it is not enough

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Let me share with you a recent rant contribution to a discussion that I shared with the entire First-Year student body at a group conversation among our faculty and students after final reviews. It is also relevant to us in practice too.

Ultimately, I would like everyone to understand how architects think and get a glimpse at what we do so that they might appreciate why we may be attempting to inject more (value) into their project. People ought to expect more out of the architect than someone who merely “draws up” some plans – why else would you hire the architect? Mark Wigley, Dean at the school of architecture at Columbia University stated in an interview with Domus Magazine in 2009 that architects are able to do something that others can’t. Otherwise, why would you hire them?

“I think that architects are not very popular, even in the countries in which architects are famous. I think architects are only hired because people genuinely do not know what to do. From as simple a thing as how to renovate your house after your children have gone to college to how to put a library in a big city. If you knew what to do, you wouldn’t hire an architect, you’d hire an engineer, you’d hire somebody important and you’d pay them. You hire an architect because the kinds of factors involved cannot be put in the same orbit – emotional, technical, aesthetic, legal… The architect becomes somebody who has a special skill, which is to think and combine forms of knowledge that don’t belong together and to shape some kind of organization that allows the complexity to keep going. They don’t resolve the problem; they allow a kind of ecology to continue. And that’s an amazing talent, but it’s a talent that requires you to be comfortable with doubt.”

Our conversation started with positing that the architect is the type of person to challenge (or at least question) the world around us specifically the built environment. For the most part I would concur with that position; we must be the dreamers. “What if” and “why not” should be our daily questions. Architecture truly encompasses more than mere buildings.

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There was much said about ideas and methods of thinking; however, there has to be something more that an architect can do than merely be the generator of ideas and questions about our world. I stated that most anybody standing around on campus, walking down the street or hanging around the neighborhood can consider and propose ideas about buildings and built environments and yes, even architecture – even if it is shallow and ill-conceived. Imagination is not limited to architects so what is it that separates the architect from the novice or the architect from the layperson?

We know that there are people more intelligent than us (ok at least more than me). We know that there are people who have superior other abilities, reasoning skills, and other talents. There are people with more money and people with less money; there are people of varying social class structures. So what is it that makes the architect unique?

The point I was trying to make to our students was it is not enough to have an idea – is not enough to ask the question. I find those ingredients crucial and essential; but, the architect is the one that can take it further. It begins with certain skills and abilities to take ideas and give them life.

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It is the architect that can weigh various dynamics, numerous constraints and knit the multiple voices into the coherency that we often use to describe architecture. Some people might call chaos architecture and some people might call order architecture. Regardless of your position it is the architect that is both the thinker and the doer. All of these things come together through the mind and hands of the architect.

I suppose this is why either end of this spectrum becomes very frustrating to me; because, on one hand the academic world is often sliding the pendulum to the far left wishing or desiring young architects to be thinking about tomorrow’s architecture. No problem. We have the pragmatists out there in practice (whether they be clients, developers or whomever) that direct the architect to simply convert their banal plans for the sake of expediency and revenue. I get it.

So my ideal version of this person called the architect finds balance in all areas whether it is ideation, construction, mediation, collaboration, making or whatever other aspect you want to throw at her. It doesn’t make them superior it just simply is who they are.

I wish more architects would think – dare I say dream. Yet as I observe students struggle to become architecturally literate and develop an architectural idea into an architectural language, I know that it’s not enough to merely have an idea.

We must think and we must do.

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photos are from stock photo galleries on Stock.Xchng (used under the Standard Restrictions)

photo 1 | photo 2 | photo 3 | photo 4

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it is not enough

6 thoughts on “it is not enough

  1. Ted Rusnak says:

    I missed the class in “What defines, or attempts to, what an Architect is / does or should be”.
    The owner of one firm I worked for said quite emphatically that 95% of what I do is for the money, it’s not really architecture. It’s the 5% that I’ve studied and worked for, that to me is architecture. And that I would do for free, just to let my skill sets come together and create.

    1. that might be a bit extreme for me, but i do believe we all go to work each day believing we can make a difference. many architects have “died” along the way and can’t find a way to be revived. on the other hand, many students are naive and believe practice is just like design studio. where do we get lost between school and several years of practice?

  2. wm finnerty architect says:

    nicely put lee and I will share.

    when I was just starting out asked by my friends not in the design field what I did all day, my only and best answer was

    ‘I keep the project moving along to eventual completion’

    which now i see as – ‘taking the ideal and making it real’,

    not an easy skill though the finished product often looks so simple

    1. it is truly hard to describe what we do – understood. this was actually inspired by watching students fail at clearly representing an idea or series of ideas graphically and in 3d.

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