AVA talks to…Interior Architecture author, Ro Spankie

Tips and advice for Interior Architecture students…

“What ‘Drawing out the Interior’ attempts to do is discuss through example why one draws, what to draw and when different techniques are used. Hopefully by the end of the book the reader will have learned not only about drawing but also what design is.”

For anyone studying an Interior Architecture or design course – and for professional designers too – the ability to successfully communicate your ideas to others is an important skill to learn. Having a great idea for a design is not enough if you can’t find a way to allow others to visualize it too.

But where do you start? Designing interiors can be a complicated process with several stages to work through before reaching a final design. How can the act of drawing – whether by digital or more traditional, hand-drawn methods – help you to work through these stages and bring out the best of your design ability?

AVA talks to architect Ro Spankie, author of ‘Drawing out the Interior’ and Course Leader of Interior Architecture at the University of Westminster, about the representation of interiors through drawing and modelling…

AVA: As well as teaching at The University of Westminster, you are also studying for a PhD in Architectural Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, entitled ‘Thinking through Drawing’. Have you always been interested in drawing and where do you think this interest stems from?

RS: When I started university I don’t think I had distinguished between designing a building and the finished product.  I remember one of my first year tutors saying, ‘You don’t build buildings – you draw them – and remember you’re a designer not an artist.’ What he meant was an artist may make preparatory sketches and maquettes but usually they also create the finished piece. A designer rarely does this. They use drawings and models to work out their design in their own heads and to explain it to the client, the contractor and everybody else involved. Their medium is drawing and drawing does many different jobs. Since then the role of the drawing has always fascinated me particularly at the thinking phase when it is used to work things out.

AVA: Were you encouraged to draw when you were studying at the Bartlett?

RS: Yes but when I studied everything was done by hand using pencil and Rotring pens and possibly a bit of collage if one was feeling wild.

AVA: From your experience of both studying and teaching, in what ways do you feel that the representation of architecture and interiors has changed?

RS: The computer obviously has changed not only how we draw but also how we think about drawings. The printer and other reprographic techniques mean there are a lot more drawings. I’m not very interested in the computer as a visualisation tool but I do think CADCAM, generative programming techniques and animation software have been hugely influential to design theory and practice.

AVA: For some students, the act of drawing when designing comes naturally but for those who may find drawing more of a struggle, or for those looking to begin a course in interior design or architecture, what advice would you give to prepare them?

RS: Just keep drawing and keep practicing. There is no lecture or book that contains a magic secret. Drawing for design is all about communication – it is a visual language  – you don’t have to be an artist but you do need to be able to describe your ideas.

AVA: Is it common for design students to be taught technical drawing skills, either hand-drawn or digital, in universities and colleges today or are students expected to teach themselves? Do you think that students should be taught drawing skills formally?

RS: Depends what you mean by formally. Drawing cannot be taught in the way that say history can. Examples of drawings can be shown and techniques can be demonstrated but in the end it takes ‘praxis’ or practice.

AVA: You state in DOTI that interior architecture, interior design and interior decoration are “…concerned with not just the physical intervention but also with how space is understood and occupied…” which you also describe as “effect”. What should students consider when drawing the “effect” of an interior?

RS: I use the term ‘effect’ in reference to Adolf Loos’s essay The Principle of Cladding where he introduces the concept of form and effect. The form being the physical intervention and the effect being the reading or emotional response of that form on an occupant. The effect is of course the more difficult to draw as there are no hard and fast rules in the sense there are for orthographic techniques or technical drawings. Different schools will have different styles and students should refer to different sources such as fine art, animation or even advertising.

Study of light using physical and digital modelling by previous Interior Architecture student, Mami Sayo


AVA: Students often have a very limited time in which to complete projects, usually ranging from 1 week for smaller projects to 6-8 weeks for a major project. Drawings such as plans and sections can sometimes take several days to complete? How can students organise their time effectively – should there always be a step-by-step approach to design?

RS: Sounds like you’re talking from experience! Design is a reiterative process, which means you do things over and over again improving them, moving between different mediums to test out an idea. It can be a slow process. First Year projects are usually short because the brief set is relatively simple and for many students merely being able to describe their scheme in plan and section is difficult. At this stage a step-by-step approach can provide useful structure as the student learns what it means to design. By Third Year the brief is more complex and often driven by the individual student’s interests and agenda rather than just given by tutors. The final proposition is expected to be much more resolved both conceptually, as a proposition and how it is drawn up. Therefore the projects are longer and less structured and a student should be able to organise their time and have developed their own working method.

AVA: The book also includes a section with tips and advice on portfolio layout. What would be your key piece of advice for planning a portfolio?

