Imperfection is not a concept I am comfortable with…at all.

I’m well aware I cannot attain it; in fact I’m not sure I can define it. However, I don’t like it all the same. Architecture and imperfection is not (are not?) a pair that you would expect to put together. Imperfection can show up in many aspects of our profession from our design process to our documents to the final built work.

Last week I was asked a question by a contractor regarding my drawings which happen to be quite detailed. I swallowed hard when I found out that I did not specify the type of soffit on the exterior canopy. Now it’s not something that will add cost since he already budgeted for it and it was shown graphically on my drawings. Yet I remember doing a bit of research on this item and for the life of me I can’t believe I didn’t put any notes about it; I just drew it. It still eats at me yet it’s not a big deal. I admit I am not perfect yet the end result will be just fine.

A couple of years ago I read Jeremy Till’s book “Architecture Depends” where he posits that architecture is dependent on a plethora of elements that are completely out of the architect’s control. The architect would be better off to embrace this theory. It was a fascinating read, but I’m still disappointed when the best laid plans don’t quite come together as intended. In typical architect dreaming, the ideal does not equal the real.

Even as I write this I’m coming to terms that I’ve probably made some type of error(s) whether spelling or grammatical. (Break it to me easy). Why do architects fear imperfection? Can we embrace it? I seriously doubt it.

I will say there is one area that imperfection is a bit more welcomed. During the design process we actually do cherish the potential of imperfection. Maybe that’s not the best term to use. Our ‘patient search’ for a design solution leads us down many paths and most of them are not the right most appropriate direction. We test and study a series of ideas, layouts, concepts and compositions only to find that they’re just not right for this project. Our sketches are messy and to some degree “imperfect.” However, it is through these imperfections (don’t mistake it for trial and error) that we teach ourselves to “see” the stronger solutions.

We learn from imperfection…sometimes the most profound lessons.

Architecture is a fickle paradox. We work through imperfect ideas through a rigorous process to develop an architecture that is documented perfectly and then haunt the builder to construct it perfectly. A utopian vision at best, but it is an imperfect process at worst.

Can we embrace imperfection yet? I don’t really know.

I have to go now; there is something misaligned on my desk.

imperfect sidewalk

 photos are from two photostreams on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

top photo   bottom photo


9 thoughts on “imperfection

  1. it’s a good thing you don’t work on old houses that have survived 100+ years because other people cared about them, imperfectly. My work is always about revisions in the field, adapting to existing conditions. We (the contractors and I) aren’t perfect, we’re creative.

    1. It’s funny you say that because I too work primarily on existing buildings. I spend a lot of time dealing with “imperfect” conditions, compromising and searching for answers within a limited range of options.

  2. Marcia Mikesh says:

    I discovered long ago that local owners and contractors change their minds about things during bidding and construction for good and poorly thought-out reasons, and accepted that this is usually more of a team approach than I was taught 30 years ago. I don’t spend a lot of time in trim, railing and cabinet details anymore because they are so often changed, and I think they are places for a contractor to participate in the creative process with the owner.

    1. My experience is similar to yours. However, I try to encourage owners to allow me to be part of that process during these last minute changes. When an architect is not involved, I don’t find that process typically creative. I find they are looking for ways to cheapen the project because they don’t care about anything else.

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  4. Imperfection just gives us more opportunities! I’ve been doing CA for over 30 years and every day is another opportunity to improve on someone else’s attempts to achieve perfection. And it’s very entertaining besides.

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