Study Room resource: Exploring design processes
Prints and drawings, including fashion illustrations, architectural drawings, design drawings, watercolours, posters and much more, not on display in the galleries, can be seen in the Prints, Drawings and RIBA Architecture Study Rooms . To make it easier for teachers and lecturers to access the most popular material with groups, we have developed themed resource boxes which contain original prints and drawings.
This resource contains a selection of architects' drawings from the V&A's and RIBA's Architecture collections. They have been made by architects as part of their design process. They represent all the different types of drawings architects use to research, develop, design, record and present an idea. There are over 1.5 million architectural drawings in the V&A and RIBA Architecture collections, this selection is a small sample.
Sketch design for geodesic dome
This sketch was drawn by Fuller on the back of an envelope at a meeting with Dr Thomas Howarth in Toronto, Canada in early 1972. Five years previously Fuller had designed a similar dome for the United States pavilion at Expo 67' in Montreal. The drawing shows how the structural members of the dome are linked to create the geodesic shapes and how the perfect sphere that the structure creates is adapted to sit on the ground.
Architects like Archigram and Cedric Price designed schemes in the 60s and 70s which borrowed from Fuller's invention and his geodesic design has been developed more recently in Nicholas Grimshaw's design for the Eden Project in Cornwall, U.K.
Sydney Opera House preliminary sketches
This initial sketch and perspective drawing show how engineer Ove Arup planned the complicated construction process involved in assembling the roof of the Sydney Opera House.
When architect Jørn Utzon won the Sydney Opera House competition in January 1957, no one knew how to build the roof structure he had designed. Utzon's original concept showed huge, billowing shells resting on narrow points, but the engineer, Ove Arup, had seen immediately that the shells would not sustain the forces they would generate. Also, they were irregular and could not be defined mathematically. Prefabrication and calculation were both impossible. 'We had no precedent to go on', said Utzon. 'It was like climbing Mount Everest for the first time.' Three years later, when work on site had already started, he found the answer - in an orange. By cutting 'spherical triangles' from the skin, he discovered a regular basis for the irregular forms he wished to create. Arup was then able to design a structure in which a framework of pre-fabricated, tapering ribs of identical curvature would support a thin skin. The idea of frameless shells had been lost, but Utzon's vision could now be realised.
Sketchbook recording a visit to Egypt and Jordan
Architects often keep journals and sketchbooks on their travels in which they can sketch interesting architectural details that they encounter or note down ideas that are inspired by their unfamiliar surroundings. This volume contains travel notes, colourful sketches of buildings, people and animals seen during two visits to Egypt and Jordan by the architects Denis and Mary Mason Jones in the 1980s and 1990s. The sketchbook also contains photographs of Denis and his wife during these two trips. These pages feature the stepped pyramid at Sakhara.
Design for the replanning of the Parliament Square, Westminster
This is one of a series of drawings made for George 'Grey' Wornum to illustrate his scheme for the redesign of Parliament Square after the Second World War. These drawings have been made directly onto photographs of the site. This is an effective method for showing how additions or amendments will impact on an existing site.
Parliament square was a key example of the type of public space which was the subject of great attention just after the war. Much criticism was aimed at spaces that did not allow public gatherings or leisure, and effort was channelled to ensure that spaces created as part of post-war reconstruction were 'sociable'.
Explanatory site plan for Hallfield Primary School
This drawing is best viewed in tandem with the plan of Hallfield School (PB868/3 (3), also included in the Study Room resource box. Through looking at these drawings together, we can get some idea of how Lasdun generated his ideas for the design of Hallfield school in Paddington. Classrooms were imagined as leaves branching off a stem which functioned as the corridor linking the teaching spaces together.
Exactly how well Lasdun managed to transform this idea into reality, and more importantly perhaps, how significant the concept was for those children who used the building is debatable. However, if you underlay this drawing behind the ground floor plan it is possible to see how well the idea of biomorphic forms fits the plan of the building as it was eventually built.
Design for Hallfield Primary School
When we read this drawing for the ground floor plan of Hallfield School in conjunction with the conceptual plan (PB886/3 (28) ), it seems clear that the plan derived from the precise geometries laid down by the plant which Lasdun was imitating. The author of the monograph on Denys Lasdun, William Curtis describes his experience of the building:
"The result is a coherent sculptural image, but one that is grasped piece by piece, incident by incident, as one moves from the public space of the estate to the increasingly closed world of the school. The scale has been cut down to that of a child's world: enclosed, dappled by light and shade, surrounded by plants, capable of receiving fantasy."
