from section i
Chapter 1: An Introduction
It took more than twenty years of practice for me to be wholly comfortable with the quickly made, unruly sketch. I had to unlearn all the conventional teaching that a good drawing is a neat drawing; one that requires care and—especially for an engineer—precision. Breaking away from this constraint liberated my creativity. I would like this book to serve as an encouragement to others to use pen and paper, add clarity and value to a conversation; not simply to convey something finished, developed, or necessarily right the first time.
At school in the 1960s I was considered a poor artist because my work didn’t look like that of my teacher. In the 1970s I learned orthographic projection at university, where I drew plans and elevations to describe objects such as electric drills, or machine parts. However, none of those methods could help me communicate ideas the way I would need to in practice.
As a structural engineer in the firm Buro Happold, I was able to collaborate and explore with several great architects and engineers, all the while understanding how I could help make buildings better. I had to discover things the slow way. Over time I realised that no one minded me making a quick-fire sketch if it helped them to think about and understand what I was describing. A great joy of sketching is that if you dislike a sketch the first time around, it is very easy to make another. Or, if a line doesn’t look right, you can just keep drawing another line over it, and another, until it does look right. In fact, things tend to look rather better with multiple lines and, eventually, once there are enough lines, the idea will emerge for all to see. In retrospect, this important discovery has allowed me to make contributions which would have eluded me otherwise.
All projects rely on the input of many people. Your chance to be that valuable input on a design may only come unexpectedly and fleetingly. I have learned that it is necessary to grasp such moments before they pass; you need ways to think and communicate on your feet if you are going to take part. The three-second sketch, capturing the thoughts of a moment on whatever paper is to hand, became my way to do this.
I am calling this process Drawn Thought.