People should talk less and draw more. Personally, I would like to renounce speech altogether and, like organic nature, communicate everything I have to say visually. -- Goethe
The design of Santiago Calatrava's Milwaukee Art Museum addition has such a sleek geometry and mathematicall purity of line that it looks as if could only have been created on a computer, but Calatrava does not work with either a computer or traditional drafting equipment. He begins by sketching quick, freehand watercolor abstractions of natural forms.
I read about his working methods in Rebecca Mead's New Yorker profile of the Spanish architect recently. It's a wide-ranging look at his life and work, along with his thoughts about the practice of architecture. (He does not like to think of himself as a brand, although his clients seem eager to position his work that way.) There's a section on the dramatic impact his museum addition has had on Milwaukee and its lakefront. But what I most enjoyed was Mead's description of how he works, drawing on his background as a painter and sculptor.
For Calatrava, who is one of the world’s most successful architects, sketching with watercolors is an essential part of his creative process. He does not work with a computer or with drafting equipment; each of his buildings begins with a sheaf of paint-dappled pages. His archive in Switzerland includes more than a hundred thousand sketches; he has also had copies of them bound into handsome keepsake books for his clients, a beguilingly artisanal alternative to a PowerPoint presentation.Calatrava's fondness for the watercolor sketch goes beyond the act of creation and also extends to its presentation. So much is at stake in presenting plans for a new building that most architects try to minimize risk and control the situation with teams of assistants, models and PowerPoint slides. Calatrava apparently revels in the risk or at least has a different idea of showmanship.
Calatrava typically paints images—a leaping figure, a charging bull, a disembodied eye, a skeletal hand—that at first seem to have nothing to do with buildings but, rather, suggest the contents of the sketchbook of an art student who has spent the afternoon at MOMA lingering over the Picassos. The relevance of such drawings becomes fully apparent in Calatrava’s completed structures, which are instantly recognizable for their use of sculptural forms that draw upon motifs found in the natural world.
In Liège, Belgium, Calatrava was one of seven contestants in an architectural competition to design a high-speed-train station. His rivals came in teams, armed with examples of their past work; Calatrava showed up alone, with his paintbrush, and won the commission.The introduction to Calatrava's website consists of a brief video showing how one of the architect's dramatic buildings began with him sketching that disembodied eye that Mead mentions. Calatrava doesn't talk in the video, although he speaks six languages. He simply draws.