perspectives on drawing: Alvaro Siza Vieira

‘perspectives on drawing: Alvaro Siza Vieira’ is the second installment of a six part series of posts for a project titled: ‘Say Something’ as a part of my Writing & Research class I am taking as a part of my graduate studies in the interior design program at University of Central Oklahoma. The series explores the importance of drawing and hand graphics within the realm of design – its relevance and how why it should still maintain its place as a foundational skill-set in designers in a predominantly digital world.

Álvaro Siza Vieira is a Portuguese architect. He graduated from the school of architecture at the University of Porto, and has spent time in the United States as a visiting professor at the Harvard School of Design, the University of Pennsylvania, among many others. As a professional, he established a practice in Portugal, where the majority of his built work is located. However, he also has projects all over the world. Vieira is a highly celebrated designer, winning an endless list of prizes and awards.

His buildings are complex, detailed spaces. They, like any other inhabitable place, require a heavy amount of data analysis to be constructed – and constructed well. This complex process is obviously streamlined by the presence of the computer. Years ago, he and his team likely did the majority of this work by hand. However, his practice to day is like any other. Final, packaged drawings and renderings are produced in a digital format. It makes sense. But despite the technological advances, Vieira still champions the practice of drawing and its essential role in the mind to hand connection.

Like so many designers, he began his career as an artist. Sculpture was his media of choice. He planned on attending college for art. But his desired pursuits were not supported by his family. His father, an engineer, especially did not appreciate why his son wanted to live “an artist life”. With pressure mounting from his family, he eventually attended the University of Porto, where he achieved a degree in architecture. As an architect, he never traded his ability to draw in an artistic manner for his ability to draw in a technical manner. In fact, he learned to fuse drawing with his new set of skills to further enhance his design process and to develop his ideas on a much deeper level.

In an interview with Francisco Granero, Vieira discusses his process and how drawing is inherent  to the success of his work. One exchange in particular resonated with the premise that these skills are still important to modern designers. Granero asks, “Apart from your vital need to a constant dedication to drawing, in what aspect do you think that drawing and the drawing exercise could have had an influence in your living, your way of life, your style in facing life, and in building up your ideas?”. Vieira responds: “Drawing, in my life as an architect, gives access to my work.” In his practice, drawings are a way for ‘people to learn to see’. Related to design, this means the process by which your ideas were formed – the evolution, the solutions.

In general, it allows people to process the solution within a broader context, say in relation to potential surroundings. Vieira is an avid traveler, and constantly sketches everything that surrounds him. He fuses these contextual references with his designs. He also animates his drawings with ‘personalities’, people – both real and imaginary. He says he introduces these human figures to control the scale of his design – a concept that is not limited to the field of architecture. It goes without saying this is a practice meant for a pencil and paper. And as mentioned in the previous post in this series, this process allows one to draw over other solutions, potentially creating new forms, patterns, and ideas. Drawing is something Vieira does all the time. He feels that beyond problem solving, studies of the human form within his spaces reinforce the fact that humans are at the center of architecture. This is a practice he enforces in his own office as a way to form the design process, citing that ‘instruments serve thought’ rather than replacing thoughts, specifically through the use of hand drawing.

image credit: Alvaro Siza Vieira

image credit: Alvaro Siza Vieira

Vieira has a way of capturing his surroundings and incorporating those thoughts directly into his designs. His drawing ability is masterful in the way he captures realism and perspective. His ability to draw in such away is almost as celebrated as his architecture. Designers, especially design students might look at his sketches and feel intimidated by their technical strength. How can you incorporate this practice into your process? Again, as mentioned in the inaugural post of this series – you don’t have to be good at drawing. Although Vieira is obviously very skilled, his drawings are quite loose and bordering on scribbly. However, as with anything, practicing a skill often leads to improvement. Between all the work, conferences, meetings, awards ceremonies, and life, Vieira makes time to draw. He makes time within his process to include this very important form of visual interpretation. When asked by the interviewer if he ‘lived for drawing or draws for a living’, he replied “I do not recognize drawing as a reason to live by itself, but it definitely helps come people in their lives. Drawing is a way of spiritual liberation and of direct relation with thinking, and its opening to the external world.” That constant nurturing of the connection between your head and your hand trains your eyes to see solutions more clearly – as well as tie designs back to a broader contextual concept.

Vieira is now 82 years of age. He still practices. He still draws. His drawings are often an expression of his surrounding world. But he reminds us that these seemingly unconnected scribblings are a way to bolster his skills as a critical thinker. “Drawing it is more a help to thinking to solve the design problems, and also a motor to find the solving formulas to establish the norms, and to study them”. He is part of a generation that still values this practice as a part of the design process. Hopefully, through the teachings of Alvaro a new generation of designers will make time in their ritual to include drawing as a way to think, alongside the computer.

2 thoughts on “perspectives on drawing: Alvaro Siza Vieira

    1. adrienne. Post author

      not that i know of, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist! you could either find photos of gardens in japan to mimic or go to a local botanical garden and sketch there!


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