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The act of sketching in learning and teaching the design of environments: a total skill for complex expression

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Richard Hare Department Landscape Architecture, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK

Abstract In the words of the Swedish Architect Lennart Nord, Sketching is a path into the many possibilities of the complex word (Nord & Birgestam, 1998) and this paper hopes to examine something of the pedagogy of sketching as a means for students to begin to engage with that complex world. Some of the theory of sketching will be examined with particular reference to sketching and IT. Some suggestions will be made as to ways of improving skills in both, simultaneously rather than exclusively. The paper will use an outline of some of the pedagogical approaches to sketching at the beginning of the Landscape Architecture and Garden Art and Design undergraduate courses at Leeds Metropolitan University (LMU) to suggest some working practices for debate. A recent questionnaire intended to discover something of current students relationships to drawing is also considered.

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Introduction Sketching is used in this paper to refer to a subset of drawing, including observational drawing, idea generation, diagramming, design working drawing and doodling. Sketching does not here imply that work is necessarily incomplete or ill formed, though it may be both.
In effect the process of developing pictorial and diagrammatic representations has traditionally been treated as a skill rather than an essential part of the process of thinking about a design problem and developing a design solution Purcell & Gero (1998)

Sketching is still commonly regarded simply as a skill. Kimbell, Saxton and Miller, have created a model of design that puts drawing firmly in a functional skills domain for their Distinctive Skills and Implicit Practices, a review of their investigation Design Skills for Work carried out for the Design Council (Eggleston, ed., 2000). They say we do not believe that the functional skills domain best captures the essence of design because this domain essentially comprises the tools that give external form to our thoughts, and all disciplines use such modes of expression. They conclude that design is special because of the operational strategies designers use. I hope that this paper helps to show that the separation of the operational strategies from skills is perhaps a little simplistic in understanding designers and designing. It is more likely that we use strategies that are consequent on our ways of knowing the world and that sketching and drawing are means of extending and simultaneously transforming our understanding, rather than simply means to let others know what we think or even ways of revealing to ourselves what we think. It is not unreasonable to suggest that those who sketch are thinking and acting differently (even when not actively sketching) from those who dont. Here I hope to explore this and draw a relationship between this and the curricula of Landscape Architecture at LMU.

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Drawing as a contemporary issue in art and design education There has been a resurgence of interest in drawing within art and design education in recent years. However, the introductory notes to the new PhD and MPhil Research in Drawing, at the RCA, 2002, tell us that Drawing is at present an under-theorised discipline, especially in relation to its technological applications. The Drawing Research Network has been established to act as a conduit for research. Kingston University has entered the arena with an MA in Drawing as Process, first recruited September 2001, and there is an MA in drawing at Wimbledon College of Art. Others are set to follow and we can look forward to drawing becoming more fully theorised. hopefully there will be some useful work on learning and teaching as a result. Across many design disciplines there is widely expressed concern at a perceived shortfall in drawing skills amongst first-degree-level students. In a short article by Robert Bevan in Building Design (Bevan, 2000), Christopher Egret, a director of Alsop and Stromer Architects, is quoted I am finding a lot of things in the city; architecture and furniture dont look right because [the designers] dont know how to draw. This heralded the start of Drawing Power from The Campaign for Drawing. This is a 3-year initiative aimed at encouraging us all to draw and refocus attention on drawing as a thinking tool. It has resulted in the Big Draw events of 2000, 2001 and forthcoming events in Oct. 2002, which are taking place nation-wide. One premise on which Drawing Power is based is that too many children are giving up on drawing around the age of 10 when they move into a more self-critical stage of their development. If this is so there must be an impact on higher education and in addition those tutors who are convinced that drawing skills are useful for design students often express the opinion that drawing is also under attack

