Architecture & space

What Is Architectural Perspective, and How Do I Use It in Drawing?

Discover the importance of perspective in architectural drawing when designing a space from scratch

The word “perspective” comes from the Latin word perspicere, which means "to see through". This definition already provides some clues that will help us to grasp one of the most important concepts in architecture.

Perspective in architectural drawing is the representation of three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional (flat) surface. This recreates the position of the observer relative to the object and shows the depth of the objects.

To get our heads around this concept, we look back on the origins and development of the theory, as well as its influence on other artistic disciplines, such as painting. At the end of this post, there will be the opportunity to learn about three types of architectural perspective and put them into practice by following some simple exercises.

Drawing by hand is a simple way to create an architectural design.
Drawing by hand is a simple way to create an architectural design.

The evolution of architectural perspective

Throughout history, humans have been drawn to depicting three-dimensional scenes and objects onto flat surfaces. The Greeks were the first to discover perspective, based on the idea that a person is unable to see an object in its entirety, all at once. Therefore, they used sculpture to capture what they could see from a certain point without taking into account any other elements.

During the Renaissance, great progress was made. At the time, the artist's goal was to create a faithful and exact copy of reality, which led to the emergence of perspective. When it came to learning to draw the human figure, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) said that the "young man should first learn perspective."

In The Last Supper, da Vinci uses point perspective or linear perspective, typical of Renaissance art. Jesus is the focal point of the composition, and all of the lines converge where he is sat.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, produced between 1495 and 1498.
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, produced between 1495 and 1498.

Returning to the topic of architecture, Filippo Brunelleschi was one of the first to develop studies on perspective with the aim of applying it to architecture plans. Through his experiments, he discovered one of the most important principles: objects appear smaller when they are further away.

The Hospital of the Innocents in Florence or the Olympic Theater in Vicenza are examples of buildings that help us to understand the importance of perspective in architecture, as well as its close relationship with art.

Olympic Theater in Vicenza, designed by the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio in 1580.
Olympic Theater in Vicenza, designed by the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio in 1580.

What are the different types of architectural perspective?

Although there are many types of perspective drawing, linear perspective is the most widely known and most commonly used when starting out with freehand architectural drawing. The main features are:

–Horizon line: imaginary line at the same height as the person observing the scene’s eye level. This line is used to identify vanishing points and determine the structure of the space to be designed.
–Vanishing points: imaginary points where all the horizontal lines of the drawing converge.

Within this category, there are several subtypes depending on the number of vanishing points you are working with.

One vanishing point

The most basic perspective drawing has only one vanishing point on the horizon line. It is normally used to represent linear structures, such as roads, railways, or corridors. All of the lines converge at the vanishing point, and as objects get closer to it, they get further away from the viewer.

Architectural perspective drawing using one vanishing point.
Architectural perspective drawing using one vanishing point.

Two vanishing points

Perspective drawings with two vanishing points are recommended for drawing the exteriors of buildings. One set of parallel straight lines converge at one point, and another set of parallel lines converge at the other. The vertical lines are perpendicular to our horizon line.

When we use two vanishing points it is also called oblique perspective.
When we use two vanishing points it is also called oblique perspective.

Three vanishing points

Here, we have two vanishing points that represent each family of horizontal walls. Then, there is a third point at which all the vertical lines converge.

Example of a perspective drawing using three vanishing points.
Example of a perspective drawing using three vanishing points.

Perspective in architectural drawing

Architect and illustrator Hector Lopez (@_thearchitector) explains that some plans carved into marble were the earliest known example of an architectural drawing.

Later, the Roman architect Marco Vitruvius wrote the treatise "Ten Books on Architecture,” which compiled all the knowledge available at the time on architectural theory. This helped people to begin to understand architecture terminology and visualize the different elements involved. The existence of these documents and their accessibility was fundamental to and propelled the evolution of construction.

How to represent perspective in architectural drawing?

Architect and illustrator Héctor López, who has over 10 years of experience in this field, still considers a pen and a piece of paper as valuable tools for presenting an architecture project. You, too, can practice architectural perspective with some of the simple exercises that he teaches in his course.

To begin, draw your horizon line and the two vanishing points on the sheet. Next, draw your reference lines, starting at each vanishing point and drawing to the opposite side. This will give you an idea of where to position your architectural elements.

Step one.
Step one.

Next, add vertical lines to represent doors, windows, or walls.

Label the elements as you go so that you don’t get lost in the process.
Label the elements as you go so that you don’t get lost in the process.

If your drawing has too many lines, you can place a transparent sheet on top of it to help you clean up the image. The next step is to start placing elements, such as doors, that will be fixed in the space. It is also recommended to draw to human scale to help you make sense of the heights.

Draw to human scale.
Draw to human scale.

After you have added all of the elements that will complement your space, you can now experiment with colors or textures.

Final result after completing the exercise.
Final result after completing the exercise.

Tips for designing

If you are going to design a space from scratch using this method, remember that your lines do not have to be perfect. It is simply a matter of making a rough yet realistic representation of your architectural space. As architect Héctor López explains, it is an exercise focusing on consistency. If you make a mistake, finish your drawing, then add another layer on top so that you can redraw it.

Have you ever used architectural perspective before? If you want to learn how to present a customized architectural space using freehand plans, perspective, and human scale, sign up to Héctor Lopez’s course, Introduction to Freehand Architectural Design.

English version by @eloise_edgington.

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