Design for the GPO Telephone Kiosk, No 2
An elevation drawing shows one face of a building, with no perspective. This elevation shows a traditional red telephone box, designed by George Gilbert Scott Junior and first produced in 1922. Scott's design is regarded as a fine example of industrial design in which Classical proportion and details were completely integrated with function. In addition the sheet features a plan and section drawing.
Design for the Swiss Re Building
The Swiss Re HQ, 30 St Mary Axe, designed by Foster Associates, was London's first ecological high-rise building with a natural ventilation system. It uses half the energy taken up by an ordinary air-conditioned skyscraper. Nicknamed 'The Gherkin' due to its unusual torpedo shape, its silhouette has become an instantly recognisable feature of the London skyline. This Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) shows how the plan of each floor is focused around a unifying central core and the circular perimeter widens towards the middle of the building before tapering at the top. This gives the building its distinctive profile, which is more elegant and takes up less space than a traditional rectangular tower block.
Computer Aided Design or CAD refers to the use of a computer in the design or construction process of a building. The computer can carry out more complicated analysis and calculations than were previously possible, allowing the architect to test the structure for weight bearing potential or resistance to external pressures such as the wind. Complex three-dimensional perspectives can be produced that can even simulate the experience of walking through the proposed building.
Competition design for the Royal Institute of British Architects
This drawing is one of 3600 designs submitted by 284 entrants in the competition to design a new and permanent home for the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects). In March 1929 the RIBA acquired a 999-year lease from the Howard de Walden Estate for a site on Portland Place, London. In June of that year, the Premises Committee recommended holding a design competition open to RIBA members and students in Great Britain and overseas. The announcement of competition guidelines in April 1931 set the profession on edge. A March 1932 RIBA circular predicted, '…the war between modernist and traditionalist may be expected to burst into unequalled fury whatever the result may be.'
In May 1932 the RIBA declared G. Grey Wornum the winner. Although not without its critics, many agreed that Wornum's design succeeded in its plan and, most notably, its section. In slotting together cubic spaces around a central staircase, Wornum's building could convey 500 people to and from the Meeting Room and the Exhibition Gallery without corridors or the use of a lift. Max Fry acknowledged the design's outstanding merit in the 'imaginative handling of the staircase levels which command views both upward and downward of great richness and complexity.' The large central window overlooking Portland Place and echoed in the window over the first-floor Exhibition Hall add to a sense of transparency and light, emphasized by rays of natural light etched into this section drawing.
Following World War II, Wornum prepared plans to rebuild 68 Portland Place and to add two additional floors to his original building. The plans were executed between 1955-1958 by Wornum's former partner Edward Playne of Playne and Lacey. Wornum retired from the project due to ill health in 1957 and died in 1958.
Design for the Odeon cinema, Leicester Square, London
This drawing by Harry William Weedon depicts his collaborator Andrew Mather's design for the Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square, London, with a large elevation and two small perspective details.
The Cinema was built as the intended "flagship" of Oscar Deutsch's Odeon Theatres empire on the former site of the 1883 Alhambra music hall. It reflects the scale of the burgeoning leisure industry at the time of its opening in November 1937.
A recreational culture blossomed in London in the first half of the twentieth century as residents increasingly had more free time and more money to spend; entrepreneurs in entertainment built cinemas, dancing venues, music halls and race tracks to lure Londoners out of the home and into the glamour of the city. While London had 94 registered cinemas with a grand total of 55,000 seats in 1911, by 1930 the city was home to 258 cinemas, with a viewing capacity of 344,000. Weedon and Mather alone designed a number of cinemas in Britain between 1935 and 1940, including theatres in Finsbury Park, Swiss Cottage, Birmingham, and Exeter, their work facilitating the mass consumption of a popular culture. As one Odeon ditty taught to matinee audiences declared,
"Won't you meet me tonight
Where your favourite
past-time's right It's round the corner at the O-de-on
Around the corner at the O-de-on."
Yet it is not merely the number of these theatres, but their design as well, that reveals the contemporary presence and power of the cinema in the nation's cultural life. The Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, with its commanding 120-foot tall tower covered, like the building's façade, in neon-reflecting black granite, acts as a West End cinematic shrine. Intended to literally and figuratively reflect London nightlife and with a building cost of £110 per seat, the theatre-and its Art Deco-infused interior-broadcast modern design as well as first run films to its large audiences.