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from IT. They see CAD (and other software) eating into curriculum time that may have been used for sketching. At the same time some tutors are concerned that students might be seeing the use of computers as a substitute for sketching. Perhaps a lack of theory has made sketching a difficult subject to discuss and therefore champion in curricula where the functional needs for CAD et al. are easy to communicate. Perhaps tutors assume that everyone simply knows that sketching is important, and why, and perhaps students are often simply expected to know this too. Students perceptions To begin to understand something of student conceptions of, and their relationships with drawing, a pilot questionnaire has been put to groups of students at LMU on design of environments courses Architecture, BAHons (Arch.), Landscape Architecture, BAHons (BALA) and Garden Art and Design, BAHons (GAD) at levels 1 and 2 full time. Initial findings based on a sample of 90 students (self selecting by virtue of the fact that they were the ones who turned up to scheduled teaching on given days) suggest that drawing is certainly on the students agenda. It must be stressed that this questionnaire is intended as a pilot to suggest possible areas of further study and these results are regarded as no more than indicative. 86% of the group agreed or agreed strongly with the statement I enjoy drawing for its own sake; the highest percentage for any single cohort was 100% for GAD level 2; 87% of same group agreed or agreed strongly with the statement I have enjoyed drawing since childhood; the highest percentage for any cohort was 94% jointly for Arch. level 1, Arch. level 2 and BALA level 2;

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these figures suggest, rather unsurprisingly that we have drawers on our courses; 16% of the group agreed or agreed strongly with the statement Designing is possible without drawing skills;

the highest percentage for any single cohort was 55% for GAD level 1 (6 of 11 students); 8% of the group agreed or agreed strongly with the statement The use of computer software has replaced the need to develop drawing skills; the highest percentage for any single cohort was 22% for Arch level 1 (4 of 18 students) and 0 or only 1 student from each other cohort; 13% of the group agreed or agreed strongly that I have found ways to avoid having to draw on my current course; the highest percentage for any single cohort was 27% for GAD level 1 (3 of 11 students) and between 0 or 3 student from each other cohort; 68% of the group agreed or agreed strongly with the statement Learning to draw on my current course has made me feel more creative; and the highest percentage for any cohort was 91% jointly for GAD level 1 and GAD level 2.

It appears then that generally our students enjoy drawing, have enjoyed it since childhood and do not think that computer software obviates the need to develop drawing skills. There seems to be a prevalent belief that designing is actually not possible without drawing and most students feel that learning to draw on their current course has made them feel more creative. The questionnaire obviously gives us no idea of the practical drawing abilities of our students but we can begin to see that drawing is viewed as important by these students. In fact their conception of design could be being severely restricted by the primacy they give to drawing.

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My own experience of students from a number of institutions on design of environments courses, across Europe, is that there is often a hunger for drawing instruction, particularly for sketching. Students appear to consider there are good reasons to be able sketch well, whether they know what those reasons are or not, and after teaching sketching for 7 years and using drawing as the medium of an MA I still feel there is a lot more to it than there seems. Psychology of sketching Over recent years design as a process has begun to attract the attention of psychologists, intent on unlocking the secret workings of the creative minds of designers, and inevitably sketching has been a key puzzle to them. A number of experiments have begun to inform a fledgling literature on the subject with some of the wild swings of prognosis consequent on a small potential sample of studies. There is, however, evidence from Verstijnen and Hennessey (1998), and others, to support the thesis that sketching is a means by which tasks can be undertaken that are beyond our capabilities of mental imaging. This mental imaging is done within what has been called the visuo-spatial sketch pad, a facility of cognition within the shortterm memory. When our short-term memory is faced with a complex task it cannot cope and, so the argument goes, we need to externalise some of this. Design tasks have been dubbed wicked tasks because of their complex, multi-faceted and unfolding nature, and it is precisely this sort of complexity which seems to be beyond us without externalisation. Here, it is important to stress the representational aspect of sketching: it is for a large part about projecting visual information in a visual form and designers generally appear to prefer visual communication to written forms. Sketching is often a means to engage with the un-sayable, in an un-sayable way, not a shorthand for words but a different realm altogether.

