I’ve recently taken to packing a few unusual travel essentials: a tape measure, technical pencil, and graph paper. Over the years, and more frequently in the past twelve months, I’ve traveled with these items to document places I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to stay. They’ve included friends’ cabins, rented Airbnbs, and even published and documented projects by famous Architects. The tools and techniques are from my trade, but the documenting is for me, pure and productive fun! (Unless you’re my husband, who is constantly on the move to avoid tripping over the tape measure or appearing as a pajamaed scale figure in photographs.)
Skyhouse at TreSostre, Grand Marais, Minnesota
If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you also enjoy architecture. Whether in person, print, or digital media, like me, you appreciate the experience of places. My documentation hobby began during the earliest stages of our own cabin design (which remains largely theoretical) when I realized my various schemes, accumulating in my graph pad, could be overlayed like transparencies for comparison. Documenting spaces we experienced together allowed me to reference and compare what we knew with spatial ideas I was developing and proposing. For example, “imagine this conceptual living and dining space as having the same proportion as that place we stayed overlooking Lake Superior.” Sans view, unfortunately.
Seth Peterson Cottage, Mirror Lake, Wisconsin
Call it “Comparative Architecture.” It is not about copying or repeating specific plans or details, but rather, developing an understanding of how dimensions and proportions translate to “feel” between spaces and across styles. At its core is a simple diagram of plan and section, but this process has revealed a unique joy in developing my own inventory of spatial experience. Whereas many find mental calm and rejuvenation in Sudoku or puzzles, it seems I find it in hand-drafting Airbnb’s on graph paper.
Sundew Cabin, Ely, Minnesota
The experience of sitting in these spaces as light and shadow shift while my semi-technical drawings develop has a unique way of cataloguing the space—volume, view, texture, smell—into my memory. As an architect, I’ve always wished I was a more accomplished sketch artist—a medium many architects celebrate and hone. What has evolved into my own version requires more tools, but it brings me joy and creates a unique record of experience that contributes to the evolution of my ideas and the elevation of my craft.