Though the theatre's original interior decorations have been all but stripped away and while the significance of Leicester Square itself has diminished in the age of ubiquitous cinema multiplexes, Weedon's drawings for the Odeon preserve a 1930s blueprint of modernity.
Perspective of the Economist Building
Here are three drawings from a series of perspectives and aerial views of the Economist Building drawn by the architect Gordon Cullen for his book on urban planning in the post-war era, Townscape.
The building was designed as the headquarters of The Economist magazine in the early 1960s by the influential British designers Alison and Peter Smithson. It consists of three intricately detailed towers of different scales that sympathetically mirror the narrow lanes and courtyards of central London.
Design for 10 Blackheath P
This drawing shows the ground floor plan of Patrick Gwynne's design for 10 Blackheath Park, commissioned by his friend and former contractor Leslie Bilsby of SPAN. Like other drawings in this series, this plan would probably have been prepared by an apprentice or draughts person within Gwynne's office.
Bilsby, a community idealist who was involved with the development of flats and terraced houses in the surrounding area, requested a four bedroom house with a separate living room, dining room, kitchen and study. Architectural scholar Nicolaus Pevsner described the resulting 3600 sq ft (334.45 sq. m) development as "designed to shock." The design links pentagons of equal size; the sliding doors and rectangular rooms between the large spaces allow for variation in privacy and flow.
Of the project, Gwynne wrote that `the elevational treatment was intended to result in a frankly contrasting infill between the two period houses on either side but in such a manner that it would compliment the neighbours rather than appear as a separate unrelated building.' 10 Blackheath Park does interact with neighboring Regency buildings, its structure reflecting the double-fronted bayed residences and its black slate and bronze glazed exterior distinguishing the property from surrounding nineteenth century style.
The drawing reflects Gwynne's detail and attention to aspects of domestic life as well his understanding of the resulting building's physical and temporal placement. Despite the idiosyncratic design, the carefully calculated lines of the plan produce a sense of order and structure.
Design for 10 Blackheath Park staircase detail
This is the construction detain of the central staircase was part of a drawings package for the design 10 Blackheath Park, Greenwich, London, for Leslie Bilsby, the Director of SPAN. The 3600sq ft (334.45 sq m) house was built between two early Victorian houses in Blackheath Park.
This drawing as many in the series are not by Patrick Gwynne own hand. They would have likely been done by an apprentice or a draughts person within his office.
The client required a four bedroom house with separate living room, dining room and study'. The result was centralized plan around a semi spiral staircase surrounded by rectangular intermediate spaces connecting the main pentagonal - shaped spaces at each corner of the building. The intermediate spaces - hall, ante room, garden room, and servery - which led to the study, sitting, dining and kitchen were designed 'in such a way that their use can be varied to suit the owner's requirements for either open plan or separate rooms as occasion demands.'
The exterior treatment of the house in black slate facings and bronze tinted glazing was intended to directly contrast with the two period houses on either side, but in a manner which complimented rather than appeared like an unrelated building. 'Construction is out of concrete and load-bearing brickwork and the interior are lined with plywood panels faced with white and black plastic cloth except for the central walls which are plastered.'
Contract drawing for alterations to the chapel, Wellington Barracks, London
This drawing is part of the contract drawings for the reconstruction of the interior of the Royal Military Chapel of the Wellington Barracks. The Barracks, erected in a Greek Revival style in 1838, serve as the headquarters of the Foot Guard Battalions in London. George Edmund Street reconstructed the chapel's interior in an Italian Romanesque style between 1876 and 1879. The chapel, also known as the Guards Chapel, was struck by a V1 rocket on 18 June 1944 and rebuilt in a modern style in 1962-1963.
Street's drawing reflects his dedication to detail and skills as a draughtsman. He said, 'Three-fourths of the poetry of a building lies in its minor details,' and believed the architect was responsible for creating coherency between a building's exterior and the form and function of its interior.
Street was a skilled artist, as reflected in drawings such as this and in his illustrations of Brick and Marble in the Middle Ages. Street often drew in ink and very rarely altered or erased his lines. His dedication to detail and artistic skills were reflected in his relationship with students and apprentices. Richard Norman Shaw noted, 'I am certain that during the whole time I was with him I never designed one moulding.'
