Hand Drawing: Why it Still Matters for Architects in the Digital Age

Saturday, February 17, 2024
9:00AM - 4:30PM
Connon Room & McConomy Auditorium, Cohon University Center
conte drawing of a spiral staircase

Hand Drawing: Why it Still Matters for Architects in the Digital Age

Keynote: Juhani Pallasmaa

Convened by Doug Cooper, Andrew Mellon Professor of Architecture
Supported by the Doug Cooper, A 1970, Fund for Drawing and Architecture

Saturday, February 17, 2024, McConomy Auditorium
Cohon University Center, 5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

What is the case for freehand drawing for architects in the digital age? Architecture students draw less and less by hand and now develop their proposals predominantly with design software.  We need a clearer and unsentimental understanding of just what might be lost with this sea change.  This symposium will enlist practitioners, teachers, and scientists alike in addressing the visual/haptic content of freehand drawing and the value it still has for the field.  Here is a schedule of conversations and some of the questions we’ll address in each.

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9 a.m. Welcome 
Omar Khan, Head, Carnegie Mellon Architecture

Doug Cooper. Carnegie Mellon Architecture

9:15am—10:45 a.m. Conversation 1 : Perspectives from Science

  • Is there evidence that the haptic/gestural content of freehand drawing helps in sustaining three-dimensional visualization? 

  • Is there evidence that freehand drawing connects designers to their past experience of architecture?

  • Do "sketchiness" and ambiguity contribute to design thinking?  If so, when and why?

Moderator: Milton Shinberg, Principal Emeritus Shinberg Levinas Architects, Adjunct Professor of Architecture School of Architecture and Planning Catholic University, Building on Architectural Intuition in Practice and Education, A Pragmatic Framework


  • Barbara Tversky, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Stanford University: Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought.

  • Mark Hewitt, Draw in Order to See: A Cognitive history of Architectural Design

11:00 a.m.—12:30 p.m. Conversation 2: Perspectives from Practice

  • In your practice, when do you tend to use freehand drawing the most?  When the least? 

  • What skills needed in architectural design are still improved by hand drawing?

  • Do you seek freehand skills in your recruits?  What characteristics do you look for? 

  • What hybrid practices have proven most useful? 

  • What changes and development in hardware and software might make freehand drawing more useful in design?

Moderator: Stefani Danes, Carnegie Mellon Architecture


  • Anssi Lasilla, OOPEAA Office for Peripheral Architecture, Finland, Professor of Practice in Contemporary Architecture at the Oulu School of Architecture, Finland

  • Brian MacKay-Lyons, MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada

1:30–2:30 p.m. Keynote Address:  Juhani Pallasmaa

Former Professor of Architecture Helsinki University of Technology. Author of The Eyes of the Skin;  The Thinking Hand;  Architecture and Neuroscience (with Harry Mallgrave, Michael A. Arbib);  The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema. 

In-Person Rsvp

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^ Above: Drawing by Graham Murtha, B.Arch 2025