Every good architecture project has a concept. Every. Single One. This is the big idea that you will build your entire project around and if you look at your project and can’t recognize it, you need to keep working until you’ve developed one … at least, that’s my premise and, today, Andrew and I will be discussing what this might mean and what it possibly looks like. Welcome to Episode 96: The Big Idea
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Today Andrew and I will be discussing a topic that he and I have talked about on many occasions and in many different environments. It’s “the BIG IDEA”, although some people sometimes refer to it as a “parti” (derived from the French word “parti pris” meaning to make a decision) and it is a clarifying tool to help you organize and prioritize your design concepts as you work through the creative process. Technically a parti diagram is an initial concept – could be a sketch, a simple block model, even a rudimentary diagram that represents a design concept. Parti Diagram is a word that is a little too specific to the industry so as I mentioned earlier, I simply refer to it as “the big idea”.
So Andrew, our resident academic, what does the big idea really mean to you? jump to 9:35
The way I usually explain it to my students is that it’s some idea that is large enough to guide the entire project. For that reason, it cannot be something overly specific. It has to be a Big Idea. So I tend to try and describe it more like a theme for a project. I tend to even stay away from the “parti” idea because that is usually very architecturally specific. Other times it is about the Form or Plan of the project. Therefore, I push to not use that as the Big Idea. I think it can even be slightly vague in its nature. It takes a fine balance to find an idea that is just enough to guide the project but not so much that it limits it at the same time.
How do you create a big idea? jump to 14:50
Where can you draw inspiration from? Context. Site. Program. Precedent. Ideas. Theory. Thin Air? I would say yes to all of these. It can also come from a previous idea but apply to the new project. I think the creation of the Big Idea can depend on so many variables. The main issue to keep in mind is that this Big Idea should be one that can steer a project for its entirety. That is the challenge of this process. How can you create an idea that is possibly universal, but also specific to a project? But it may not have to be a unique idea. It could be one that is always at the forefront of your curiosity and architectural interests. There are so many avenues to lead you to that Big Idea and help influence the way your projects develop.
Why is this so important in school? jump to 24:13
During school, there are so many elements of architecture that you are trying to learn. It is a barrage of information, issues, and skills. One of the most difficult parts of all of that is focusing all of that into a single project solution. The task of crafting a Big Idea and then using it as the driving force of your project is a critical skill to practice when there are no other factors impacting it other than your own thoughts. As you move into the profession, the numbers of other factors that modify the creation of the Big Idea are numerous. The time you have to practice in school is to help you have this process established for yourself before it beings being influenced by so many others. It is not an easy process in the professional world. Any big Idea can get diluted or even changed completely due to factors beyond your control. So the ability to manage the process of utilizing the big idea is critical to get established during school. I talk some about the big idea in this previous post discussing the Big Idea and Technical Details.
The ability to keep this in mind and establish a strong idea that runs through the project is crucial. jump to 26:30
Future clients can understand these types of big ideas. Most of the time it performs better than any “archi-speak” that you could tell them. It is usually more important to draw on the emotional or idealistic parts of humanity rather than strong theoretic ideologies. While you may spend your time reading theory and only architectural books, the general population does not do such things. So it is important to keep the Big Idea on the same plane (if you will) as the non-architectural. Elements or emotions that can be understood and related to architecture are more easily accepted than strong theoretical implications. Deciding that you want the project to be a study of the void in suspended space juxtaposed to temporal positive element. Most clients in the “real world” would not identify with that at all. Heck, I don’t even know what that could mean. But these are definitely the types of Big Ideas I sometimes here in school. But they are not necessary or even useful once you leave school. So it becomes critical to understand how to craft a Big Idea that is more approachable. So Big Ideas are often better when they are not “purely architectural” in nature. But this doesn’t mean you cannot use them in an architectural solution.
The ability to be able to follow a single idea to fruition is also important jump to 29:21
In school, you are exposed to so many ideas about architecture. It is important to learn to focus on one idea and follow it through to the completion of a project. As a “new” student you often want to include every single “cool” idea in your project. This is a pitfall that I see very often in students at almost every level. Your project should not have every different idea that you can find and force into the solutions. But those students that excel often are more skilled at honing their focus. Having a big idea helps sift through all of the million possibilities and narrow it down for your work. Being able to craft this process of focus is a valuable skill that can also help you succeed in the profession. The ability to maintain your focus once you are in the profession is often crucial to your success in multiple ways. d
Many “famous” architects focused on one big idea for their entire career. jump to 38:57
If you find a big idea that is broad enough, you can spend you entire career studying and experimenting with it no matter what the project, client, location, or budget. Some of the ideas that many famous architects pursue throughout their careers are based on a singular Big Idea. Think of Corbusier and his Five Points. Mies and his quest to embody the international style with “Less is More.” Tadao Ando and the manipulation of light is another such instance. Another architect of white boxes comes to mind. There are countless other “starchitects” that lean towards a singular focus in their careers. Their Big Idea can be applied to any project type or location due to its overarching nature. This idea allows them to evolve the big idea as they experiment and learn more with each subsequent application. This is a benefit of finding your idea earlier in your career or even during school. It can produce a lifelong quest for knowledge and guide your entire professional career.
If you are going to have a residential-centric conversation, I decided that we would stay on message and have the Would You Rather question would stay in that arena.
Would you rather? jump to 49:00
Would you rather sleep on a hard floor with a blanket and pillow, or on a bed without a pillow or blanket?
We ended up splitting the vote on this one. We do not manage to convince one another that our choice is the correct one. While of course Bob believes he is correct, I stand my ground on mu selection because I know what’s most important for me to sleep.
EP 96: The Big Idea
Crafting a Big Idea is a critical skill that you should start to develop while in school. Despite what you might feel as a student, that is the easiest time to hone your abilities and it is also when it is actually the easiest to create the Big Idea. Maintaining a limited focus on a project can provide it with additional clarity and meaning. If this can be accomplished and held throughout your project, it can help in the creation of outstanding architecture.
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