This is part of AD PRO’s Designer Takeover, in which working designers contribute stories to the site. Here, Michael G. Imber pens a narrative that examines art's changing role in the architecture process.
As the architecture profession becomes increasingly dominated by programs that create buildings by algorithms, and as architectural schools shut down drawing studios, I begin to wonder if the architect as an artist is becoming a romantic notion of the past and if the architect as we always knew him (or her) will soon be no more.
In the past, architects were always seen as the ultimate artists, visualizing imaginary buildings and places deep within the recesses of their imagination and teasing them out in paint or pencil. Only then could they begin the laborious process of drawing how the building could be assembled and brought to reality through an elaborate collaboration with craftsmen and allied artists. They drew upon their visual experiences, knowledge of human nature, and understanding of physics to bring to fruition wondrous places: places that impacted not only the way we lived our daily lives but the very development of our culture—and ultimately our civilization.

watercolor rendering of a Vitre castle
Plan for the restoration of Vitré Castle, 1870, by L Darcy, ink and watercolor, Fancie, 19th century. Vitré, Musée Du Château De Vitré (Art Museum)
(Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Becoming an architect was a lifelong process of studying both our built and natural environments through drawing and painting. This is how past generations came to know the world—by seeing though their hands. Through drawing antiquities they saw the past, and from drawing landscapes they understood the beauty of the natural world. Renowned art critic John Ruskin once said, “To draw the leaf is to know the forest,” for without drawing there was no understanding. Creating our built environment wasn’t simply theoretical; by drawing our environment we came to understand our world through an empirical process—through observation and experience.
Drawing for the architect was another language. Thousands of hours of sketching allowed one access to the deepest complexities of the mind, where ideas would flow through the hand to paper instantaneously, without pondering interpretation—from imagination to fruition without impediment.
Today, an architectural office is a scene of flickering screens and humming computers, endlessly energetic tools for the creation of buildings. Yet, as technology aids the progress and efficiency of building, the young architectural graduate who can draw is but a rarity in today's studio. As we give ourselves over to the machines, can we continue to understand nature? Can we know history and culture, and can we really understand humanity through building? Is architecture still art?