La casa delle tre donne, 1995-1998, Beinwil am See, Livio Vacchini and Silvia Gmür
Can thinking replace drawing?

F r a n ç o i s e    S c h a t z

As an architect's aphorism, it may be said that "thinking" is for creating, and "drawing" for any device used by a designer to represent its process: verbal, graphic, digital, model, and so on. Bruce Goff, an American architect (1904-1982), is said to have "thought" his design projects in such a way that the first drawings he started with for his customers' houses were the so-called "working drawings"; a necessary depiction of future reality and instructions for craftsmen. In this he avoided the sketching stage, as an unnecessary mechanism for him.


Nevertheless most designers set out ideas and propositions through exploration by drawing, in a practised backward and forward conversation between brain, imagination and delineation. Therefore both thinking and drawing are involved in the creative path and its achievement – from concept to realisation of the real building; even the additive manufacturing asks for representative, explanatory, and other, data, and needs brains as well!


"Drawing, the motive force of architecture" writes [Sir] Peter Cook, whatever the purpose, and the means; not solely visual. A scheme (a representation) can be part of an heuristic process and investigation, it can be determined by the language of orders to give for construction; it may be drawn to convince clients or juries (in a competition), or even be a demonstration for the sake of communication (books and exhibitions).


Vacchini's drawing of "La Casa delle tre donne" is far removed from the depiction of its material external appearance, or from one with technical information and operational instructions, even if the work is built. Neither is it seductive: in a code carefully settled, the mannerism of the drawing shows the rigorous and logical system of ideas that lead to this precise form in the site: rhythm, ordonnance, serial sequence, relevant proportions, etc. The choice of an apparently simple means of illustration is deliberate, establishing clear priorities and narrowing the focus on architectural intentions; it communicates the "thinking"!


In magazines and books, besides photographs, the latest projects and/or buildings can be seen only in such coded drawings: the drawing is an intellectual reflection, Vacchini's statement upon architecture as a "cosa mentale".

Former tenured Professor at the École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Nancy (France), she taught subjects like design process, graphic figuration, epistemological issues in modelisation, as well as in design studios. At LAREA (Philippe Boudon, director), she conducted researchs mainly oriented towards the explanation and the didactics of the architectural conception, with regard to the point of view of measurement (architecturological modelisation). With alii she published a teaching book on the process of conception and its specific operations, and she is author of numerous articles. Her own motto about drawing is : « On ne peut figurer que si on renonce à tout figurer » (J. Guillerme, 1975).