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Sketching For Engineers

Sketching For Engineers

Sketching is an amazing thing. It’s a great way of communicating an idea to someone, rapidly discovering solutions and testing a design for buildability. It’s an underrated skill in the engineering toolbox, and one that is sadly finding itself sidelined in our increasingly digital world. Which is a shame.

This week, however, I learned that one of the greatest sketching engineers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with has released a book. Drawing from an impressive fifty years of expertise (pun completely intended), the fantastic Ron Slade talks us through some of the techniques you can use to improve your pencil skills- in his book about sketching for engineers (and architects).

Having been privy to some of Ron’s beautiful sketches first hand, I’d recommend the book just for a chance to see just how well they can be done. Engineering is art, after all, and a visual celebration of a very distinguished engineer should be an exciting enough proposition on its own- we engineers rarely take the chance to celebrate our achievements.

Sketching as a tool is important, however, and worth the investment. One of my favourite summaries about our digital age is:

The unbearable certainty of BIM. Brian Duguid

Revit models and CAD drawings have their place, but sketching should not be underestimated. A 3D model is almost a mathematical document; cold, hard and precise (if not accurate)- full of details. But a good sketch is an expression– what’s drawn and how it’s drawn can say so much more than a thousand notes ever could. The line weights, the level of detail, even the rubbing-out; it forms a story, an interpretation, outlining a designer’s intent. Any engineer will tell you that finding the precise length of a beam, or distance between bolts, is the boring bit, it’s discovering how a structure can work that’s exciting; and that’s what a sketch is to a drawing.

Aside from the communicative art, sketching forces you to think through a problem. Building up your solution, trying new things- never underestimate how good you are at spotting that some thing’s not right. Yes the computer told you that this connection needs 10 bolts, but as you sketch it out it’ll become obvious that just because you meet the minimum spacing, doesn’t mean than anyone’s going to be able to get a wrench in there… And through that process you discover more solutions- it’s the ultimate in conceptual design because it forces you to address those gaps that your calculations inevitably miss.

Check Out Sketching for Engineers and Architects

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  1. We used to do a lot of sketching at ONC level (tools, details etc) but for some reason this did not carry on at degree stage. Have always thought it to be an important skill but then I did start out as a steelwork draughtsman/designer so appreciate the point. In fact my last post had me based alone in Hong Kong doing all my own designs and drawings (by hand !!) including, as you say, many full-size versions to see if things fit or are doable.