Architect's Napkin Sketch: Drawings and Homes By Architects

A hand-drawn architectural sketch can often convey more than a computer. Here are some magnificent examples.

In the age of computer-assisted design, it’s wonderful to see the raw simplicity of an architect’s sketch. There’s something visceral, even elemental about a sketch. It makes a house come to life in a way that a computer-generated rendering never does. 

Sometimes sketches are detailed; sometimes they’re a scribble on the back of an envelope. Always they speak of a building that is about to spring to life — which is helped by the fact that the drawing came from the hand of a human. This collection of architects’ sketches and the homes that came from them show just how special this design form can be.

Studio Pacific Architecture, original photo on Houzz

Studio Pacific Architecture, original photo on Houzz

Memory and Desire

This particularly expressive sketch is by Studio Pacific Architecture’s Peter Mitchell. The owners of a 1970s vacation house on a site at Rawhiti, north of Auckland, New Zealand, wanted extra accommodation in their coastal home, and turned to Studio Pacific. The architects designed a beautiful concrete sleeping porch separate from the main house (at left in the sketch) across a grassy courtyard, with a significant upgrade of the original house.

 Studio Pacific Architecture, original photo on Houzz

 Studio Pacific Architecture, original photo on Houzz

Once they’d received building consent, though, they discovered the old house was too far gone to renovate. So instead they built a sympathetic house on the footprint of the old home, preserving the memories and habits of 40 years of family holidays in a beautifully idiosyncratic house.

Strachan Group Architects, original photo on Houzz

Strachan Group Architects, original photo on Houzz

Pitch Perfect

On New Zealand’s Waiheke Island, Strachan Group Architects principal Dave Strachan sketched out the design for a house straddling a ridge, showing the land falling away on either side, complete with contour lines. A series of three monopitch roofs march along the site, showing the house both at once in and on the landscape.

Strachan Group Architects, original photo on Houzz

Strachan Group Architects, original photo on Houzz

Here’s the final result: a gorgeous house that is anchored to the land, which falls away steeply, offering beautiful views over the inner Hauraki Gulf of Auckland.

Megan Edwards, original photo on Houzz

Megan Edwards, original photo on Houzz

Sum of Its Parts

Megan Edwards has designed a number of beautiful, small additions to modest bungalows and villas around Auckland in recent years, houses that lacked access to their backyards and were closed to sunlight. 

With this small Mt. Eden addition, she designed a modernist-style addition that slid in alongside the house, adding much-needed living space and connecting the house to a flat back lawn. In the drawings, you can see her meticulous detailing of the addition, an assemblage of concrete block, plywood and glass, and you can see her thoughtful process — such as adding cedar shiplap siding on the “warm edge.”

Megan Edwards, original photo on Houzz

Megan Edwards, original photo on Houzz

Here’s the result, a particularly lovely melding of old and new in which the addition is both separate and connected. Notice how true to the sketch the house is.

Studio John Irving, original photo on Houzz

Studio John Irving, original photo on Houzz

Barn Life

This sketch, by John Irving of Studio John Irving, is for a renovation of a turn-of-the-20th-century villa in Auckland. The renovation was a beautiful dance between contemporary and original architecture. In the little sketch seen here, the two structures are deftly delineated, with the two hip roofs of the original house to the left and the contemporary pitched-roof addition to the right, lightweight and tent-like, almost as if it wasn’t there.

Studio John Irving, original photo on Houzz

Studio John Irving, original photo on Houzz

The addition is a few steps down from the original and open on two sides to a garden and swimming pool. The contemporary design is an artful mix of brick and brass, glass and wood, with doors that open to link the pavilion, gently, to the cottage in front.

Irving Smith Architects, original photo on Houzz

Irving Smith Architects, original photo on Houzz

Modernist Dream

In Nelson, New Zealand, architect Jeremy Smith of Irving Smith Architects reworked this classic 1960s brick bungalow, designed by a local architect for a retired couple. In his sketch, you can see the way he carefully slipped a small, narrow addition off the end of the house, built on the roof of the concrete garage to save costs. In pencil, it’s clear that the addition, while modern, is also sympathetic to the original in terms of scale.

Irving Smith Architects, original photo on Houzz

Irving Smith Architects, original photo on Houzz

In the flesh, it’s no less sympathetic — though determinedly contemporary. The addition is clad in black corrugated steel rather than brick, but is connected to the original tone of the house with wood trim and its small scale.

Sills van Bohemen, original photo on Houzz

Sills van Bohemen, original photo on Houzz

Island Life

On Waiheke, Sills van Bohemen designed an elegant contemporary house to sit in a sheltered valley just back from the coast. In this sketch, you can see the main living space, which has a vaulted ceiling at the center of the room.

Sills van Bohemen, original photo on Houzz

Sills van Bohemen, original photo on Houzz

Here’s the result — a beautifully restrained room filled with art and sculptural furniture. Which is, of course, one thing a sketch can’t provide.

Tell us: Give us your thoughts on hand-drawn versus computer-generated imagery in the Comments.

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This is a guest article by Houzz New Zealand Editorial Staff member, Simon Farrell-Green . Simon has been writing about architecture and design his whole career, and is particularly interested in small, beautiful projects built on a budget.