Choreography Of Thought: Dominique Perrault’s Sketches

by | 28. Nov 2013

Article | Studio

Teaching Bridge, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, 2011-17 © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp

By Martin Søberg

With a few brief strokes of a black felt pen, Dominique Perrault captures the idea of an architectural project in its most basic visual form. A powerful means of communication, the sketch bridges conceptual thinking and design in the making. It stimulates mediation between the architect, his team, and the client – and between site and built construction.

Dominique Perrault’s sketches embody strong ideas. They do not feature the precision of a construction drawing, but keep a solid focus only on the most necessary, the very elemental qualities of a project, be it conceptual program or bold architectural forms. Perrault’s sketches are not typical process sketches, a succession of impulses developing from stage to stage towards the final design of a building. They are rather like thoughts projected directly onto the paper surface by the means of the moving hand.

Emblemizing architectural concepts, Perrault’s sketches may be linked to what in the French tradition of the Beaux-Arts Academy is termed the parti. They are almost diagrammatic, focusing on the basic idea of a project. To support this purpose, Perrault sometimes applies pointed arrows, which indicate the flows or tensions of the project. Or a single written headline or keyword is added. Most of his sketches are drawn with the hasty strokes of a black pen. Yet in some sketches, color is utilized to indicate contrasting material effects.

A sketch is, by definition, immediate, crude, imprecise, in some ways it is ante-architectural. It is a stage of fixation, stability. They don’t all have the same clarity, the same evidence. I often add words. Not phrases, just single words. To make the way they are to be interpreted clearer. The silence, the mystery that surrounds a sketch constitutes a space in which thought is free.
/Dominique Perrault, in: Moleskin Notebook, “Dominique Perrault Architecture,” 2013

EWHA Womans University, Séoul, Korea, 2004-08 © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp

Dominique Perrault’s architecture links the conceptual with the poetic. Clear geometric shapes are combined, contrasted, shifted, and even deconstructed in order to create new spatial sensations. The choice of certain shapes reflect the functional program of a project in vigorous dialogue with the surrounding landscape or urban fabric.

When contemplating Perrault’s sketches, we are able to localize such basic architecture themes; as for instance the relationship between the building and the site. We may see this in his sketches for the Teaching Bridge in Lausanne or the Arganzuela Footbridge in Madrid, both projects emphasizing a relationship between the construction and the horizontality of landscape, be it the Lac Léman in Lausanne or the Río Manzanares in Madrid.

New Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, Russia, 2003  © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp

Dominique Perrault applies various means of representation in his architectural practice. This includes hand drawn sketches – but also digital drawings, modeling and rendering, collages, physical scale models, and photography. His sketches, nevertheless, are like his architecture: Immensely precise, with an insisting sensation of bodily presence.

When I draw, I think, talk, erase, switch from the plan to the section, try again, add words to some lines. An illustrated choreography of thought in motion. It’s a process, a journey, more than a result. My drawings are the expression of a conceptual direction that has already been contextualised, localised, situated. They are not abstractions.
/Dominique Perrault, in: Moleskin Notebook, “Dominique Perrault Architecture,” 2013

DC Towes I+II, Vienna, Austria, 2004-13/16  © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp

ME Barcelona Hotel, Barcelona, Spain, 1999-2008  © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp


Fukoku Tower, Osaka, Japan, 2007-10  © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp



National Library of France, Paris, France, 1989-95  © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp



NH-Fieramilano Hotel, Milan, Italy, 2006-09 © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp


Noh Theatre, Kaino River Park, Tokamachi, Chuetsu, Japan, 2000-06  © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp



Olympic Tennis Center, Madrid, Spain, 2002-09  © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp



Piazza Garibaldi, Naples, Italy, 2004-14  © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp


Dominique-Perrault-12-Notre Dame du Laus.jpg

Sanctuary of Notre-Dame du Laus, France, 2012 © Dominique Perrault / DPA / Adagp