Architecture is not a trade, it’s a craft … and it normally takes years of practice before you start to routinely exist in the delicate balance between programming requirements and artistic expression. I’m starting the downhill slide of my 40’s on my next birthday and I’m just now hitting my stride. That’s a long time to work at developing the skills it takes to practice architecture.
… kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original …And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.
… We stigmatize mistakes. And we are running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make and the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this – he said all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.
~ Sir Ken Robinson, TEDTalks
In the quote above, I think the issue that Sir Ken Robinson speaks of points to one of the reasons the process of becoming an architect takes as long as it does. Traditional educational systems teach us how to work towards the correct answer … but most architects will tell you that there is no correct answer, just degrees of correctness based on the variables in play – what is right for one person will not be right for another. People have their own tools, mores, and values for setting priorities and, as a result, most people view the finished result of “Architecture” without considering the process of creating architecture.
The education of an architect intentionally and systematically breaks down the creative process “baggage” and untrained habits of their students, and then starts the process of rebuilding that process in a non-stigmatized environment. Students are encouraged to explore their creativity and create something that is more frequently than not, impractical. In the beginning, architecture students should be thinking about their “BIG IDEA”, rather than focusing on more practical matters like “how is this 10″ beam going to support my lunar lifestyle habitat pod?” That is frequently the reason why the design projects students tackle in college are unfamiliar or atypical (i.e. multi-family housing on the dark side of the moon) rather than a project type that is rooted in more practical solutions (i.e. a bus depot.) While an architect is in school, if during the review of their project the jurors are talking about the toilet room layout or the efficiency at which they tackled the programming, that should be taken as a skill set red flag … it might be time for them to take a step back and try to focus on freeing their imagination rather than drilling down into the rules to find their inspiration.
Fast forward a few years – the college process is now complete and architectural schools are churning out extremely creative graduates, ready to take on the design world … except few graduates will actually get to work on “BIG IDEA” design projects. More typically, most graduates start the indoctrination process of being told to shutter their creative side in favor of more direct and cost-effective solutions, that they need to consider the practical aspects behind the work they are charged with creating. Once again the process of beating the creative tendencies out of these young architects is at work because now the beam size of your lunar lifestyle habitat module really does matter, budgets matter, deadlines matter … everything matters now, not just the big idea.
Architects need to go through a period of time when they have to learn how to be creative once again while learning how to incorporate real world variables into the creative process. Finding this balance takes time to develop because the impractical and the practical are at odds with one another.
Or are they?
It is with some amusement that this process in the field of architecture is rarely called what it truly is – the Scientific Method. Develop a problem or a ask question. Attempt something to answer it. If it doesn’t work, review what was and wasn’t successful. Change something and try again, or try something else. Fail to get something useful? Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
The scientific method is a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting of systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. The only real difference I have picked up on is the concept of the “Fair Test.” A Fair Test requires that only one of these variables be changed while all others remain constant but there are far too many esoteric variables in play on most architectural projects. The creation and evolution of an architect is a process that is centered around the building up and tearing down of the individual over and over again. It takes time before the individual comes through the process and out the other with some mastery of using both sides of their brain working in concert utilizing a creative and practical delivery method.
While there are always exceptions to the rule, most architects don’t really start putting all the pieces together with control until they’re old enough to have experienced the process of getting things wrong a few times and learning from the process to know why something worked well enough to repeat the success without repeating the solution.
Like a lot of the topics I introduce on this site, today’s conversation is really an idea that I have been thinking about for a while. While I’ve used an architect as the case study for my article, this process can probably be used to describe many professionals. I welcome anyone to add their thoughts to the conversation in the comment section.