The architect since formal inception has been noted for planning, designing, and supervising the construction of buildings. These duties were from the onset characterised by manual processes and physical interactions resulting in high demands of work both in the office and on-site. The design process usually begins with conceptualisation of the project during which design ideas and intentions are displayed often through sketching; an ability commonly inherent and applauded by most architects.

sketch of volumetric studies

Sketching in architecture involves roughly scribbling or freely drawing ideas to show design rationale or certain aspects of the construction process. These ideas depicted in pencil, pen, or colour on various mediums such as paper bring the thoughts of the architect to life for better understanding and execution. The flair and ease of graphically demonstrating these thoughts either from memory, following a style, or guided by the intended function clearly reveal architectural talent and capabilities.

Study plan (Electrostatic print on paper with ink and graphite notations)

Before the 20th century, hand-drawn architectural designs or building sketches, sometimes with a touch of watercolour by architects were valued and preserved as works of art. Architects mostly worked with simple technical tools including the drawing board, T-square, rulers, pens and pencils. Over time sketching/drawing and building techniques became standardised for easy universal interpretation and appreciation. Drafters were employed to manually produce (technical) architectural drawings and plans, filling in details of designs created by architects. The design process was not only time-consuming but also labour intensive until the introduction of digital alternatives via computers.

Innovations in science and technology around the 20th century brought a shift in the way architectural processes were carried out. Technological changes began with computer-aided design (CAD) software which aided architects to design complex forms especially in drawing curves and designing in 3D, an upgrade of the limiting 2D line drawings. Digital tools also facilitated the tedious work of drafters in the production of large volume technical drawings. The UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and some European countries embraced the computer-aided design (CAD) software from the 1980s, and this caught up in Africa during the late nineties

Architects noted for pioneering major projects using digital resources include Peter Eisenman for his Biozentrumdesign (unbuilt) at the J. W. Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany (1987) using computer-generated patterns:

study model
Study Perspective (Graphic appliqué film on photoreproduction, 21.5 x 28 cm)

Frank Gehry for hisLewis Residence (unbuilt) in LyndhurstOhiousing digital technologies in modeling and rendering complex organic forms from 1989 to 1995:

3D digital model of geometrical frame of the conservatory
Design model
Rendering from Catia3D model

Shoei Yoh’s roof frame for the Odawara Municipal Sports Complex and the Galaxy Toyama Gymnasium (1991-1992) of which digital models were used to check structural integrity:

Galaxy Toyama Gymnasium, an experiment of photoelasticity for the roof
Galaxy Toyama Gymnasium, perspective view

and the Expanding Sphere by Chuck Hoberman which is a polyhedral that inflates and shrinks in 1992:

Chuck Hoberman with expanding aluminium sphere (b/w print on chromogenic paper)
The different progressive positions of the expanding geodesic dome, 1992-1993

These initial projects experimented with the evolving digital prospects in the architectural design process and challenged phenomenal improvements to the digital revolution.

From the design conception through to production of working (technical) drawings to all forms of (graphic) communication with stakeholders, the shift from manual to digital tools and techniques brought much relief and delight in the industry. The revolution in technology provided much potential and opportunities in achieving innovative and challenging forms. This was perceived to drive significant developments in design output, process/production times, and the management of construction records. Initially, computers were bulky and slow, working at the same rate as humans and in some cases experiencing unexpected prolonged periods due to system errors. However, within the last century, the architectural profession and the construction industry have experienced rapid remarkable strides in technological advancement fromseveral3D CADsoftwareprograms through the development and adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) to 3D printing. Architectural designs and drawings can now be produced and communicated in varied visually comprehensive ways that appeal to all generations–adults, youth and children. Currently, a wide range of digital tools is available at the disposal of architects and architectural drafters/technicians in the revolution from paper to computer screens as a way of enhancing design capabilities. AutoCAD, ArchiCAD, and Revit are some of the software programs purposefully developed for architectural drawings and drafting. Photorealistic images, high-resolution 3D renders, and animations of architectural designs can be produced from computer animation programs such as Sketchup, Maya, and 3DStudio Max. These visualization and graphics tools assist architects in discussing and convincing stakeholders into buying/realising a project. On the other hand, BIM aids to visualise and simulate together in the form of digital models, all aspects and data of the building design, construction, and performance across the entire project life cycle. Its integration provides the chance to correct or reduce likely obstacles, risks or component clashes before and/or during project actualisation. BIM is one fundamental digital transformation that has encouraged enduring collaborations within the architecture, engineering, and construction(AEC) industry.

Rendering from Catia3D model

Digital tools and technologies have generated numerous benefits and roles in architectural practice. The mainstream architect’s role has been transformed to collaborate with machines and other allied professionals in producing technology-driven efficient buildings. Positions created from the digital revolution include visualizers, modelers, sustainability experts, CAD developers, and building systems consultants. Some benefits include helping to resolve vital building challenges such as sustainability and extending design abilities beyond human limitations. This ameliorates the shortcomings of human capabilities in the appropriate conceptualisation and development of the built environment. The continuous innovations of digital tools and techniques that facilitate technological breakthroughs within the architectural practice have of no doubt positively impacted how practitioners think and design. Though digital options help to deliver design processes and outputs within time and labour budgets, there is the caution of not allowing computer systems to control design rationale and effective spatial development. As human designers, digital tools are to be recognised as aids in representing our thoughtful, practical, and functional ideas, not a substitute for the creative thinking process. Our priority should be focused on achieving client/user satisfaction in our works rather than just obtaining intriguing eye-pleasing (unfunctional) digital building images. Obviously, the future of architecture continues to be dependent on computers and technology but our emphasis needs to be on expanding our design knowledge base and socio-cultural exposure, in order to direct design outcomes that, are human-friendly and relatable. As we digitally evolve, architects should play a significant role in the revolution process by directing the creation of pertinent forms, structures, and materials that instigate change and reflect significant transformations in the lives of people.


  • A History of Technology in the Architecture Office
  • Honoring Architecture’s Digital Pioneers
  • SPACE10 Explores the Future of Digital Design in Architecture

Image sources:

  • Peter Eisenman, Eisenman/Robertson Architects, Biozentrum, Biology Center for the J.W. Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany:1987.

Source: Peter Eisenman fonds, Archaeology of the Digital (2013), Canadian Centre for Architecture – CCA Collections and Sternberg Press;

  • Frank O. Gehry & Associates, Inc. Lewis Residence, Lyndhurst, Ohio, USA 1989-1995. Source: Archaeology of the Digital (2013), Canadian Centre for Architecture and Sternberg Press;

  • The Expanding Sphere by Chuck Hoberman1991-1993.

Source: Chuck Hoberman fonds, Archaeology of the Digital (2013), Canadian Centre for Architecture CCA Collection © Hoberman Associates and Sternberg Press.

  • Shoei Yoh’s roof frame for the Odawara Municipal Sports Complex and the Galaxy ToyamaGymnasium, Imizu, Toyama, Japan, 1990-1992.

Source: Archaeology of the Digital (2013), Canadian Centre for Architecture CCA Collection, Shoei Yoh fonds ARCH265917 © Shoei Yoh + Architects and Sternberg Press.

Article gallery:

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Cyndelle is an architect registered with the Ghana Institute of Architects [GIA]. You can reach her via email at

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x