Using a notebook

A notebook may be used for collecting (and playing with) many different sorts of material. You never know when you might encounter something of interest or have an idea or insight; architecture is everywhere you go, so you should keep a notebook with you at all times.

‘The search is what everyone would undertake if he were not stuck in the everydayness of his own life. To be aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something. Not to be on to something is to be in despair.’
Walker Percy – The Moviegoer, 1961.

It is good to be ‘onto something’. This gives shape and purpose to your ‘searches’ in architecture. It will give direction to your notebook if you have a few particular themes in mind. For example, when I was gathering material for my book Doorway, I kept my eyes and mind open for examples and writings that seemed to offer ideas about doorways, entrance, thresholds and related matters.

Drawing places you find yourself

The best way to learn the ‘common language’ of architecture is to open your eyes and mind to the places around you. You can assimilate and understand these by drawing them in different ways in your notebook.

You can draw them in different ways. You can draw them as if you were taking a photograph, but this is not going to tell you much about the underlying architecture of the place. To see this it is best to try to draw a plan and section, to the same scale, and showing as much context as you think is pertinent. You will need to develop the skill of estimating dimensions and relationships, and transferring them into drawn form. Simple lines and clear differentiation between solid and space are best.

These are analytical drawings in themselves but you might think it useful to make other drawings that focus on one or another aspect of the architecture of the place: its structure; its geometry; its relationship with things in the distance; the ways in which it relates to the size and activities of people who use it....


Studying works of architecture from publications

You will also want to study the architecture you see in books and journals, where architectural ideas are likely to be more sophisticated than in the majority of buildings you experience everyday. The drawings you do to understand these will be similar to those you do of places in which you find yourself. Generally, plans and sections are the most revealing of the underlying architecture of buildings. It is helpful to be able to trace these from published drawings, but you need to do so thoughtfully, checking what you draw against the photographs alongside.

Again, you might think it useful to make other drawings that focus on the structure, geometry, or relationships of the work you are studying. Here is a drawing that traces routes through a building. Prompts for various aspects you might focus on are provided in the various chapters of analysing ARCHITECTURE.


Collecting other people’s thoughts and ideas

Reading, as in any subject, is important too. Many literatures contain material relevant to architecture, not just that on the ‘Architecture’ shelves of libraries and bookshops. (Though of course those should not be ignored!) Many novelists describe the places within which their narratives are based: Franz Kafka, Arnold Bennett, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, E.M. Forster are just some of many who, often in passing, provide insights into our experience of environments by describing the settings of the dramas of people’s lives. Archaeological literature has much information, in written and drawn form, on the ways ancient people made places for themselves. And the literature of anthropology provides insights into the cultural relationships between people and their living environments. In addition, writing about the structuring of films and stories can spin off into ideas about how to give works of architecture structures that deviate creatively from the prosaic and pragmatic.


Having thoughts and ideas of your own

Hopefully you will have some ideas of your own. You can never be quite sure when these might strike you, so it is as well to have your notebook to hand – to write a short paragraph or do a quick sketch – even at your bedside.


Playing with design ideas

The purpose of all this searching, analysing and thinking is to make yourself more adept at architectural design. A notebook is a good place to record early design ideas and to play around with them. Evenso, there will fairly quickly come a stage where you will need to transfer those ideas to the drawing board, or, more likely, the computer screen, where you will be able to develop them with more precision and detail. Nevertheless you will probably return from time to time to your notebook during the design process.