By Hand

I am a residential architect. I have had my own firm for 36 years. I learned to design in architecture school using freehand sketching and manual drafting. And though the others in my profession use computers to assist their drafting, I still begin with the sketch…by hand.  Often, I look down at the blank piece of paper without a definite sense of what the design wants to be. And, then, as my hand moves ideas begin to flow.  Homes are one of the last areas of architecture where we encourage the hand of the craftsman to show in the finished product.

All of the tools in my collection are analog. They reflect my respect for the craftsman’s handwork. Some tools exhibit the ultimate in accuracy of their time. But, none are electric or electronic. All require the fine-skilled touch or trained muscles of man to perform.

Several years ago, I visited  marble and stone factories near Verona. We were shown many large computerized machines used to craft the most intricate designs into materials. They could sculpt a Roman Corinthian column with perfect mathematical proportions. I questioned the company representative demonstrating the equipment, “can you program the slight variations and inaccuracies that reflect the human hand?” He looked stunned. “Why would one want that?”

In my architectural practice, we program our computer equipment to reproduce the freshness of hand-drawn working drawings, removing the sterility of the machine. To see the human hand in craft and art touches us in a way that perfection does not.

  • Essay by Stephen Chambers