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Another key aspect of sketching in design is expressed by Purcell and Gero (1998) through their explanation of the work of Geol:
He argued that sketching constituted a particular form of symbol system, which is characterised by syntactic and semantic, denseness and ambiguity and it is these aspects of sketching which allow lateral transformation to occur. Purcell and Gero (1998)

Geols lateral transformations are as those in which an idea develops tangentially while vertical transformations are those which are linear modifications to an idea. It could be seen that making our rectangular building a little longer in one axis is a form of vertical transformation while making it circular is a form of lateral transformation. This complex aspect of sketches and their potential for simultaneously divergent meanings makes sketching a useful working method for the designer and a problematical one for researchers and particularly those engaged in developing IT means of replacing or even just augmenting sketching in design. As Purcell and Gero (1998) go on to say, In contrast to sketching, the computer based drawing system is non-dense and unambiguous and should consequently make lateral transformation difficult. Obviously this lateral transformation is the key move in a well-developed design process. It could be seen that non-dense and unambiguous sketching on paper also inhibits the design process, the familiar problem of tight drawing. As will be discussed later, however, computer software and hardware exists that allows extremely dense and ambiguous work to be undertaken: its just that it isnt CAD. So sketching appears to offer a pretty good working method in the design process. In How Designers Think, Lawson (1997) is a little cautious, however:
The disadvantage of designing by drawing is that problems, which are not visually apparent tend not to come to the designers attention.

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Enhancing curricula: exploring effective curricula practices Architects could not see the social problems associated with new forms of housing by looking at their drawings. Lawson (1997)

Here perhaps Lawson does not allow for the notion of diagramming as a subset of drawing. There is evidence that diagramming is not a design specific drawing methodology, the disciplines of physics, biology and economics have all revealed a sophisticated use of diagramming (Verstijnen and Hennessey, 1998). The way that diagramming and sketching are inter-linked in a design process can obviously extend Geols denseness and ambiguity into yet another dimension. Lawson (1997) describes the design process as one of interwoven analysis and synthesis, analysis of the design brief, and its situations, and subsequent situations envisioned through the process of design. It seems only sensible to use a working method that allows the easy movement between analysis and synthesis. This process is particularly significant to the design of environments where a specific site must be explored by the designer. Here, sketching as part of site exploration acts to begin the process of design by putting site analysis into the realm of the sketch from the beginning. Having a means to transcend words in this way allows for complex analysis not simply a means to express that analysis but in fact a means to carry it out. In this site analysis through sketching the learning process is not at all simple, learning is happening through a number of actions, including prolonged presence on site, studied observation and the physical act of sketching. The last of these is a physical learning of the site, learning through gesture, in the way an athlete learns a movement. A colleague and I often mime a particular sketching gesture to draw the others attention to an aspect of the landscape, often to the raised eyebrows of new students. Lawson (1997) gives an interesting illumination of this phenomenon at work within the design

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process in a description of the architect Robert Venturi as having a facility between hand and mind sometimes the hand does something that the eye re-interprets and you get an idea from it. This facility can be viewed through Howard Gardners model of multiple intelligences between what he calls bodily/kinesthetic and visuo/spatial intelligences. There are many years of research to be done to clarify the potential relationships between these intelligences, but it would seem clear that the physical actions (bodily/kenesthetic intelligence) called on in drawing are significant in the type of learning which they foster. If the physical actions and effects of sketching on site are considered, walking, climbing, enduring/enjoying the weather etc. an even more fulsome engagement of the bodily/kenesthetic intelligence will take place. This is learning through doing and as Schank (1995) tells us Learning by doing works because it teaches implicitly rather than explicitly. Beyond site exploration the action of sketching can also be seen as creating a store house of ideas, drawing gestures and reference points for the designer as inspiration. Obviously the physical record created is a primary resource. If sketching is likened to a language, which it often is, it is all too easy to loose the sense of it as an inherently creative action and to regard it simply as a process of externalising cognition. Sketching can be more or less creative, but it is essentially about creating (even with limited skills) and therefore puts the sketcher immediately into a creative position. Birgerstam states that Sketching gets its substance from experience, brought forward by intuition (Nord & Birgerstam, 1998). Additionally, sketching offers an extremely useful methodology for reflective practice. Sketching obviously allows us to reflect on our sketching methods, but it importantly allows us to enquire into our ways of seeing. It self evidently provides a focus for enquiry into the sketching methods and ways of seeing of other sketchers.

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Sketching is obviously a complex business and to make it comprehensible in an educational context its functionalities are often disentangled. In Sketching as a didactic phenomenon, Nord and Birgerstam (1998) state that Sketching to a landscape architect seems to be a working method that has at least five different functions: to collect sensory impressions; to create a whole; to discover and formulate problems; to try and solve the problems, the organising; and to communicate with others.

