Art in Architectural Design


Project manager Jim Coyle. Photo by Charles-Ryan Barber.

Jim Coyle began his tenure at Tim Barber Architects as a job captain and has since earned a promotion to project manager. Of his many talents, Jim’s artistic skills are especially admired by our team, clients, and collaborators.

In this post, Jim describes the importance of art in architectural design, the opportunities he has helped to design for our team to cultivate their artistic skills, and how we are using art to enhance our client care and work.

Before contractors build our designs, we must first present them to our clients for their approval. The methods architects use to do this have changed over time, but our goal remains the same: to demonstrate to our clients the “Firmness, commodity, and delight” of our work. Originally identified as essential elements of all architecture by the Roman architect Vitruvius in the first century BCE, these three qualities are still vital to successful architectural design. However, we also want our owners to fall in love with their home. A design’s approval is often contingent on its presentation.

As an architecture student at the University of Notre Dame, I learned to use artistic methods such as sketching, hand drafting, and watercolor rendering to convey my design ideas. This curriculum honors the historic tradition of the École des Beaux-Arts, (School of Fine Arts) a university in Paris where many notable architects and artists studied over the past several centuries. In the absence of cameras and computers, the École’s students hand-drew historically significant structures and used their sketches as models for their future designs. Even with technological advances, a few architecture schools and studios still employ this practice, which allows designers of all skill levels to hone their artistry as they carefully observe the built environment around them. Sketching teaches designers’ eyes to slow down and notice subtle details that help them better understand the structure, craftsmanship, and beauty of any work of art. These qualities are imperative to the work we do at Tim Barber Architects, which is why our team continues this age-old sketching tradition.

Over the past year, I organized several sketching events for our team at historically and architecturally important local sites, including the Beverly Hills City Hall, Greystone Mansion, Schindler House, and Wattles Mansion. In addition to refining our artistic skills, these visits also allow our team to add to our library of precedents, which inspire our designs.

Art in Architectural Design

Images from a sketching session at the Schindler House in West Hollywood, California. Working in various media, members of our team captured architect Rudolph M. Schindler’s innovative use of material and natural light in this ca. 1922 modern home.

Another advantage of sketching is that the more our team sketches, the more agile our hands and minds become, and we frequently use both in our studio. The ease and speed of sketching are in most cases unbeatable when coming up with ideas and communicating them on the fly. During Preliminary and Schematic Design, (the earliest phases of our architectural design process) we typically present hand-drawn plans and elevations before modeling them on the computer. Hand-drawings are efficient when ideas are flowing and the design might change. They are also well-received by clients who are not quite ready to commit to a design and understand the ease of adjusting pencil on paper.

Art in Architectural Design

Many clients find it difficult to visualize their homes based on two-dimensional plans and elevations alone. This sketch by Tim illustrates a possible front facade, 2018.

In addition to hand-made artworks being more approachable, many of our clients appreciate their romantic associations. It is this same romanticized view of time-honored design that often draws them to the character of traditional homes. As architects who specialize in this field, we find that traditional artistic tools and methods of representation are most effective for demonstrating our designs’ traditional character and quality.

Even as we advance our technologies, we will continue to hone our artistic skills to help us design well-crafted, well-planned, and delightful homes. Here’s a taste of what’s to come:

Art in Architectural Design

A pen and ink rendering of the rear facade of a Spanish Colonial Revival style residence in Los Angeles, designed by senior project manager Ari Engelman, 2018.

Art in Architectural Design

A watercolor rendering of a ground-up Colonial Revival residence in Hollywood painted by project manager Jim Coyle, 2017.

Art in Architectural Design

A digital “watercolor” rendering of our Shingle style residence in Beverly Hills, designed by Tim Barber and rendered by design associate Julie Luu, 2018.