Street was a devout High Anglican, and his style reflected both his religious devotion and his early exposure to the Puginian phase of the Gothic Revival and its emphasis on historicism. In 1845 he was elected a member of the Ecclesiological Society, which was formed to: 'promote the study of Christian art and antiquities, more especially in whatever relates to the architecture, arrangement and decoration, of churches; the recognition of correct principles and taste in the erection of new churches; and the restoration of ancient ecclesiastical remains.' He was appointed Diocesan Architect to the Oxford Diocesan Church Building Society in 1850.
Street's work on the Guards Chapel interior included rich marble mosaics and painted glass. In 1940, the chapel's roof caught fire and collapsed as the result of incendiary bombs. A new roof had been built and restoration work on the chapel's interior was underway when a V1 rocket struck the chapel in 1944.
Elliott, Jon and John Pritechard, eds. George Edmund Street: a Victorian Architect in Berkshire. University of Reading: Reading (1998).
'The Royal Military Chapel, Wellington Barracks, S.W.' The Builder, Vol. 166 (23 June 1944), pp. 498-502.
Unexecuted competition design for the National Gallery Extension project
The National Gallery Competition for the expansion of the Hampton site was held in 1982 and attracted 79 entries by various architects. This drawing was one of the 7 drawings entered by P. Ney & R. Schmidt, in the High- Tech style. The drawing shows an axonometric view and two perspective drawings of their overall design, which accommodated both commercial offices and public gallery space.
The winning design for the National Gallery extension project by Ahrends, Burton & Koralek was eventually abandoned in favour of a scheme by Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates which was constructed in 1991. The extension became known as The Sainsbury Wing and was designed to house the Gallery's Renaissance collections. The original National Gallery building, part of which can be seen here, was designed by William Wilkins (1778-1839) and completed in 1838.
Designs for colour applications and flooring layouts for schools in Herts Carpenders Park School
Oliver Cox spent much time in his post at Hertfordshire Architects Department trying to collaborate with artists on the design of features of the schools. This example is of the flooring scheme developed by Cox with a tile manufacturer for production to be used across the county. This idea of mass producing building components was very popular after the Second World War when government funding and national resources were low.
Cox spent some time developing colour schemes for the floor tiles and walls. This is one of a series of thirty or more studies worked in a similar way to experiment with the decoration of the interiors. Each small perspective captures the light and airy atmosphere of the schools which was seen at the time as being something new.
Design for a clock face for the Houses of Parliament
Charles Barry was an English architect best known for his rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament following the destruction of the previous building in a fire in 1834. The building is probably most famous for the clock tower with its bell, Big Ben. This pencil and watercolour sketch shows how Barry was keen to design every detail of the building to perfection, even down to the clock face.
Design for an automobile instrument panel for Cooper-Steward Engineering Company Limited
This drawing is a blueprint produced using a photographic process. A blueprint is a negative print showing white lines on a blue background. It was used by architectural practices from the 1870's onwards as an easy and convenient way to reproduce technical drawings of buildings for design and construction purposes. Use of the process declined after World War Two as other processes, which could reproduce drawings without distortion, became popular.
Design for remodelling of Peamore House
Repton was a landscape gardener of the early 19th Century who was preoccupied with the picturesque qualities of architecture in his landscapes. He often produced presentation drawings, such as these, with flaps that could be lifted to show the 'before and after' effects of his proposed alterations. This would help his clients, who did not necessarily have an 'architectural' eye, to visualise the changes that he wished to make to their properties.
Design for Gateshead Millennium Bridge
This bridge is essentially made up of two curves, which pivot around their common springing points to allow ships to pass underneath, mimicking the action of a blinking eye. This Computer Aided Drawing shows how the architects have used technology to visualise how the bridge will look in the different stages of its movement
Sydney Opera House under construction
Very little information is known about this drawing of Sydney Opera House under construction, designed by Jorn Utzon (1918-2008). However, it interestingly shows the iconic roof before it was completed. The unusual shapes of the building and scene of the construction site evidently inspired the artist Mervyn Smith to record it.
Drawing of the Taj Mahal, Agra
The Taj Mahal, completed around 1653, is a mausoleum built by the Mughal Emperor of India in memory of his wife. This drawing by an unidentified artist is a topographical perspective of the completed design: a detailed, accurate representation of the view as it exists.
