in SOMA walking to lunch on 4th Street towards Brannan when I spotted these yellow numbers set against a grey wall.  It is the address of Zuppa Restaurant, an interesting place I haven't tried yet.  The yellow and grey provide a nice high contrast without being too jarring.

The font style reminded me of Corbusier Stencil Fonts.  Chris has a set of metal stencil fonts that she used on (hand) drawings.  They pay homage to one of the great architects of the 20th Century and give  drawings a stylish look.  She would lay the stencils on top of the drawing and using a soft lead pencil, form a letter allowing the pencil stroke to remain visible as part of the gestalt.  

Architects pay attention to the environment and try to do everything with a sense of visual purpose.  By practicing this at all times, it becomes part of your approach to life.  Le Corbusier's name was actually Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, but like stars today, came to be known by a single name.  He was an architect, artist, and furniture designer whose iconic Corbusier Chair can be seen in modern interiors everywhere.  Learn and be inspired by a Master.

I found this website that gives a history of the Corbusier stencil font as well as this link to the Corbusier Foundation.


White Çhalk on Red Wall

I came across this section of red wall on Folsom Street anonymously "decorated"  with white chalk.  It's structured yet lively and spontaneous.  Funny how chalk continues to be used even though other drawing materials are more convenient and readily available.   

Stylish restaurants sometimes use chalk on blackboards to show the changing menu and perhaps to evoke simpler times and establish a happy mood. Most people have used chalk at some time in their lives -- probably as a child and for most those were happy times.   You can't use chalk without being aware of its sensual and tactile qualities, the way it engages the surface and reveals textures, the sound of chalk grinding on the surface, the way it breaks if you press too hard, and  the way it leaves powder on your hands so you know you have drawn.   

I try to think about architecture and how the design of things and  materials can evoke feeling within ourselves.  My first courses in architecture at UC Berkeley explored just these concepts and although it didn't seem "serious" at the time, those exercises still inform my work at Mock/Wallace.

Yellow Trace used at Mock/Wallace Architects
Becoming an architect requires training, dedication, and love of the profession.  Other professions are probably more lucrative.  Dashing through airports with rolls of drawings may seem glamorous, but the "glamor" of the profession is only a very small portion of the hard work involved. 

At the soul of architecture is the search for perfect solutions to small and large problems.  The rolls of yellow "trace" architects use is a metaphor for that constant search.  We sketch quickly overlaying drawing upon drawing refining and exploring ideas until the solution reveals itself. 

At one time we ordered rolls in quantity and went through it quickly.  Now that  we have moved to electronic drawings, we use less and we conduct the search using computers.  I do believe hand drawings engage the mind in a different way than drawing with a mouse.  Now when I pick up a pen or pencil to draw by hand, the pleasures of hand drawing immediately come back.  Whatever the means, it is only a means.  At Mock/Wallace, we use whatever produces the best results.