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Architectural Design Sketching on the iPad

An Interview with Amin Zakaria

Architect Amin Zakaria shares how sketching with Concepts' grids and live Snap helps his design workflow.


"I think experiments in design sketches are supposed to reflect vibrancy, that is why the lines are meant to be rough and show possibilities of ideas."

Amin Zakaria - I finished my postgraduate in architectural study from the University of Technology Malaysia, UTM and am currently working in an architectural firm, DP Architects, in Johor Bahru city. My main focus right now is managing a project that involves coordinating input from all of our consultants and solving some technical issues faced in the design implementation.

Which software and other tools do you prefer for sharing ideas, creating plans and communicating with your clients?

The common software I use on desktop are AutoCAD, 3ds Max, Illustrator and Photoshop. For quick sketches on my PC, I use Illustrator with my Wacom Intuos. It's a faster way to move from drafting in CAD to sketching mode in digital without wasting so much paper in printing. It’s a great combination since Illustrator works perfectly with vector files from CAD. Plus, it feels more natural to sketch in proportion rather than stick too much time into drafting with a mouse.

That is also a main reason why I use Concepts, and why I would love to do more digital sketching with the iPad. Currently I am using an iPad Mini 5 and Apple stylus. It's a perfect size to fit into my small bag, easy to travel with and bring for meetings and discussion. It has great performance, is able to handle multiple apps at once, and most of all has long lasting performance.

I love to think of the technicalities of construction whenever I see an interesting design. Architects often appreciate the beauty of such details. This sketch is based on an example of details I saw online. I love to draw and refer from completed projects. It helps me to memorize and understand the technical construction better. It could be used for future reference. It's the same concept of taking notes by writing instead of simply copy and pasting.

How do you primarily use Concepts in your work? Which features are the most helpful as you design?

I use Concepts for a variety of reasons. The app can be used for quick layout testing, proportion studies in elevation facade design, detailing termination for construction, marking up shop drawing PDFs from the contractor, and many more. Basically, it helps me a lot to study out a 1:100 scale plan drawing into 1:5 detail drawings. It's a faster process to sketch and share with the team, and it's easy to record it properly into the cloud/server for future reference.

I create a quick layout study whenever a client requests a change in size or orientation. I draw a scale bar first before starting to draw any layout or details. My rule of thumb about drawing in scale here is 1 grid box = 1000mm. You can set your own scale in the settings, too, if you are using an imperial unit.

My favorite tools in the apps are pen, marker and fill tools. The main reason I love to sketch with these most of the time is because there are certain feelings and rhythms in every stroke of line that you draw. That is what makes the difference between a sketch and a purely computer-generated drawing. Sometimes creativity can be found in the process rather than the final result itself.

Facade design proportion study. Marker and Fill tool are very useful for quick rendering and give the feel of depth of shadow. It saves more time than modeling a facade in actual 3D software. I think experiments in design sketches are supposed to reflect vibrancy, that is why the lines are meant to be rough and show possibilities of ideas.

By using simple colors such as gray, brown and red brick, it's sufficient for architects to differentiate basic material used in construction. In this case, the light red color represents the brick wall, while gray and brown are easily understood as metal and concrete. I often draw boundary lines using a marker in red color (80% opacity); dimensions are also more appealing with the annotations in red.

Recently we released Live Snap to Grid and Align to Grid for Concepts. What do you use them for, and how do they help your workflow?

Snap and Align are perfect features for architects. We use AutoCAD most of the time and they give you the closest feeling of drafting in digital. It is really helpful for drawing parallel, perpendicular and isometric lines, or for hatch rendering quickly - i.e. metal louvres, floor tiles or typical detailed sections.

It is also very helpful for turning anything into a 3-dimensional drawing. This helps me to understand certain technical construction termination details in 3D when normal 2D drawings are not sufficient.

This is an example of a detailed study in isometric view drawn with Align to Grid. Sometimes I do quick sketches like this to understand more of the design and ensure fewer mistakes happen once it’s implemented on site. And it is a part of my preparation before going for a discussion with another consultant / specialist.

Watch more videos like this one on Amin's YouTube channel.
Read our previous interview with Amin on Urban Sketching.


Amin Zakaria is an architect based in Malaysia, currently working at DP Architects. He has always been intrigued by drawing, and started digital drawing on the iPad in 2015. Make sure to check out more of his work on Instagram and YouTube.

Interview by Erica Christensen


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