Do Our Hands Think?

In a recent design crit, one of our younger architects asked, “how do I detail that corner?” Chip Houser, a senior architect, responded, “draw it, then draw it again and again and again.”  

Chip works with our designers to detail complex construction assemblies that range from building envelopes to high-end millwork. In every instance, for every project, the process is the same: draw it, and then draw it again and again. Drawing multiple iterations of the same condition is a process that in itself creates resolution—the outcome is a direct result of the repetition. The process is what is important.

I failed to mention that Chip draws by hand. He Revit draws, and even still AutoCAD draws, but mostly and especially early in the design process, he hand draws.

Hand drawing still represents the purest and quickest, and therefore most productive, way to “think on paper.” The mind-to-hand-to-paper method is as old as humanity (or at least as old as paper) and still beats the most complex computer program for generating ideas and developing solutions. Whether we are conceptualizing a corporate campus or working out a millwork detail, the hand simply thinks better and faster.

Don’t get me wrong, we JEMAites draw 21st-century style, too. We have experts in BIM (Revit), Rhino, Maxwell, 3ds Max, Maya, and SketchUp. These are all truly amazing tools that are getting better and better every year. But hand drawing is like poetry—more specifically, like a haiku. It distills an idea down to its essence.

Chip recently brought some of his “non-architectural” drawings to the studio. We all stood around and marveled (and laughed, too) at his talent. I wanted to share some of his work. Behind the beautiful lines, colors and characters is a work ethic. The final product is only one step on a longer, much repeated journey. Along with the “final” products, I have also added just a sampling of his “hand thinking” iterations. I hope you enjoy them as much as we all do.

I wrote this post because I know Chip never would. He is much too humble. And, as he would say, a little bit awkward. But not with pen in hand—I have worked with him for over fifteen years and I am still in awe of how smart his hands are!