In the first of a series of pieces on drawing and the design process, Roz Barr talks to Louis Mayes about developing her ideas through sketches


Roz Barr

This is the first in a series of articles which aims to interrogate the different manners in which hand-drawn sketches are used by architects to explore ideas. Sketches will act as a lens that will focus conversations on how architects develop designs – a subject more often explored in discussion of completed buildings. To inaugurate the series we speak to Roz Barr, principal of Roz Barr Architects.


Tin Chapel sketch, Roz Barr, 2018

Gio Ponti wrote in 1935 that “a drawing is an idea”. This connection between the mind and the hand is key when considering the importance of sketching in the development of a design. It could be said then that discussing Barr’s sketches via a computer screen – as dictated by social distancing rules – is a counter-intuitive exercise; when viewed on a screen, a sketch loses not only its scale but also the ability to be worked into and embellished alongside the development of a conversation.

Barr began by elaborating on how the sketch shapes the design at an early stage, or in her words, about how it “makes a thought process tangible”. The sketch acts as a tool that allows intuition to guide an immediate spatial reaction to a site. Barr talks about the “energy and intuition” found when sketching, which is hard to discover when drawing electronically.

The first sketch that we look at is an early drawing of the Tin Chapel built in 2018 as a temporary worship space during the renovation of Saint Augustine’s Church, Hammersmith ( It portrays the relationship between a plan, section and elevation, and was drawn shortly before a client meeting to visualise the concept behind the scheme. “There’s a lot of locked memory within a sketch because it’s something you do quite quickly and intuitively”, says Barr. Indeed, as you look at the built project, all the key elements of the scheme are apparent from this drawing – the relationship to the busy street, material ideas, proportion and scale.

I repeat the same drawing over and over again – there’s a sort of rhythm that one feels when doing that”

The power of the sketch lies with portraying an early propositional image, yet it is the ambiguity of the lines that allows individual interpretations of the scheme. Barr refers to the movement and lack of perfection in a sketch as “an uncertain element that helps the design progress”. A lack of ‘rules’ and the ambiguous nature of the sketch allows an idea to progress, while making a tangible and intuitive reaction to the brief.

While the chapel sketch communicates a concept, Barr tends to develop a design in the early stages through plans, sections and elevations: “The plan is something I can continually draw back into – there’s such an ordering and harmony that comes through it”.

We move on to discussing a sketch (below) that was the start of the design for a maquette created for an exhibition, and was developed through being drawn over and over to develop the form, alongside the elevations. According to Barr, the iterative and repetitive method allows her to find a “rhythm” in developing the plan which is not present when using a computer.

Barr’s sketches for the design of a maquette for the exhibition ‘Alternative Histories‘, staged by Drawing Matter. Exhibitors were asked to make models reinterpreting architects’ drawings from the Drawing Matter collection – in Barr’s case, a 1735 drawing of  John Freeman’s Fawley Court arch.

It is noticeable that every sketch we talk about is drawn orthogonally. This could be because these are drawings that Barr makes less to communicate an idea and more as a self-reflective process, a way of finding a rhythm or order between the different aspects of a building which is more apparent when drawing on a single plane. It could also emphasise the fact that while sketches are used throughout the design, there is a distinct point where the ordering of the plan stops and the spatial qualities are made tangible in three dimensions through a model. This translation between the iterative development of the two-dimensional sketch and the planned spatial reality of the maquette reveals the advantages of each tool – the movement, energy and pliability of a sketch in tension with the explicit spatiality and materiality of a model.

The relationship between the hand and mind is key to how the sketch forms a part of the design process and makes a concept tangible. Having spoken to Barr it seems that hand-drawing is an increasingly relevant method of working today, as it provides a physical point to return to between meetings, or in the evenings in the form of a sketchbook or trace laid over a plan. This physical page allows a point of reflection, particularly in the age of electronic drawing.

Barr’s sketches are not finished pieces, and each responds to the stage of a design process in which it was drawn with a certain intention. In the manner of each one can discern a reflection of Barr’s way of approaching or structuring a design process: an iterative set of developmental plans, seemingly repetitive but testing multiple options against the elevation and section, and in doing so developing a resonance with – and understanding of – the design in hand.