Even without the explicit inclusion of analysis and synthesis (which may be regarded as implicit in the formulating and solving of problems) and the omission of recording and reflecting on the individuals process their list begins to yield some key learning activities. Biggs Structure of the Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taken from Teaching for Quality Learning at University (Biggs, 2002) is perhaps a useful measure of the potential for sketching method in education. SOLO rates learning as falling somewhere between: uni-structural, which is essentially perceived as being done to the student: it is about memorizing but not transforming; multi-structural, which is the acquisition of facts, skills and procedures which are to be used later, again without transformation; relational, where students are making sense of and finding underlying principles in what is learnt; and extended abstract, where learning enables a transformation in a students perception of the world and enables a student to contextualise and value their work in the world.

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With an emphasis on relational and extended abstract methodologies within student learning a deep approach to learning can begin to be fostered. This deep approach is perhaps typified by the abilities to understand, analyse and synthesise, and transfer thinking and practices between situations. Sketching as a methodology almost entirely precludes a unistructural approach to student learning and at the same time obviously facilitates multi-structural, relational and Extended Abstract approaches. There are dangers of an emphasis on an approach to sketching where students see sketching simply as a means to an end and despite the inherent transformative nature of sketching, students must be conscious of this if deep learning is to take place. Progression through a course of study must allow students to become aware of what they are already doing (and its significance) i.e. comprehending through the transformative act of sketching, thus enabling analysis and synthesis. Sketching in practice at LMU In common with many design departments, Landscape Architecture at LMU began within a college of art, was absorbed into a polytechnic and now exists within a new university, Leeds Metropolitan University (LMU). At LMU Landscape Architecture sits at present in the School of Art, Architecture and Design. Within its field Landscape Architecture at LMU has a reputation as a creative course which puts a strong emphasis on sketching and graphic skills. Sketching has historically been important to the pedagogy of the department of Landscape Architecture at LMU, and rather than IT threatening sketching it is being seen as increasingly useful to designers to extend the scope and forms of sketching. As the questionnaire appears to suggest, our students do not believe that an either or relationship exists between drawing skills and IT (a

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little contrary to the views of some academics) and as we design curricula for students we can find an increased variety of ways to develop sketching activity. The process of drawing is one of the best ways we know to absorb design ideas, Lawson (1997) tells us, and for those with strong visuo/spatial and bodily/kinesthetic intelligences this would seem to be true, and not just of design ideas. If we are dealing with these visuo/spatial and bodily/kinesthetic intelligences amongst our students, it would seem logical to be employing this distinctive intelligence in their learning. Sketching offers ways of approaching, analysing and synthesising a whole range of ideas and simultaneously developing communication and design skills. This is not to say that important aspects of students other intelligences should not be developed simply that the visuo/spatial and bodily/kinesthetic intelligences will perhaps offer students their core learning methods whether through sketching, model-making, physical interventions within a situation or site, etc. Within the first level of the courses of BA Hons Landscape Architecture (BALA) and Garden Art and Design (GAD) the use of drawing/sketching is established for the students as a key activity. This takes place through the structure of modules aiming to develop drawing/sketching abilities and to develop further learning strategies through drawing/sketching. Site exploration through sketching and intervention Module 101 for both BALA and GAD is an introduction to their subject through direct experience of landscape and through their expression of that experience, primarily through sketching and annotation. The emphasis is on understanding through observation and direct experience. Annotation of sketches is considered vital from this early stage giving voice to observations beyond those that a student can sketch. This may mean non-visual observations or

