Conceptual Sketching

Designers and Architects alike use the practice of conceptual sketching as a way of exploring ideas. Think of this as a personal exercise. You have ideas. You can decide what happens with them. Sketching is a way of visualizing those ideas, exploring them, and communicating them to others. Conceptual sketching occurs across the design process- in design thinking, design research, design process, and design making. Please take a look at the work of Spanish Architect Carme Pinos. She always shows a conceptual sketch of the intention of her designs. Look at her use of conceptual drawings across several differenttypes and scales of projects. Conceptual sketching occurs at the nine different scales-nano, pattern, space, architecture, neighborhood, urban, region, and world. It builds a visual archive of ideas throughout a design process, starting with concepts, visualization of research information, objectives, strategies, and design responses. This archive builds a visual database of ideas that can be reviewed, selected, and inform next steps. Conceptual sketching can make sense of your ideas for yourself, much like a painter begins to paint (like Picasso’s sketches before painting)[ without knowing the exact specifics of the outcome of the image. These sketches can be as simple as a circle in a square, a linear bar, a spiral shape or form, a radial scheme, wood meeting concrete, a building connecting with the land, and aerial, interior, or exterior section or view. Look at the work of Bjarke Ingels’s firm BIG. A conceptual diagram represents each phase of a project. In the lower right, there are arrows to click through diagrams and conceptual sketches that explain design thinking and the response to context, conditions, activities, users, climate, technology, and the environment. Like visual note-taking, conceptual sketching is active thinking and exploring what could be!

Activity 1 – Conceptual Sketching Shapes

How do you conceptualize something linear? Is it a pin, a sidewalk, a row, a series of trees in a line? Is it a wall, a fence, or an overall building? In one 1-minute, draw as many linear ideas as you can!

Activity 2 – Conceptual Sketching Forms

You can also introduce forms in conceptual sketches. Look at the napkin sketches by architects and see the many shapes that they suggest in short 1-minute sketches. To get started, try drawing a circle, then mark a circular form. Try a square and a cubic 3-dimensional volume. Think of the Great Pyramids and try a pyramid form. Think of masses that are orthogonal or created by right angles. Think of conditions that are organic or flowing like spirals. Take a look at a contemporary museum’s plan and see how the conceptual sketches become space. Try your hand and conceptually sketch three different forms.

Activity 3 – Conceptual Sketching Spaces

Now that you can try shapes and forms try drawing interior spaces. There are many shapes and volumes of interior space. Think of simple environments that have a flat low ceiling. Next, draw a flat high ceiling. Draw a ceiling that is slanted, or a dome, or a triangle. See how your conceptual sketches can communicate different shapes of rooms.

Activity 4 – Conceptual Sketch Your House

Go outside with a pen and some paper. First, take a good look at your house. Look at the roof and how it meets the sky. Look at the walls and how tall they compare with the width of the house. Do a quick conceptual sketch of the façade of your home. Add the shape and location of windows. Surround the home with vegetation or even people inside of the windows looking out! Next, look at your house from above on Google Maps or Google Earth. Make a conceptual sketch of its site plan. Start with the shape of your yard or lot. Then draw the roof of the building. Then show how you enter your house or apartment building drawing the walk. Put an arrow that shows where you go in. Do you enter in the middle, the side, or the back? A conceptual sketch is very helpful in portraying how people go in and out of spaces and the nature of those spaces, both inside and out!

Activity 5 – Conceptual Sketch Patterns

Conceptual sketching can also reveal patterns like plane, car, bus, or pedestrian traffic. Take a simple map of your neighborhood and make a circulation conceptual sketch. Look at these conceptual plans for urban areas. Use different colors for different types of movements. Make a key that labels the types.

Activity 6 – Conceptual Sketch Landscapes

Now think about landscapes. Is your landscape flat, rolling, a valley, a mountaintop? A single line can compose the place you are experiencing outdoors and share an idea to build a shelter or space for people. Look at [Carme Pinos’s Landscape P](. Create a beachfront space, a plaza, or a forest space in your city.

Activity 7 – Conceptual Sketch Ideas

Another important use of conceptual sketching is to communicate the idea or concept for a particular stage of the design process. These sketches help visualize thinking. And they begin to choreograph experience. Look again at Estudio Carme Pinosand BIG Bjarke Ingels Group and think about how you can communicate ideas with conceptual sketches!


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