Capturing a Downtown Vision with Quick Sketches

11 Aug

It has always been a challenge for designers and planners to develop effective visual tools for communicating their ideas to community leaders, stakeholders and especially citizens. It is also well known that 2-dimensional plan graphics are often too confusing for the layman to understand. The use of perspective renderings and 3-dimensional computer model views have become ideal options for communicating downtown improvement concepts, but they can be very time consuming to produce, especially during fast paced charrettes.

Jim Leggitt, FAIA has discovered an easy method for visualizing downtown improvements which he recently used at a DCI Downtown Assessment Charrette for the Town of Nederland. Given only one day to visualize downtown improvement ideas and utilizing just his iPhone, laptop, tracing paper and markers, he produced nine colored sketches that were integrated into the final summary presentation that evening. Here is Jim’s simple “overlay and trace” process that is quick, highly visual and embraced by the everyone. By pairing together the original digital photograph with his sketch, viewers clearly understand the “before and after” existing conditions and what it might look like with improvements.

Jim Leggitt 2

Leggitt’s 2-step visualization method started with a iPhone digital photograph he imported to his computer and enlarged on the laptop screen. He then taped a piece of tracing paper DIRECTLY onto the screen surface and started sketching in pencil different ideas for improving the existing scene. Using a felt tip pen, he created a freehand sketch, taped it to a white carrier sheet and added color with AD Chartpak markers. Each sketch took less than an hour to produce. The final sketches were then photographed with an iPhone and imported to the final presentation Powerpoint show.

The resulting slide show was fully embraced by the community as individuals could link the existing site context directly with the proposed improvements. The loose character of each quick sketch was clearly perceived as being “conceptual” with the purpose of generating excitement and feedback.

This specific method of capturing a vision of downtown improvements is just one of many different communication options that Jim uses in planning projects. In addition to sketching from digital photographs, Jim often traces over 3-D views from SketchUp massing models, scenes captured from Google Earth and Street View, and even images sourced from the Internet. All of his techniques can be found in over 200 articles he has published on his blog and in his good DRAWING SHORTCUTS, Developing Quick Drawing Skills Using Today’s Technology.

Ned Sketch 2   Ned Sketch-02 052015a

Ned Sketch 5   Ned Sketch-05 052015

Ned Sketch 9 Ned Sketch-09 052015a

Accomplished architect, urban planner and nationally recognized illustrator, Jim Leggitt has designed Campuses, Communities, Mixed-Use Developments, Cultural Facilities, Churches, and Transit Oriented Developments. An author and educator who is known worldwide, Jim brings to studioINSITE a unique ability to quickly visualize conceptual design using his method of merging traditional hand drawing techniques with 2D and 3D digital tools. Having practiced for over thirty-five years in Denver, Colorado, Jim is a Fellow with the American Institute of Architects and an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture and Planning. At studioINSITE he is the principal of innovation and design visualization.

Jim Leggitt will be hosting a “Visualization Station” during DCI’s Vibrant Colorado Downtowns Conference to demonstrate his visualization methods in action.


2 Responses to “Capturing a Downtown Vision with Quick Sketches”

  1. Nancy January 14, 2016 at 4:40 PM #

    This is great! how long do the sketches take?

  2. Michael Wadley August 26, 2016 at 12:07 PM #

    Fantastic! I like the technique of sketching on tracing paper on the computer screen. Great article!

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