For Peter Pennoyer, one of the most appealing things about handmade architectural illustrations is their uniqueness. We dont try to make everything homogenous, says the founder of Peter Pennoyer Architects. We encourage people to draw in different styles.

For Peter Pennoyer, one of the most appealing things about handmade architectural illustrations is their uniqueness. "We don't try to make everything homogenous," says the founder of Peter Pennoyer Architects. "We encourage people to draw in different styles."

Credit: Sioux Nesi

Is there a place in the modern architecture practice for handmade design drawings? Peter Pennoyer—who leads an eponymously named New York firm that produces classically inspired designs for houses and apartments, as well as institutional and commercial projects—believes so. Pennoyer and members of his firm are active in the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America, for which Pennoyer serves as chairman; one colleague, senior associate Anton Glikin, taught drawing there. Pennoyer keeps a collection of hundreds of drawing instruments from the 18th to the 20th centuries at the office, and some still get daily use. “We still have Maylines,” Pennoyer says. “We still have charcoal.” These tools help produce the firm’s distinctive work.

How much of your design work begins with sketches?
Design in this office is done by drawing, period. We don’t design things directly on the computer. I sketch some, as much as I’m able, but I’m really managing the firm. Gregory Gilmartin, our director of design, only draws. He never uses CAD, although he’s very familiar with it and works with everybody else.

What techniques are used?
Gilmartin sketches in pencil, in felt-tip pen, and he drafts his designs using 2H lead on tracing paper with a Mayline parallel rule. Anton Glikin draws freehand first and then does pen-and-ink drawings. He also does watercolors and washes.

Why rely exclusively on hand drawing at the design phase?
We believe the kind of design we do is best expressed in a direct connection from your mind to your arm to your hand to the paper. It’s more fluid. We try to make each project different, so we like to have the freedom of the pencil. We work very closely with others in the office to put this into the computer.

What computer drawing programs do you use?
AutoCAD and 3ds Max.

How up-to-date are you with software?
We keep up with the latest versions of the software and have certain people in the office who know the latest techniques. Most of us in the office have a particular set of talents. We don’t all try and learn the latest things. Somebody here knows them.

Do you have people move between hand drawing and the computer?
Yes, but the people who are the principal designers constitutionally express themselves with pencil and pen.

What’s the role of beauty in drawing?
It depends on who’s doing it. Gilmartin’s drawings are exceptionally accurate and detailed. They’re visions of what he’s looking for, and he’ll build up layers and layers of trace as he refines his designs. All the drawings that are done here for design look beautiful to me because they show a great passion. You can see the gesture and the physical act, as opposed to computer drawings that always look a little bit ossified.

Does the computer have a role beyond construction documents?
We totally invite the computer. The 3ds Max stuff we do is extremely elaborate. We’re pushing very hard to make it more realistic, warmer. We try to vary our presentations. We try to get the client to face a complete presentation—nothing tentative—so they can fully commit.

What other rendering techniques do you use?
It’s important to make a distinction between drawings and renderings. Rendering is a different step. We do paintings of our houses that are accurate in representing the building and that show shade and shadow and give a sense of materiality. When we’ve had a separate easel with a painting, the design is much easier for people to read.

Do you hire specifically based on drawing ability?
I look at the range of skills. Great drawing skills aren’t common these days. If someone brings a new kind of drawing style or media, we welcome that. The drawings are of different character, depending on who might have done them.

So there’s no office drawing style?
We try to make the designs personal to the designer. If you look at the work, you can see which partner or associate has worked on it. The work depends on the context, the style of the building, and the client. So there’s a diversity of work, and that is also reflected in the diversity of drawing style.