Rants and Wisdom
I can still remember some of my earliest assignments as a first year architecture student, the ones that had me and my classmates scratching our heads in bewilderment. These where things like:
- Build a model of visual opposites
- Collect six architectural twigs
- Draw a picture of sound
- Build a cube that represents a period in history
- And my absolute fave— Everyone (right now!!) go to the bookstore and buy a ream of plain copy paper. (Return.) Ok, everyone have one? BEGIN!!
I learned important lessons from those early assignments that have served me well for more than 30 years. I learned that you start big and narrow down. Start with questions, don’t start with the answer. There is no syllabus here! Draw, draw again, sketch, create, think, invent, explore, build.
I mean, who did know what architectural twigs were, or what sounds looks like or how to “begin” while staring at a blank ream of paper? Begin what exactly?! The lesson was that there was no right answer. It was part of your architectural education to begin this exploration on your own and to realize not that there was a single right answer, but rather that there is a process that moves towards the best answer. A lot of students came from educational cultures of right and wrong, textbooks and tests. They were used to having a syllabus telling them exactly what books to read, when quizzes were coming and what to do to get an A. They quit or washed out quickly.
After five or so years of this exercise in head whacking wonder and delight, I graduated and with great good fortune landed a wonderful job with a prestigious architectural firm in Boston. Then, like so many others, I found myself detailing toilet rooms, laying out cabinetry and drawing technical wall and roof sections for lab buildings. This was the other piece of the educational puzzle, one of the reasons that it takes so loooong to become a registered, licensed architect. It’s called paying your dues and learning the “other” ropes. But wait, whoa—hold on! Where did the magic go? What happened to the creative problem solving, the quest to solve a design challenge, the fun?!
Now, as a seasoned architect with many years in the profession behind me, I still have days when I need to find that magic. When I hit a rut, I’ve found that I can recapture the magic by returning to those very early lessons. I look for, and find, the beauty and rightness in every decision, the balance and proportion and common sense in details. I draw, create, study and learn. I learn every day. And when I reach the point when I just must do something even more creative, I do. There are classes to be joined –ceramics, languages, music and dance—and at one time or another I did them all. There are families to focus on, businesses to build and risks to take. There is no syllabus here!!!!