A Few Longer Lessons from Architecture School

by September 15, 2008

Since a number of readers let me know they really enjoyed my Some Things I Learned From Architecture School post based on Matthew Frederick’s book, here's a few longer lessons worth mentioning.

Three Levels of Knowing

Simplicity is the world view of the child or uniformed adult, fully engaged in his experience and happily unaware of what lies beneath the surface of immediate reality.

Complexity characterizes the ordinary adult world view by an awareness of complex systems in nature and society but an inability to discern clarifying patterns and connections.

Informed Simplicity is an enlightened view of reality founded upon an ability to discern or create clarifying patterns within complex mixtures. Pattern recognition is a crucial skill for an architect, who must create a highly ordered building amid many competing and frequently nebulous design considerations.

Editor's note: more about pattern recognition in an earlier post.

Being process-oriented, not product-driven, is the most difficult skill for a designer to develop

Being process-oriented means:

  • Seeking to understand a design problem before chasing after solutions
  • not force-fitting solutions to old problems onto new problems
  • being slow to flow in love with your ideas
  • making design decisions holistically (that address several aspects of a design problem at once) rather than sequentially (that finalize once aspect of a solution before investigating the next)
  • making design decisions conditionally -that is, with the awareness that they may or may not work out as you continue to a final solution
  • knowing when to change and when to stick with previous decisions
  • accepting as the norm the anxiety that comes from not knowing what to do
  • working fluidly between concept-scale and detail-scale to see how each informs the other
  • always asking "What if...?" regardless of how satisfied you are with your solution

Editor's note: not sure I like the labeling of these design considerations a "process-orientated" vs. "product-driven" but the points are spot on.