The Process of Painting to Explore Design Research Questions

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Sketches by Maria Lorena Lehman: © All rights reserved.
Sketches by Maria Lorena Lehman: © All rights reserved.

“For me, to research the complexity of adaptive architectural interaction and perception, painting is key.” 
— Maria Lorena Lehman 

Prior to painting I usually create a few preliminary sketches that further explore my current research questions. For example, the sketches shown above were done in preparation for my painting entitled, “Space-Time Causality In Motion”, and in this case, they help me explore how architectural design can be orchestrated to emit stimuli as an adaptive narrative.



As environments gain greater ability to flex, respond, and adapt beyond the kinetic movement of elements, architecture will embody entirely new forms of function, aesthetics, and meaning. And it is here where I see a profound leverage point. When strategically created, these new ways of interpreting and designing for motion can inject new adaptive behaviors into architecture – and these behavioral languages can be honed to nurture the actualization of human potential. For me, to research such complexity of adaptive architectural interaction and perception, painting is key.


Thus, I use sketches to explore and experiment with paint – before I lay down the first brushstroke. You see, I think as a painter as I draw with an ink pen, to explore the design research direction I seek to deepen, and with which I seek to create an experimental composition. In doing this, I am able to branch into even deeper research questions so when I do begin to paint, my mind is already flowing adventurously and deeply inside the research exploration underway. The “final” painting then unlocks answers, and even better research questions, that inform my next studioworks. This is a process that is always evolving, but I find it to be a very fulfilling to practice.


About the author

Maria Lorena Lehman

Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary artist, designer, and author focusing on links between environmental design, science, emerging technologies, and human potential. Lehman is founder of MLL Atelier, an art-based architectural design research practice. Maria Lorena Lehman is author of the award-winning book entitled, Adaptive Sensory Environments. She is recipient of the Harvard University Digital Design Prize for the "most creative use of digital media in relation to the design professions". Lehman also creates sculptures and paintings described as "visual poetry of motion that is a new inspiration" by Daniel Smith, the company that creates watercolors for artists worldwide. Maria Lorena Lehman holds the degrees of Master in Design with Distinction from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and a Bachelor of Architecture, Cum Laude, from Virginia Tech. She is internationally published and in numerous periodicals, including The Architect's Journal, Esquisses Magazine, Architect Magazine and Forbes.