The GSD Sketching Group and the Call for Sketchbooks Exhibition

Juan Fernández González

The GSD Sketching Group brings together the Harvard Graduate School of Design community to explore and sketch their surroundings. This student group was founded in February 2022 by Olivia Champ Tremml and myself, with the goal of dignifying hand drawing within the design professions and to strengthen its relevance in a university context. It was inspired by the Sketching School at McGill University, an architectural sketching course led by Prof. David Covo and Prof. Ricardo Castro.

The first of twenty-one on-site sketching events took place on the ramp of Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center. Each event lasts for about an hour, creating a space for observation, contemplation, drawing, and conversation. Different members of the GSD community gather to draw what they find most inspiring, with occasional discussions about drawings as we share our work. We have been joined by an estimated fifty students in total, representing all GSD programs. Among them are our co-chairs: Gracie Meek, Jiayu Wu, Paola Ovando Peraza, Ember Hua, and Kevin Tang. In our invitation emails, we emphasize that ‘You don’t have to be an expert. We enjoy self-expression in any form it might take.’

In April 2023, we co-hosted an ‘archives party’ with Special Collections Curator Ines Zalduendo at the Harvard GSD’ s Frances Loeb Library. Along with a dozen students, we looked at sketchbooks by Kenzo Tange, Aldo Rossi, Le Corbusier, Charles Eliot, and Yann Weymouth, among several others. Seeing our peers’ excitement, as they flipped through these pages full of wonders, was beautiful. We noticed that the sketchbooks were treated with extreme care and caution in comparison to how we treat our own. This inspired us to host another exhibition that emphasized the sketchbook as working object, magical but not necessarily precious and delicate.

The opportunity to host the event came in April 2024 with the Call for Sketchbooks Exhibition. The GSD Sketching Group co-hosted it along with the Kirkland Gallery team, Galena Sardamova, Youtian Duan, Yutong Wang, Roy Zhang, Tyler White, and our collaborators Tristan Whalen and Noemi Julia Iten. After sending a Call for Sketchbooks email around to the entire school, we were surprised to receive more than fifty fantastic sketchbooks. It was very generous of the students to trust us with their sketchbooks. They varied in content, style, and medium, yet they all displayed wonderful talent! To exhibit them, we built a custom-made swing for each sketchbook and arranged them along swing sets which spanned twenty meters. This took place at Kirkland Yard outside of Kirkland Gallery, near an existing swing which inspired the domestic nature of the exhibition. The installation was put up and taken down for three consecutive days, reusing and readapting the wooden structures designed by Manuel Bouzas Barcala for the Forest Futures exhibition which had just ended.

By exhibiting the sketchbooks outside and in an interactive way, we wanted to facilitate the direct contact with these ‘working objects’. In response to the highly controlled display of sketchbooks in museums (usually opened to one spread inside a glass box), we let them swing freely with the wind. Visitors were encouraged to pick the sketchbooks up from their swings and flip through them. As people interacted with the sketchbooks, either in a solitary way or collectively, we witnessed the beauty of sharing these personal objects of observation and thought. Some of these sketchbooks might end up in museums, but they should be freer, at least in their youth.

Juan Fernández González is a Master of Architecture Candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and an Architectural Sketching Course Lecturer at McGill University, where he graduated from the B.Sc. Architecture program in 2019. He is the President and Co-Founder of the GSD Sketching Group. Juan sketches constantly and has published geometry discoveries that began with the act of drawing, as discussed in his co-authored paper ‘From a Doodle to a Theorem: A Case Study in Mathematical Discovery.