Sketch to Structure: for the people
The process of architecture is not linear, with much back and forth happening before getting to the built product. Nevertheless, Curator Alyssum Skjeie was able to capture interesting architectural moments – and deliver them to the public – with the Heinz Architectural Center’s latest exhibit ‘Sketch to Structure,’ a collection of drawings, sketches, and architectural models that show how architects work. “The goal is to keep it broad and accessible,” Skjeie points out as we start the visit together…

All the pieces displayed are from the HAC collection, some donated by architects, and others obtained over decades, with a couple of purchases made as recently as last year. Some historic drawings, already part of the museum’s Fine Arts department before the HAC was established, are wonderfully crafted and add another strong element to the exhibition’s cultural value. From more recent times, you will find watercolors by Steven Holl, drawings by Richard Neutra, sketches by Herzog and De Meuron Architekten, and creations by many others architects from all over the world.


The exhibition is divided into four sections: Concept, Collaboration, Communication, and Case Studies, and it is especially interesting to see sketches from different decades (even centuries) juxtaposed within the same section. You will be able to see bright blue, old-fashioned blueprints side-by-side with colorful contemporary plexiglass models, both aiming to best communicate the proposed architecture. You will also find futuristic concepts of a neuroscience pavilion presented via techie prints by Jakob+MacFarlane Architects from 2014 next to quick, hand-drawn sketches on recycled printout paper, drawn in 1985 by Herzog & De Meuron. The public is certainly exposed to many ways a concept can manifest itself in drawing and then, eventually, be constructed.

The Case Studies section contains seven projects developed from the initial sketches to the final building. The most fascinating project is the Formosa 1140, by Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, developed through captivating sketches, riveting paintings, and a high-definition model. Locals will likely enjoy the project Kraus Campo, by Mel Bochner and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, and its many iterations before being built on the Carnegie Mellon University campus. There is also an area for the Pittsburgh International Airport with a voluminous model.


One of the main objectives of this exhibition is to reach out to kids in particular. There are many upcoming events planned at the HAC, including summer camps. One event to look forward to is ‘Draw Like an Architect with Lorcan O’Herlihy’. The lecture and talk will be held on Monday, March 30th, from 6:30 till 9:30 p.m. at Carnegie Music Hall. The HAC calendar is rich with other related events, which you can check out here.

If you cannot make one of the exhibition programs, interaction is still encouraged as visitors are prompted to create drawings during their visit. Kids will love to sit down and start drawing; adults will be intrigued by the art, and perhaps, feel inspired to sketch a couple of ideas for themselves; and architects will surely reconnect with the old tools of the profession, maybe putting aside – at least for an afternoon – all the BIM and CAD software that now rule in our job.

© 2017 Bea Spolidoro