Changing Spaces: Quickly Sketch Architectural Proposals




Introduction: Changing Spaces: Quickly Sketch Architectural Proposals

If there is an existing place or space in your area that you think should change, you might want to produce a picture of your idea so that other people can understand it. A good picture might get other people interested, and before you know it, your idea might become a proposal, and eventually reality.

The process shown here was inspired by the proposed closure of our local public leisure center, which (according to our city council) is not very well used. The area is pretty rough and there is not much to do for kids, some of whom turn to bad ways through sheer boredom. The challenge then is to keep the center open, but change its image to appeal to younger people. My idea is to take one of the halls (which was formed by covering up a swimming pool) and scoop out the former pool to form a skate park.

I want to produce a picture, but not to take a long time over it; It is just an idea and people might hate it, not because my picture sucks but because they think the idea does. In any case, I don't want my picture to look too finished because then people might think I've put a lot of thought in to the idea (and want to see a business plan) or (worse) that my proposal has already happened.

What I need is a quick and dirty way to show how the space (and just as importantly life in it) might change if my idea was to happen.

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Step 1: What You Need

You will need:

1. A photo of the existing space or place (your street, a public square, whatever...)
2. A photo that shows the kind of activities and objects that you imagine going in to the space, including people.
3. A computer with an image editing software such as photoshop or pixelmator... something that can make layers. I will assume a very basic familiarity with this software.
4. A scanner
5. A printer if your photos are digital
6. Some black pens- felt tips with a variety of nib widths would be good. I used a fat marker pen, a pen for writing CD labels and a thin gel pen. More expensive alternatives are available.
7. Some tracing paper or 'greaseproof' paper (the stuff on a roll that you use for cooking). At least enough to cover both your printed photos.

Step 2: Design and Draw the Changes to Your Place or Space.

Lay a sheet of tracing paper over the photo of the existing space or place. You could stick the sheets down using masking tape to stop them moving around as you draw.

Using the thin pen, draw in some of the basic features of the space that will remain in your proposal (in the example I have drawn the edges of the room). This will help you to match up the original photo with your drawn proposal in later steps.

Start to draw out your proposal, also using the thin pen- in this sequence of images I have drawn a new viewing balcony at the end of the room, the hollowed- out skate park bowl and a suspended banner above.

If you can draw good perspectives, that's great. If not, cheat by using the existing photo as a guide to getting the perspective right, or find other photos that show views of the things you want and trace from them. My drawing of the skate bowl isn't great, but it'll do, and that's the point of this exercise.

Step 3: Beef Up the Lines

Use your 3 pens to give some emphasis to areas of your drawing you want to stand out.

You should thicken up lines at the front and in the middle of the view that are seen in PROFILE- i.e. when there is space to one side of the line. Leave thin lines where you can see the adjacent surfaces on either side of the line.

This is easier to show than describe... in the image I am thickening the line at the front of the picture because their is space behind it (the hollow of the bowl). I have thickened up the top of the 'peninsula' element in the middle, and the edges of the banner. In theory I should thicken the cables up too as they are in profile, but I leave these as they are very thin elements.

Use the thick pen for elements in the foreground, the medium pen for elements in the mid ground, and don't do any thickening for elements in the distance. This helps to give a sense of the distance in the picture, as elements in the foreground will 'stand out' more. We will use a similar process when tracing the people in the next step...

As you draw, check that any complete elements, have completely closed silhouettes. In this case the banner is going to stand out on a white background, and the skate bowl needs to have a white background too to make it contrast to the existing floor. So I need to check that the edges of these elements consist of a continuous line- this will help when we use the image editing software later.

Step 4: Trace Some People or Objects

Lay another sheet of tracing paper over the image of people or activities. In this case don't fix the sheet down as you will need to move it around.

It helps to trace a photo of the activity you want as the people would be more convincing. You could trace people from fashion catalogs for example, but even just in silhouette they will be recognizable as models rather than real people. In this case I realized just how many people at a skate park stand around looking at their shoes or boards with their heads bowed.

Trace the people or objects (trees, furniture, vehicles etc) that you want to appear in your final image, moving the paper around to give each of them some space on the sheet. Use the thick pen for the larger figures, the medium pen for figures in the middle distance and the thin pen for the smaller figures. This means that we can enlarge or reduce our figures in the later steps without the line weight appearing to vary too much.

Simplify the figures to be just silhouette plus a few clothing details (waistband, maybe shoes). Try to use bold single lines to capture the movement of the people better. Don't try to follow every twist and turn of the outline, but capture the main features. Capture some groups of people with a single silhouette line- they'll be useful to add some crowd effect later.

When you draw, make sure that the silhouette of each figure or group is 'sealed'- this will be important later when we come to 'cut the figures out' using our image editing software.

Step 5: Scan Your Drawings

Well, this isn't a scanning tutorial and I'm assuming you know how to scan stuff in...

Scanning tips for this project:

- Make sure your tracing paper has a plain white background in the scanner.

- Scan at the same resolution (roughly) as the background image of your space. For example, I started with a picture of the hall at a resolution of 600 x 450 pixels (small for print but adequate for a web site)- I scanned my sketches at 75dpi (the lowest possible setting on my scanner) to achieve an image size of around 800 x 400 pixels.

