Architectural Drawings by Famous Architects

Sketches, Renderings, and Architectural Drawings by Famous Architects

Long before construction begins, architects sketch their visions. From casual pen and ink doodles to intricate architectural drawings, a concept emerges. Elevation drawings, section drawings, and detailed plans used to be painstakingly hand-drawn by apprentices and interns. Computer software has changed all that. This sampling of architectural drawings and project sketches shows, as architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable puts it, "architecture as it comes straight from the mind and the eye and the heart, before the spoilers get to it."

Overhead photo of the Statue of Liberty atop a star base and concrete pedestal
Lady Liberty atop a star base and concrete pedestal. Photo by Mike Tauber / Blend Images / Getty Images

Architect: Richard Morris Hunt
The Statue of Liberty was made in France and shipped in pieces to the United States, but the design and construction of Lady Liberty's pedestal has its own history. We may look only at the iconic sculpture, but where do you put a gift that needs to be displayed? More »

Angled form, a sketch from Maya Lin's poster entry for Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Angled geometric form sketch from Maya Lin's poster entry for Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Image courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, digital file from original

Architect: Maya Lin
Her abstract drawing may seem obvious to us now, but this submission to the Vietnam Memorial competition baffled and intrigued the deciding committee. More »

Illustration of how the Maki-designed Tower 4 integrates with Libeskind's Master Plan for the WTC site.
Illustration of how the Maki-designed Tower 4 integrates with Libeskind's Master Plan for the WTC site. Image courtesy Image: RRP, Team Macarie, courtesy of Silverstein Properties (cropped)

Architect: Daniel Libeskind
Lower Manhattan was rebuilt after terrorists destroyed a major chunk of real estate on September 11, 2001. Architects competed to be the designer for this high-profile project, and Daniel Libeskin's plan—a Master Plan—won the contest. Architects of the skyscrapers to be built adhered to specifications in the Master plan. Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki and Maki and Associates presented a sketch of how their design for WTC Tower 4 would conform to Libeskind's Master Plan. Maki's sketch envisions a skyscraper completing the spiral composition of the four towers in the new World Trade Center Complex. What Happened to the 2002 Plan for Ground Zero? More »

Early rendering for the Minnesota State Capitol by Cass Gilbert
Early rendering for the Minnesota State Capitol by Cass Gilbert. ArtToday.com

Architect: Cass Gilbert
In this early architectural rendering, Cass Gilbert imagined a vast domed structure modeled after Saint Peter's in Rome. More »

Black and white photo of 38-year-old Jorn Utzon, architect of Sydney's Opera House, designing at his desk, February 1957
Jorn Utzon, the 38-year-old architect of Sydney's Opera House, designing at his desk, February 1957. Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive Collection/Getty Images

Architect: Jørn Utzon
The high-profile opera house project in Sydney, Australia was put out for competition, with a young Danish architect winning. His design quickly became iconic. The construction of the building was a nightmare, but the sketch in Utzon's head became a reality. More »

Architect Frank Gehry, with dark hair and a bushy mustache, displaying his sample of corrugated paperboard material and his chair design
Frank Gehry in 1972. Photo by Bettmann / Bettmann Collection / Getty Images (cropped)

Architect: Frank Gehry
Way back in 1972, before the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, before the Prizker Prize, even before the middle-aged architect remodeled his own house, Frank Gehry was designing furniture. No ordinary furniture, however. The corrugated cardboard Easy Edges chair is still being sold as the "Wiggle" chair. And Gehry's ottomans? Well, they come with a twist, just like his stainless steel architecture. More »

New York Public Library image of the Washington Monument with a proposed but unbuilt circular colonnade around its base
New York Public Library image of the Washington Monument with a proposed but unbuilt circular colonnade around its base. Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Architect: Robert Mills
The original design for the 19th century Washington Monument built in Washington, DC called for a type of pedestal—a colonnade at the base of the obelisk. It was never built, but lighting that tall structure has been problematic well into the 21st century. More »

Mies van der Rohe Sketch for Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois
Mies van der Rohe Sketch for Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois. Photo by Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Archive Photos (cropped)

Architect: Mies van der Rohe
The idea of a glass house may have been Mies van der Rohe's, but the execution was not his alone. Architect Philip Johnson was building his own glass house in Connecticut, and the two architects enjoyed a friendly rivalry. More »

In 2004 Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava sketched his vision for the Transportation Hub at the World Trade Center site - a squiggle on paper
In 2004 Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava sketched his vision for the Transportation Hub at the World Trade Center site. Photo by Ramin Talaie / Corbis Historical / Getty Images (cropped)

Architect: Santiago Calatrava
The computer renderings for the WTC Transportation Hub rival the photographs of Calatrava's actual design, yet his presented sketches seem like doodles. Computer-driven architecture can be detailed and extravagant, and the new Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail center in Lower Manhattan is all this—and expensive. Yet look closely at Calatrava's quick sketch, and you can see it all there. More »

Frank Lloyd Wright, a successful architect in his 80s, continues to diagram his ideas
Frank Lloyd Wright illustrates a point. Photo by Fred Stein Archive / Archive Photos / Getty Images (cropped)

Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
Even when Frank Lloyd Wright was in his 80s, he continued to illustrate his ideas and visions any way he could. As a much younger man, Wright took on an ambitious project for a wealthy businessman named Gordon Strong. Wright's 1920s-era drawings show a spiraling structure that mimicked (even extending) the shape of a mountain. Strong ultimately rejected the plans, but these early architectural drawings reveal the architect's experiments with the hemicycle forms he used in the 1950s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. More »

About Architectural Drawings:

Ideas spring from the mind, in a soup of energy, chemistry, and firing neurons. Putting form to an idea is an art in itself, or perhaps a god-like manifestation of crossing a synapse. "In fact," writes Ada Louise Huxtable, "one thing that architectural drawings make abundantly clear is that the architect worthy of the name is an artist first of all." The germ of the idea, these drawings, is communicated to a world outside the brain. Sometimes the best communicator wins the prize.

Learn More: Teaching with Architectural Drawings and Photographs by Stacie Moats, Library of Congress, December 20, 2011

Source: "Architectural Drawings," Architecture, Anyone?, Ada Louise Huxtable, University of California Press, 1986, p. 273

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Craven, Jackie. "Architectural Drawings by Famous Architects." ThoughtCo, Jun. 11, 2016, thoughtco.com/architectural-drawings-by-famous-architects-177937. Craven, Jackie. (2016, June 11). Architectural Drawings by Famous Architects. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/architectural-drawings-by-famous-architects-177937 Craven, Jackie. "Architectural Drawings by Famous Architects." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/architectural-drawings-by-famous-architects-177937 (accessed November 22, 2017).