Oh, don’t judge me, just let me talk.
I was quoted recently in my local newspaper in an article highlighting the use of 3D computer software by architects and designers. (I recommend you first read it and tell me what you ‘heard’). As always the tone of the final article is slightly different from the image I perceived during the interview. The article doesn’t misquote me, and I don’t think the other architects interviewed contradict the point I was trying to make.
However, I don’t believe it gives proper due to the process of making architecture, thus my rant.
We make architecture; we use various tools to get there. Despite different preferences, ultimately what matters is the work. However, when given the opportunity to share our profession, we must be accurate to explain to those of you who’ll hire us how the design process works so our value is evident.
Most architects today use some type of digital tool to develop their work and to create their final (construction) drawings. Many use some type of 3D software beyond that including me. Yet, when I was interviewed I was trying to convey two aspects of the PROCESS of making architecture that can reveal the degree of inquiry and depth of discovery. Two elements of that process are frequently ignored in the analog/digital debate or misunderstood by users of architectural services.
First the conception of ideas and the study of those ideas in my (not so humble) opinion must include SOME aspect of thinking and testing with a pencil or a pen. I can even buy into a digital pen on an iPad and I believe there’s still an important place for physical models. There is something special and essential in the mind of an architect that takes place when the hand, the eyes and the mind work through ideas on a flat surface. I’m rather particular to a #2 pencil and my sketchbook; and I love using chipboard for models. Jumping right into digital modeling may make the client seem happy that they’re getting a solution quicker (less $$), but does it lead to a really good solution?
The second concept is the working through of the components and details during the latter design phases or during construction. BIM tools are great for finding collisions, envisioning the project in 3D and spitting out data. However, the architect (again…opinion here) best studies and THINKS through the assembly of materials with a process that includes sketching and making relevant notations. We can’t “sue” the computer for not doing its job.
No one said we don’t do these things, but no one says we do. Let’s not mislead people into thinking we just press a few buttons on the computer, turn the crank and out comes architecture. As I said in the article, we use tools and each tool has its proper role.
There is a haptic perception that occurs by the use of the architect’s hands. I find it very useful to consider ideas and details with a pencil and trace working feverishly over a period of time. At the end of that session, my hands are messy, I’m drowning in bumwad (yellow trace paper for those of you architects under 30) and my mind is racing with possibilities. At a single glance, I can see the results of my process and can keep that record for reference.
Buildings are complicated objects with many components. Too many times 3D drawings are pretty pictures but do not allow the operator to immerse themselves into the project as a real object or place. According to a friend of mine, who fabricates materials used for construction and employs CAD operators, “I see it all the time with my guys – they do not understand the fundamentals and logic of putting it together.” On a recent project we found it crucial to create multiple mock-ups on site to understand detail complexities that could never have been understood any other way. And yes, I had a stack of drawings for this project.
You might not understand how architects work. Therefore, it’s extremely important to me to find ways to educate as many as will listen to what we do because it will reinforce our value and it will allow our profession to flourish. You might not understand us, but hopefully you’ll respect us (and hire us).
Tomorrow I’ll make two more points. Keep reading.