On tracing

The act of tracing is an elemental part of me being able to practice architecture. One needs to know only how to trace well, capacity to draw (non-tracing kind) will tag along. In the process of tracing, one is joining the act mid-way, hence there is no pressure to face a blank paper. Here is brilliant quote from Jessica Helfand from her brilliant article from Design Observer.

“Tracing, it turns out, is more than an involuntary narrative delivered by a relaxed mind: it’s a process and a practice, a verb as well as a noun, and a flexible, foundational material that functions, in the studio, as a kind of connective tissue. Tracing allows for a new idea to be layered upon another, or sketched over in such a way that new and old can be viewed together: the magic here is that drawing on a diaphanous surface provides the opportunity to both refine and deviate from visual thinking in real time. It’s a membrane that exposes the underbelly of an idea—a way to think in stages—and seeing those stages pulls you along in your thinking…Trace, on the other hand, is a revelatory material, a conceptual hinge shepherding you from what was, to what is, to what could be….In the act of tracing, the past is in view, the process is revealed, and the journey is powerfully exposed”

Below is tracing of Kamala House – Doshi’s own house. One of his brilliant projects but under-discussed. I have traced it a few times. The act of tracing not only allows me to look closely the order of the house, but also to recover fragments of memory of visiting the house. I was part of a group of students who visited. He personally showed us around the house. A rare privilege. In this process of tracing, both the memory and the order of the house are remembered. One starts noticing the subtleties of the plan – the extended landing of the staircase becoming an aedicule, the consistency of  the grid and also its deviations, the thickness and thinness of the wall, recalling the memory of the peacock playing and the sound of water in the garden, noises from the kitchen, the soft light from the clever skylight, the idiosyncratic dining table he loved showing us and how it folds and unfolds and how one can sit cross-legged and reach the table.  I always refer back to this house as a reminder that good design can be sharp superimposition of simple and precise ordering principles – cadence of the grid, minimal material palette, articulation in sections, distinct play of smaller and larger rooms – to name a few.

Kamala House

Tracing is taken to another conceptual level by Niall McLaughlin in this installation/experiment Losing Myself. A note from the website says : “The mind is in constant flux: it observes, remembers and projects in multiple and unpredictable ways; constantly shifting and distorting the reality it encounters. To explore this kind of experience, we employed hand-drawing where the act of drawing valued as much as the final outcome. We created an analogy between inhabiting the world and inhabiting the page. We found parallel associations between the mind wandering in rooms and the hand sketching on sheets of paper” .


This above image (link to the complete page) from the installation gives us an unfamiliar chance to look at the drawing from below, and to look at the maker through the drawing. As if an idea/thought is tracing the mind of the maker, inverting the creative association between them.