Promotional material for the housing development at Mallard Place
This is a brochure for a Span Developments housing estate at Mallard Place, Strawberry Vale, Richmond-upon-Thames, London. Architects Eric Lyons and Geoffrey Townsend formed Span in the late 1950s and, together with landscape designer Ivor Cunningham, built over 2000 homes in London, Kent and Surrey in the 1960s.
Span's well-designed, economical and low-rise housing placed modern design features - flat roofs, open-plan interiors and large windows - in harmony with the surrounding suburban landscape. Communal gardens, car-free zones and rear parking forged a sense of community among residents. In keeping with this sense of community, Span introduced a resident-controlled company to monitor the landscape, maintenance and the alteration of buildings within their developments.
Mallard Place is distinguished from other Span developments in its bold use of colour, high density and luxurious amenities, including a communal swimming pool. The estate won a Civil Trust Award in 1983 and a Housing Award in 1985.
Design & Technology at Key Stage 5
Year 12 students from Highgate Wood School in Haringey, London, visited the V&A as part of their A-Level course in Design & Technology. They were at an early stage in the preparation of their own major design projects, for which they had chosen the overall theme. This forms a distinct part of their assessed work for the examination. As they already had some experience of design and were familiar with the need to follow a design process, they were keen to see how this worked out in the hands of professional designers. In the Prints and Drawings Study Room, students had the unique opportunity to study original sketches, drawings and artwork from a range of commercial design projects.
At the Museum
Students began by looking at both the start of a project and the final design. They were then asked to identify and put in order the design stages in between, on the basis of their own design experience. After discussion, a consensus was reached on the stages a designer would have to go through from the initial design brief, in order to come up with the finished product. The students then studied designs for a range of products, and saw how professional designers approached each stage of the process.
Students recognized the different design stages from the professional designers' sheets and saw how similar the working process was to their own. Some were clearly encouraged by the knowledge that they worked in a similar fashion to professional designers.
The students viewed many different types of drawing, from rough doodles and ideas sketches to presentation boards and production drawings. Some of the designers' rough doodles looked very much like 'back of an envelope' sketches. However, the students could see how designers used different drawing styles at different times, depending on what they wanted to communicate and the audience. The experience brought home to students the value of saving every scrap of work, to build up a complete record of how their ideas evolved. In one project they saw how ideas that had been abandoned in one context were adapted and used in another.
Some students were intrigued to discover how long professional designers spent on the early stages of some projects, as this is a stage that is often skipped over in schools. The students started to understand the importance of accurate analysis of the problem, and defining precisely the potential users. They also began to see the need to keep the design problem constantly in focus, and to carry a pocket sized sketchbook so that ideas and thoughts could be recorded instantly. Some of the commercial projects they saw took a great many drawings to refine ideas, and students realized that this was not a stage that could be rushed through.
The students next focused on the ways that designers presented their final design solutions. They saw a variety of styles, and were able to
evaluate these for their visual impact, and how well they communicated information. From some presentation sheets, we could almost imagine that we were being presented with the final design at a directors' board meeting. The students recorded any imaginative approach that seemed to bring the design alive. Some students particularly liked the way that several colour combinations were shown for a single design. Others commented on the way that some drawings gave products a strong company identity and image.
To complete their examination of all stages of the design process, students rounded off the visit by looking at drawings that communicated the technical side of a finished design. They began to appreciate the kind of detail that a designer would need to provide to a manufacturer in order to make the production and assembly stages as easy as possible. This includes accurate measurements as well as details of materials and fastenings. Though the students were likely to be working on different design problems to those they saw in the Prints and Drawings Study Room, the chance to look at original work by a number of designers working in two and three dimensions gave the students much food for thought. They came to realize that although design may spread across many spheres, there is a commonality of approach. The visit focused the students on all the different stages within their own projects, and ways of communicating their intentions.
The impact of the project
The first area where pupils reviewed their own practice was in the time they spent on the early stages of their design projects. From their experience in the Prints and Drawings Study Room they brought into the classroom ideas for showing their research visually, as well as ideas for showing the development of their designs.
Students were certainly influenced by seeing different ways of presenting ideas on paper, especially the impact of drawing a design in its surroundings so that customers and users can see it in place. The students were more imaginative in the way they communicated their design decisions, and it was possible to detect one or two of the presentation techniques they had seen creeping into their own projects.
One benefit of the visit to the Museum is less tangible, but may last longer. By exposing the students to the work of professional designers, they could see how the standard of work was related to their own. If it was not quite within their grasp yet, it was certainly within their sights. This may provide them with inspiration for some time to come.