Architecture & Design, Valuable Life Lessons, Educating Architects

Post-Crit Inertia

I learned an important lesson last semester, which ended... not as well as could be hoped (to put it mildly).

I realized that my ideas were perfectly fine, and so was the execution of my project.

What wasn't fine was the presentation of these ideas. I thought, mistakenly, that my instructors (who had seen the process and progress of my project from start to finish) would be able to 'read' the drawings/ideas I had in my posters, and interpret the project as a coherent whole.

It never occurred to me that design professionals could so easily lose track of a complex idea.

My lesson for thesis is, then, that each idea must be broken down into digestible, visualized chunks.

The other day, my thesis supervisor came by my desk. I was knee deep in the delicious 'Design, Evolution & Cities' by Stephen Marshall.

She said...

"I see you're writing again, when you should be drawing."

That statement was extremely revealing in what design tutors expect of design students, namely,
 

"If you aren't drawing, you aren't working."


Contrary to popular belief, drawing is not a 'shortcut' to meaning, intention, thought, or feeling. It is simply one method of expressing such things, that presupposes a 'source' of meaning, intention, thought, or feeling that needs to be expressed.

The sketchpad is not a direct link to design, something that can 'read your mind' (presuming you have something in your mind that needs to be read).

Sketches may be made a-plenty, but are rather fruitless without some direction.
 

When instructors tell students that they should be constantly drawing, what they mean is...

"I have no ability to visualize your meanings, intentions, thoughts, or feelings, and need gratuitous visual aids before I can offer my opinion on them."

Or... 

"Words frighten me."

And likely...

"Architecture is about art, not academics. Don't try to mix disciplines--it is dangerous."

I would venture a bet that many architecture schools put the emphasis on the expression of ideas.

Few, however, put emphasis on the generation of ideas.

It is pure blind luck that there are ever any ideas generated at all, that somehow slip through the rigorous demand on visual representation over proper mental *stimulation*...

Those ideas that make it through, though, are so well done they seem to 'prove' that the current emphasis on expression works, and that it is just a matter of forcing the rest of the students to work harder on their representation skills to get them to the same level.

This ability to first generate ideas, and then express them effectively, is the basis of what is commonly known as 'talent.'

The majority of people (i.e., instructors, professors, tutors, fellow students, etc.) only ever see the manifestation of the idea a la visuals that present it. They tend to write off such ability as 'innate' rather than 'developed.' The institution then continues to misplace their expectations and hope for the best.

The saving grace of working hard to generate meaningful ideas is that, once generated, they lend themselves easily to representation. So one does not have to waste time and paper sketching thousands of 'evocative' little drawings, but can spend the majority of one's time on the rather more difficult task of ideation.

The key to succeeding at architecture school, then, is learning to placate the unimaginative with visual aids. Or... aligning 'what you want to say' with 'what they want to hear.'

It is one of life's luxuries when, at some crucial juncture, what you really want to say coincides with what one really wants to hear.

I hope to make my thesis that juncture.

It has taken 6+ years of post-secondary education...

But I am finally learning to trust my own feeling for truth.

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
but make allowance for their doubting too....

--Rudyard Kipling