21 December 2013
As we near the end of this year, I’ve been thinking about architects and possibilities. If you are not an architect or do not play one on TV, this may not make sense to you.
Architects love possibilities.
I think it is one of the aspects of design and this profession that motivates us. At times it makes us downright giddy. See, we love to develop ideas and designs and we love to tweak them, polish them, edit them, and refine them. However, there’s something enticing about the beginning of a project or the beginning of a phase of a project where decisions have yet to be made and all the possibilities in the world are available. Now the phrase “all of the possibilities in the world” may be an exaggeration. Yet, prior to making that first mark or prior to having the first thought, we as architects love those possibilities that exist.
This is actually a double edged sword in certain ways. For when we make that first mark, that first gesture or even that first model in some ways we mourn the fact that we have eliminated some possibilities. The opportunities that exist before that gesture is made are enticing. However, we have to move forward. Thus we make more marks, create more models or scribble more definition and we become seduced by the development. Do you see that something paradoxical is going on here in the removal of possibilities? We begin to discover the existence of more possibilities as the design progresses. Creativity blossoms with great constraint.
If you’re confused, hang in there.
Let me give a simple example. If I make a straight-line implying an edge, a direction, a boundary or even a wall then that straight-line implies that it cannot be curved or angular or anything else. Sure, we can alter that, edit it, or change it. But at that moment of making a decision, some possibilities were eliminated. You might be thinking why does that matter? In order to make real architecture, decisions must be made otherwise it becomes a philosophical Möbius strip that never ends. Nothing would ever get accomplished. I understand architects understand that, thus the paradox. Obviously we go forward; we make decisions as a team of multiple members and many requirements. Within the boundaries of possibilities, architecture is found.
Recently, my students went through the traditional end-of-semester jury review. If you’re not familiar with this curious part of our culture, it is something to be witnessed in order to understand it or at least apprehend it. It is at these moments where you will find a manifestation of what I’m talking about.
Picture a group of architects (dressed in black) sitting around a student’s model or series of drawings discussing strengths of the solution in front of a nervous student. However, what you will see are architects wondering about possibilities. You will hear a unique language posing the possibilities that should have been considered–or might have been considered–as a means for the students to continue to think about their work and an effort to augment their learning.
This is what we do.
Afterwards I spent some time with a few of my students clarifying to them that this process is not necessarily being critical of the work they produced. In fact it is mysteriously complementary.
As we move forward into 2014, we read many things about resolutions one ought to make in the year to come. Those are possibilities. We also have those who are asking us to look back and consider celebrating the events and successes of the past year. Prior to looking forward and wondering about possibilities ask yourself, could you have imagined the events and successes you had this year? If you could have predicted it, would that have affected your decision making? Instead, you made a mark, then another and continued on.
In the first blank sketchbook page of 2013, prior to history recording that first event in your practice, could you have imagined any of the successes or even failures that happened this past year?
It is something to think about.
…all the best in the coming year.