learned in kindergarten (or first year)  


Something in yesterday’s design studio reminded me that most of the important lessons learned in life were learned in Kindergarten and in the life of an architect, first year studio.

In Kindergarten, we learned to pay attention, follow directions and how to use manners. In simple terms this meant listen to the teacher explain where to glue your Cheerios, play the games correctly and say thank you (oh, and no pushing). Otherwise, you don’t get your snack.

I’m convinced that if one follows these simple rules (not the Cheerios part) the rest of life becomes so much simpler. Most conflicts or mistakes in life are made when one of those rules are broken or ignored.


This translates to architecture. When have I not found a parallel in architecture?

I would estimate that an architect is made or discovered in the first year even if they take several years to blossom. If you never went to architecture school or don’t know anything about architects, trying understand the very first year of architecture schooling will be very puzzling at best.

Even though students mature at different rates and discover who they are at any point during college (hopefully during college), it is in the first year, we can find out whether someone has the raw material to make a good architect. A few fundamental things have to be understood and learned. This isn’t discriminatory or mean, it just is even though everyone comes to school with varied experience. Everyone is good at something.

Students also quickly learn that if one doesn’t simply love architecture, it is way too hard to put up with the weird stuff we do. Architecture is hard.


First we learn that architecture is primarily about space. I know there’s much debate about this so feel free to disagree. Go ahead, comment below – I love the dialogue. Architecture is about space and understanding our position within that space. From there we get more complex and we begin to understand how one space relates to another. It’s those relationships that develop and make architecture rich. If one has difficulty in envisioning space and objects within space in their minds (three dimensional thinking), then they will have a difficult time in this profession. We begin to notice this quickly in the assignments and exercises we do.

calisti sketch 02

The second element is composition. Here we see whether or not someone has the ability to take varied elements and relate them one to another in a way that not only is pleasant to look at (or be in) but can address a multitude of purposes. These relationships must eventually address the other complex layers architecture presents and a myriad of technical and sociological requirements. I’ve made this sound simple, but it’s incredibly difficult.

cube sketch 01 inverted

I have had many students over the years show strong graphic work in a two-dimensional sense of composition. They were able to make beautiful drawings and other flat surface images that were quite impressive. Yet, even with that unique ability, many of them were not able to transfer that into the third dimension where it can become architecture.


The third thing that is critical is to learn is the language of architecture and being able to speak it fluently. There are graphic conventions and methods of communicating we use in our field. Many people understand that we “make drawings.” However, these are just the beginning tools that we use to communicate. One must become conversant with graphic conventions, drawing types and the methods of representing architecture in order to be successful in this career. This is the language of architecture. It can get quite complex, drawings and models can become amazingly detailed and have layers and layers of information. This is an essential skill to be able to use the methods of drawing and other tools to communicate clearly. I could go off on a tangential rant here about a big lacking in this area, but I’ll return to that another time.

stair plan sketch

We certainly require more than a single year of schooling to become an architect. In fact, it takes a lifetime. The information and lessons learned in the subsequent years are tremendously important. There are projects and assignments that have layers of complexity and skills that the student must master. Despite that, many types of people can learn technical things, many types of people can learn engineering aspects and many types of people can learn how to use various types of software.

To me what sets the architect apart comes down to the imagination and ability to conceive, perceive and represent three-dimensional space. After that, the work is incredibly difficult, but it all builds on these fundamental principles.


Now be sure to say please or you won’t get nap time and you’ll have to sit in the corner. You think I’m kidding.

kindergarten photos are from stock photo galleries on FreeImages.com – click on photo to see author (used under the Standard Restrictions)
sketches and drawings are mine, mine, all mine, don’t touch them or you’ll definitely not get your cookies

learned in kindergarten (or first year)  

3 thoughts on “learned in kindergarten (or first year)  

  1. Seamstressy says:

    I know from playing The Sims that I’m no architect (or interior decorator!). I play that life simulation game like an accountant (which I am) – families start with a vacant lot and only get the essentials built as they need them. The bathroom is the first structure – their bed can stay on the lawn until they get a raise. The budgeting is very exciting for me. My houses are always very simple and functional. I prefer single storey layouts so I don’t lose track of any characters and can better exert control over the simulated people.

    However I do like to judge the work that architects do, even knowing that I don’t have that skill set. Most of my critique is based on cost and the imagined practicality of living in those spaces they have designed.

    Have you ever played The Sims series of games? I wonder how many kids find their architectural calling through it.

    1. I appreciate the insight from an accountant. Budget and practicality do come into play into architecture, however, it’s not a priority during the first year of schooling. That would stifle the process. An architect’s life begins (and remains) in the abstract.

      Developing skills to make good spaces cannot be found by arranging fixed elements in plan. We work in three dimensional mode at all times and with our students the first half of the first semester involves no buildings at all. They must learn or acknowledge if they have ability to imagine in the third dimension. The first project we introduce (that is actually a building) is a house, but it is a summer house and the function is not emphasized other than having a place to sleep, live and eat. We ignore developing it to a level of detail where the fixtures, furniture and other details are addressed. The relationships and composition is what we focus on as well as an overall site strategy.

      If we only needed practicality in this world, we wouldn’t need architects (as much). However, I hope we make spaces and environments that elevate our time here on earth as well as address and respect budgets, programs, function and the environment. Being able to compose spaces that can address all of these is a rare talent.

      By the way, I’d make a horrible accountant and I don’t prefer to play video games. I only know of the Sims games in name. My son only plays PS4 sports games. My story of how I came to architecture is in an earlier post http://wp.me/p1gGBj-js. Thanks for sharing your insight.

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