Book Review: Inspiration and Process in Architecture - Bolles+Wilson

Inspiration and Process in Architecture - Bolles+Wilson
Moleskine, 2011
Hardcover, 144 pages

Like many architects, I have a lot of Moleskine sketchbooks. I can't remember when I purchased the first one, but since then I've received a number of them as gifts, and purchased planners, ruled notebooks, city notebooks, and other variations on their basic theme of quality paper, sturdy binding, and simple cover. Recently the Italian company added a number of other products, including books, to their now expansive catalog. A number of the books focus on how architects draw. Four of them fall under the "Inspiration and Process in Architecture" rubric: Giancarlo De Carlo, Zaha Hadid, Alberto Kalach, and this one on Bolles+Wilson.

While the title refers to the name of the German office, just about all of the sketches and other drawings that fill the pages of the book are by Peter Wilson. In an interview that starts the book Wilson attests that he has 30 "much loved and somewhat battered" sketchbooks (not necessarily Moleskine), adding up to 2,700 pages of sketches. Therefore this book is just "the tip of the iceberg," as Wilson further states. Regardless the book does an excellent job of showing how an architect draws, not just to design a particular project, but to document thoughts and record travels and research. The book is structured into four sections in response to the varied ways and reasons Wilson draws: Architectural Notes and Sketchbook Recordings, Notebook Readings, Place, Projects. Wilson's style of drawing ties it all together, as does his use of watercolor, which adds color in many cases but sometimes just shade or density to a part of a drawing.

Elsewhere in the interview Wilson admits that his drawings are quite small. His synopsis of Christian Norberg-Schulz's Genius Loci includes 180 small watercolor sketches -- on one page! This sort of notation is a way of distilling and remembering -- the act of drawing makes the images and argument stronger by making them personal. Often it's not enough to read a text or look at a picture; writing notes and/or sketching drawings by hand puts parts of the brain to work that otherwise wouldn't be used. This is the sort of thing that neuroscientists have documented, and theoreticians like Juhani Pallasmaa have used to argue for hand drawing. Of course drawing by hand is threatened with extinction by the use of computers; but what isn't these days? This book makes a good argument for keeping the technique alive in its accumulation of a myriad sketches on wonderful Moleskine paper. Every architect that buys it should aim to fill up 30 of their own sketchbooks.