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observations that are beyond the ability of the students to capture successfully through sketching. The teaching at this stage is dependant on direct tutor-student contact, short presentations on techniques of observation, sketching skills and on-site tutorials. Tutor input is concentrated at the beginning of this module through intense on-site exercises with students working at times in groups and at times individually but in close physical proximity to one another. Tutor guidance is regarded as vital at this stage, students can have difficulties reconciling what is perceived as a purely creative act, that of sketching, with critical observation. The initial phase of this module employs an intensive week-long visit to Lindisfarne. In addition to sketching as an engagement students are also involved in creating an intervention in the landscape. Students are introduced to the key concepts of the module here before returning to Leeds, to employ them further in urban and periurban locations. This is important because students gain a conception of the scope of their subject and begin immediately to transfer skills between situations. After this initial stage, the sequential sketching techniques of Cullen (1961) are explored by the students, in groups, as a means of understanding space and progression through space. This was recently introduced very successfully by means of a walking lecture through Durham city centre during which the students created their own sequential sketch record as lecture notes. The culmination of this module is the creation of 180 degree panoramic sketches individually by students which are intended to synthesise the practices of observation and analysis developed through sketching (with annotation). The panoramic format is itself a synthesising device, bringing more than a single view into consideration. Students choose a viewpoint within their site that gives the opportunity to record varied spatial arrangements through

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elements of foreground, middle ground and back ground and again annotation is essential. Tutorial support on site is less important at this stage and many students can independently produce excellent work. This module is almost entirely based on site. Assessment of this module is synoptic, covering all aspects of the project work presented through a notebook containing a drawn and written record of all work undertaken and a presentation of the panoramic sketches. Designing through sketching, sketch modelling and intervention The module BALA/GAD 102 Design and Communication follows 101 and is generally referred to as the Music Module. Here a scenario is created for the students within which they are required to create a sensory space in response to a chosen piece of music. In contrast to 101 this module is almost entirely studio based and the studio environment is used to record and reflect the process of the module, through an evolving exhibition of work. Abstract sketching is used as the starting point for the students response to the music but is then used as a process to run alongside sketch modelling. The module introduces the notion of design processes with tutors using sketching as a primary means of communication with the students at the drawing board. The result is that often students own sketches will be interspersed with those of tutors, and ideally those of other students. It is here that students are introduced to Adobe Photoshop as potential part of their process. This has been done by using Photoshop to extend the possibilities of their sketching, taking a sketch generated from a response to the music and manipulating it further. This method appears to work well for the majority of students and the use of relatively intuitive and accessible software allows a smooth process of integration into their process.

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Because IT is used at such an early stage in the design process, when the process demands a phase of abstract development, and because Photoshop is used in preference to a drafting tool like CAD, it is possible for students to develop images that manifest Goels syntactic and semantic denseness and ambiguity which allow lateral transformation to occur. With the methodology currently used however the student work using Photoshop demonstrates a great deal more vertical than lateral transformation of ideas, though it does facilitate lateral transformation in further sketching and sketch modelling. Again, intervention in the landscape is employed, in this context as a means to extend the design process. These interventions are individually conceived by students through propositional sketches, then created by a group of students and then recorded by the group under the direction of the proposer using sketching. This process is an important means by which students can use sketching to develop and explain ideas and demands that students communicate not only how their ideas should be realised but how they can be most effectively recorded through sketching. The assessment of this module is synoptic covering all aspects of the project work presented in part through a design notebook containing all paper work with clarifying comments and a storyboard, which is a graphic presentation of reflection on the design process and usually includes reproductions of sketches and photographs of sketch models. Students are using increasingly sophisticated IT skills to create these storyboards. Plant study through sketching Concurrently with these modules BALA/GAD103 Natural Processes involves students in the study of plant materials for use in landscape and garden design. The study of plants has a long history of investigation through drawing and specimen illustration has traditionally been a useful study method for botanist. However, for

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the designer, knowing the character and context of plant material is as important as understanding its biology. As students develop skills of site exploration through sketching in their introductory module they apply these to the study of plant material which aims to explore the characters and contexts for a variety of plants. The assessment for the plant study component of this module is through a plant study notebook, which is periodically reviewed through the module. It is anticipated that students will, through sketching, develop their relationship with and understanding of plant materials. Summary of LMU sketching pedagogy Sketching is regarded as a primary learning motor at LMU. Through its role in site exploration, idea generation, development and resolution and communication, it serves the academic aims of the curricula, but importantly it serves as a means for students to strengthen their learning methods, physically action their connectedness with the world around them and experience their own creativity at work. This happens because sketching, on site and in a stimulating studio environment, engages students visuo/spatial and bodily/kinesthetic intelligences, sketching is used in tandem with model making and landscape interventions which further employ these intelligences. IT is used in the intuitive form of Photoshop engaging the visuo/spatial intelligence and giving students a chance to develop their ideas freely, without constraining them to the undense and unambiguous requirements of CAD. Tutoring involves a lot of sketching, because to question a students intention with a sketch is effectively speaking their language. If inquiry into students sketching is wholly verbal then students are being required constantly to approximate what can be necessarily complex and ambiguous expressions. For tutors to allow parts of the analysis and synthesis that is the design process to remain unvoiced seems vital. Preben Skaarup (course leader of Landscape