- Scan with the same colour settings as your background image- if it is a colour image, scan in colour (even though your drawing is black and white)

- turn the contrast up to maximum so that you end up with a crisp black and white drawing even if your lines are a bit smudgy or grey in places.

Step 6: Bringing It Together on the Screen- Background

This is where we use the image editing software to bring the background image and our sketches together. I used Photoshop for this, other softwares have similar tools.

Here are the steps:

1. Open your site image and the two sketches (picture 1)

2. Working with your background sketch window, use the Move Tool to drag and drop your entire image on to the window containing the site image.

3. A new layer will have been created in your site image file- turn the transparency of this layer down to 50% so that the site photo shows through (see picture 2).

4. Using Edit > Transform > Scale, adjust the size and position of the background sketch to match with the site photo (picture 3)

5. Use the Magic Wand tool to select areas of your background sketch and then delete them (picture 4). This is where problems will occur if you didn't make your lines join up completely in the sketches- you will find it hard to select the areas separately. If you experience problems, you can fill the gaps with the pen or brush tools and try again. Adjust the tolerance of the Magic Wand tool to a high figure- then you will not be left with white halos around your black lines when you delete unwanted areas.

6. Make a final adjustment of the layer transparency so that your sketch elements blend to some extent with the background (see picture 5)

Step 7: Introducing People, Objects, Activities

This step uses exactly the same tools as the previous step- but applies them to each element of your people/activity sketch individually, so that the inserted element make a convincing composition and are appropriately scaled for their position in the picture.

1. Working with the people sketches frame, use the Select Tool to isolate one person/thing or group of items. Use the Move Tool to drag and drop this into your site image. Once again, a new layer will be created for your insertion, and it will probably be the wrong scale and position. (picture 1)

2. Use Magic Wand to select unwanted area and delete them (picture 2)

3. Use Edit > Transform > Scale to scale and position your insertion(s) properly. (picture 3).

Getting position and scale of people right:

Use the 'horizon line' or eye level (red line in picture 4) to help you. This is the eye level of the person taking the picture- there are visual clues in the picture to help you locate this. The doorways on the far wall will be about 2m tall (6'6"), so the eye line will run across them at about 3/4 of their height. When you draw the eye line, horizontal elements above this will appear to slope downwards (eg the tops of the side walls in my image) and those above this line will appear to slope upwards (eg the bottoms of the walls in my image).

This isn't a proper explanation of perspective, I'm trying to give you some simple tools to make it look right...

Once you have established your eye line, make sure that the heads of your people rest on this eye line if they are standing at the same level as the person taking the photo (eg the foreground skater in my image); people standing at a lower level or sitting down (or short people like kids) will have heads below the eye line (cyclists in my image, and people standing down in the bowl). Anyone at a higher level will have their head above the eye line (eg people standing on the balcony in picture 6.

Keeping heads in the right position, scale the people so that their feet meet the floor at the position you want them to stand!

Step 8: Finally...

You can 'finesse' the image by adjusting the position of people so that the composition looks convincing.

For additional people, duplicate one of the ones you have in the picture, and flip the duplicate horizontally, rotate it slightly and rescale to be further or nearer than the original. you can build up crowds fairly easily in this way. Because you drew with different line weights, when you rescale the people, the line weight should stay more or less in proportion with other people standing a similar distance from the 'camera'.

Figures in the foreground will have heavier line weight than those at the back. you can emphasize the 'regression' of the figures but adjusting the transparency of the layers on which they sit, fading out figures in the background and making foreground figures more solid.

Finally, in my image I moved and rescaled the banner to improve the composition.

I hope you enjoyed this instructable- good luck with making images to sell people sketchy ideas!

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    11 Discussions


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your good wishes- will let you know, the final decision will be taken on March 18th, so not far off.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Well, so far so good with the campaign to keep the building open- £7m has been pledged by the city council to invest in a new or upgraded facility! We still need to make a case for reusing the existing building, rather than demolishing it completely, and I did these pictures using the same basic techniques outlined in the instructable:


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    These are fantastic, in comparison the images used in the instructable (you state about half an hour below) roughly how long did these 2 take to complete?


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Alex.

    These were a lot more complex that the original instructable, which was about doing something quick and dirty. They each took me about 3 hours, most of the time going into the inventing of stuff that wasn't already in the base photo. They printed at A1 size, so I had to work at quite a high level of detail too.

    I'd recommend a graphics tablet and stylus to bypass the tracing and scanning side of things if you are doing a lot of this- they are cheap now (I have a basic Wacom Bamboo which does the job). Also check out Skitch (mac only)- I am using it a lot for sketching and drawing over base photos (example below). It's simple and currently a free beta download.

    Hope this helps.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Neat job! I might want to try this out, looks awesome in the result, and pretty easy to do. Nice job. +1 rating.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks GorillazMiko- if you have a go let us see the results! A group of first year architecture students have used this instructable today as part of their studio project work. Little or no previous Photoshop experience. I'll post some of their outcomes later.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Nice Instructable. The image compositing info is good, but I really liked your advice on the politics of presenting something like this. Presenting something too finished really can backfire.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks nagutron- glad you highlighted the political angle to this. It's hard to hold back from trying to perfect things- the images I've used here were genuine first attempts with no going back to rework. It took about 30 minutes to complete straight through- considerably longer to write the instructable :)


    12 years ago on Introduction

    need somebody doin a nollie... j/k, good stuff