RS: A Portfolio is a design proposition in itself, remember give it enough thought and time. It is about taste and style.  Read the book and listen to advice from your tutors, as they will probably be marking it!

AVA: Do you think that it would be worthwhile for students to practise and experiment with representational techniques outside of design projects? Do you have any suggestions for ways they can do this?

RS: Of course. If you think of your favourite designers you probably associate them with a technique that is almost their signature. I think it is really important to experiment and find your own voice. Again look to other disciplines for techniques.

AVA: One of the great features of this book is the range of case studies and visual examples used. It is particularly interesting to see examples of famous buildings and interiors alongside the architect’s original drawings (see below images).  What do you think students can gain from drawing comparisons between designers’ drawings and the ‘end product’?

RS: Firstly the difference between the drawing and the building. A design drawing is propositional not observational and the drawing does not have to look like the final proposition or even be a ‘good’ drawing, (although they often are). It can be very inspiring to think ‘Oh I can draw like that’. Secondly it makes one aware of how differently different architects and designers draw.

Interior wall drawing with colour/light effect of Le Corbusier's Pilgrimage Chapel of Notre Dame at Ronchamp, France


AVA: What resources are there available for students who might want to see more examples of famous architectural drawings?

RS: There are some beautiful collections such as the RIBA Drawings Collection at the V&A if you want see original drawings. This is a really special thing to do, as the drawings are not nearly as perfect as they look in publication. Often with little notes in the margins, corrections and creases, they remind one that drawings are physical things that are handled and used. However in the digital age the possibilities are almost limitless and more drawings than ever before can be viewed as libraries make their collections accessible on line. The Archigram Archival Project launched at Westminster University recently for instance, collects together all the available works of the influential architectural group Archigram for free viewing.

Sectional perspective watercolour through Sir John Soane's Museum, London


AVA: Digital design software today makes it possible for students to develop schemes digitally from start to finish. Do you think there is any need to draw by hand anymore? Would you encourage your students to use one method over another or would you rather they experiment freely?

RS: One of the biggest surprises doing the research for Drawing Out the Interior is how alive and kicking the hand drawn line is. Although it is rare to see a drawing board these days, drawings such as sketches can easily be scanned and combined with digital imagery or conversely people are drawing by hand on top of print outs. The hybrid drawing is the medium of the moment.

AVA: Which designer do you particularly admire in terms of their drawing/representational ‘style’ and why?

RS: This is one of those impossible questions like ‘what music do you like?’ It depends on my mood or what I am doing. I have always loved Mies Van der Rohe’s collaged perspectives (see the 1969 MOMA folio) they are so incredibly spatial while giving so little information. Recently I saw an exhibition of Rachel Whiteread’s drawings that bowled me over. She uses everyday materials such as correction fluid or graph paper to create drawings that are both thinking drawings for her casts but also evoke a sort of essence of the interior.

AVA: What has been the most interesting project you have ever been involved with – whether during your own training or whilst teaching – and why?

RS: When I finished studying I worked on an exhibition design called Skin of the Earth with Raoul Bunschoten and his students from the AA. We designed and built huge furniture pieces in ferrous cement on an old circus warehouse in Kings Cross and then drove out to Moscow with them for an exhibition. It was incredibly physical work constructing first the timber formwork, then the skeletal mesh reinforcement and finally pouring the cement. I was responsible for building a piece called The Chest of Games and removing the formwork and seeing the final form emerge like some huge fossil, is still one of my proudest moments.

AVA: How do you think that ‘Drawing out the Interior’ differs from other books about representational techniques for interiors and what is the key point that you would like students to take away from reading it?

RS: Ironically it doesn’t teach you how to draw! I felt there were enough books on the market already doing that. By ‘drawing out’ I was referring to the Italian word ‘disegno’ meaning to literally draw out a line but also to draw out an idea. What ‘Drawing out the Interior’ attempts to do is discuss through example why one draws, what to draw and when are different techniques are used. Hopefully by the end of the book the reader will have learned not only about drawing but also what design is.

AVA: Although specific to the discipline of interior architecture, do you think this book would appeal to students of any other disciplines? Your references to ‘light’, ‘colour’ and ‘illusion’ make me think that this book might be relevant to students of theatre studies and set design?

RS: I would love it if it does. I happen to know a lot of architecture students are using it.


The University of Westminster Interior Architecture end of year show - installation created using laser off-cuts left by architecture students!



The University of Westminster Interior Architecture graduates will be exhibiting, along with design graduates across the UK,  at this year’s Free Range exhibition at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London.

An AVA representative will be attending the Interior Educator’s Private View on Thursday 14th July and we will also be holding an Interior Architecture and Architecture discounted book sale at the Truman Brewery on Friday 15th July.  We hope to see you there!