Brain Pickings

Architects’ Sketchbooks: Behind the World’s Most Magnificent Buildings

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How to limn a skyscraper in a line, or why the Centre Pompidou was inspired by a Chinese bamboo hat.

The sketchbook as surface for envisioning, inventing, and thinking in motion, has been somewhat of an idée fixe on Brain Pickings of late. We’ve looked at the lists of great thinkers, and peeked inside the pages of private notebooks from artists to zoologists around the world.

Today we’re taking a moment to focus on sketchbooks from a discipline that is itself interdisciplinary, brilliantly balancing the demands of both science and art — namely, architecture. The inspiring recent release Architects’ Sketchbooks celebrates the earliest traces of a building’s coming into being, the ideas that pave the way for the precision of engineers’ calculations or CAD renderings. Through the book’s beautiful reproductions of original blots, jots, and scribbles, we can see that even the most awe-inspiring edifices begin as a line — as reassuring an insight into the creative process as any.

Architects’ Sketchbooks assembles work from 85 of the world’s best-known practitioners, including Shigeru Ban, Norman Foster, Terry Pawson, and Rafael Viñoly, as well as names less familiar to those of us outside the practice. Alongside the often functional but occasionally fantastical images from their flat files, the book also contains essays that place the images in context (and the buildings into their eventual environs). Equally fun is seeing all the different media in which architects work today, from comic strips to crayons, and how these choices are literally representative of different worldviews about how we might live.

Here’s a preview of a few of the book’s pages:

Evidence that even the most imposing monuments have their humble beginnings as one person’s notion in a notebook, Architects’ Sketchbooks is a guide to viewing the world’s human wonders in a whole new way.

Kirstin Butler currently lives in Cambridge, MA where she is working on an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs.

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