Roman Tower at Carcasone, France by author.

Recently, two of the younger members of our staff  had the opportunity to take some time away from the office and continue their architectural education through travel. Their stories reminded me of similar experiences that shaped my understanding of places, their impression on my memory, and my journey toward a new approach of the design process. Fortunately, I have been fortunate enough to have experience of place shape my architectural education, almost as much as any studio time. As a senior architect I have learned that sight and documenting through sketching fills a constant need for the maturation of a classically based architect.

Venice sketch by John Ruskin.

The long-standing tradition of drawing first hand, with the subject before the architect, was documented early in the drawings and sketches of John Ruskin. Further, it carried forward in the idea of the Grand Tour where the great examples of architecture were experienced by architects who visited and drew them.  In the French academies, the coveted Prix de Rome would allow the most promising painters, sculptors, and architects to study at the French Academy in Rome for three to five years.


Tomb of the Plautii by Charles Michel Ange Challe.

Later, promising American art and architecture students like Paul Phillipe Cret, Augustus Saint-Guadens, and John Singer Sargent would compete to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Upon victory, they would experience the history and places that in turn helped shape their interpretations of the built world and ignited a new “American Renaissance”.

A sketch by Paul Cret.

Boats on the Elbe by John Singer Sargent.

Others like Samuel Chamberlain, discovered the world abroad though the American Field Service and later with an AFS scholarship would study etching drypoint techniques with masters of his day. His later documentation of his surroundings would bring these influences to generations to follow.

La Turbie by Samuel Chamberlain.

My own passion for sketching was learned and reinforce in a similar way during a time of study abroad, where I first experienced some of the places that would still continue to inspire to this day. Exploring the history of the south of France, Spain, and Italy would change the way I thought of architecture and open my eyes to a world that went beyond the academic musings on the day. These journeys led to later studies that would shape the direction of the style with which I wanted to practice architecture.

Abbaye aux Dames, Sainte, France by author.

Pont du Gard, France by author.

Gaudi’s chimney pots by author.

Whether measured and detailed, or quick and figural, there is something about the act of sketching – the connection of eye to hand, of pencil to paper – that ingrained the place into your memory.  To me, revisiting these old sketches bring back the excitement of seeing the places for the first time, and seeing the sketches of others makes me long to return, or visit those places I have not yet been.  Constantly, I am reminded of the line from the artist Paul Klee, “Drawing is taking a line for a walk”, and there is no better line to make than drawing what you see while on your walk.

Mon St. Michele on arrival by author.

Winged Victory of Samothrace by author.

Studies of Venice by the author.

Recent travels by Jim Lenahan, as a part of the ICAA Rome Drawing tour, and Michael Stolle in his first trip to Europe to explore England and Scotland, have reinvigorated their passion for drawing as they have returned eager to share what they discovered in their studies and wanderings.

Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati, by Jim Lenahan.

Arch of Titus, Rome, Italy by Jim Lenahan.

San Gregorio Magno Al Cielo, Rome, Italy by Jim Lenahan.


“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.”
John Singer Sargent