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Architecture at Aarhus Architecture School, Denmark) says that Sketching is to bring the elements of a project together. To create the chaos from which a solution is to be found. (Lund and Stenholm, eds., 1994) (authors translation). Conclusion Sketching requires a great deal more investigation before we can be sure why it is so important to designers, but the evidence is slowly building to suggest it is inextricably linked to cognition. It seems to offer us working, teaching, learning and reflecting methods rather than being a functional skill to apply to other activities. Educators must value the multiple intelligences of design students and develop learning situations that allow students to grow their experience, knowledge and creativity through non-verbal/linguistic routes. Sketching on bits of paper, crude though it seems, is still extremely effective in doing this, increasingly IT is offering ways to extend sketching rather than limit it and creative educators must use new technology to offer ways to expand students creativity. The idea that drawing skills are somehow traditional and incompatible with new technology is a sure-fire way to avoid the potential for both. For a number of years cheap desktop graphics tablets have been available, linking sketching skills to any drawing software and recently the D-Board has been developed by Nemetschek. This is a tablet and screen combined. Perhaps the prospect of portable sketching tablets and e-carbon paper is not so far off. It seems that technology is morphing itself to meet the needs of the designer and it is up to colleges to capitalise on this. The future of sketching in a world of technology is encouraging if we can come to understand both and help to create a demand for technology that is truly an aid to learning and designing. Kavakli, Scrivener and Ball in conclusion to their Structure in Idea Sketching Behaviour:

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Enhancing curricula: exploring effective curricula practices Sketching, then, is likely to remain a key behaviour in the early idea generation stage of design until its role in supporting creative discovery is properly understood. Indeed such understanding may simply confirm a continued need for sketching. Kavakli, Scrivener & Ball (1998)

Bibliography Bevan, B. (2000), Drawing skills "lost", Building Design, Sept. 8., 2000, p. 6 Biggs, J. (2002), Teaching for Quality Learning at University (Open University Press) Cullen, G. (1961), Townscape (Oxford: The Architectural Press) Eggleston, J. (ed.) (2000), Teaching and Learning Design and Technology (Continuum) Kavakli, M., Scrivener, S. & Ball, L. (1998), Structure in idea sketching behaviour, Design Studies, 19 Vol. 4 Lawson, B. (1997), How Designers Think (Oxford: The Architectural Press) Lund, A. & Stenholm, S. (eds.) (1994), Strief i dansk havekunst: Kge (DK), (F. Henriksens Eft.A/S) Nord, L. & Birgerstam, P. (1998), Sketching as a didactic phenomenon Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet, Internal Report (unpublished) Purcell, A.T. & Gero, J.S. (1998), Drawings and the design process, Design Studies, 19 Vol. 4 Schank, R.C. (1995), What we learn when we learn by doing, Technical Report No. 60 (Institute for the Learning Sciences Northwestern University)

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Verstijnen, I.M. & Hennessey, J.M. (1998), Sketching and creative discovery Design Studies, 19 Vol. 4 Biographical note Richard Hare, Grad.Dip.LA, MA, is an associate lecturer in Landscape Architecture at Leeds Metropolitan University (LMU) and The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen (KVL). Studies have been in Landscape Architecture at Heriot Watt University, LMU and University College Dublin and in Art and Design at Hull College of Art and LMU. Research work covers issues of cultural landscape, participatory design processes in landscape architecture and the pedagogy of drawing as process. Teaching covers graduate programmes in Landscape Architecture, Architecture and Interior Design specialising in drawing and design.

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