Like a lot of fellow students, I didn’t choose architecture and would not say that architecture chose me. We just happened to have been confined together and ended up becoming good friends. Being the first person in my family to pursue architecture, I didn’t know what the field would entail. All I had in my head was a vague, primitive idea that ‘I will get to design buildings and sketch a lot’, which turned out to be only a minuscule part of all that comprises an education in architecture. Cut to six years later, my understanding of architecture has ended up fundamentally changing me as a person.
Architecture is not just about designing fancy buildings. At its core, it comprises thinking of ways to responsibly design our built and unbuilt environments to manifest better-lived experiences. A building is not a sacrosanct, stand-alone entity; it is rooted in a certain potent context, surrounded by other public and private built spaces as well as unbuilt spaces such as landscapes, roads, water bodies, etc. These, in turn, are a part of a neighborhood enmeshed within the larger context of a city.
Each intervention can have a net positive or net negative impact on people’s lives both at the micro and macro levels. Solving problems, therefore, requires non-linear, holistic thinking by adopting different perspectives. It is fairly common for us to delve into areas such as history, philosophy, sociology, ecology, economics, psychology, spirituality, etc., looking for threads to stitch together a finely-woven design solution. One of my seniors put it aptly, “An architect is a jack of all trades and master of none.”
Apart from providing the atmosphere to encourage critical, non-binary thinking, inculcating sensitivity towards the environment, and empathy for our fellow earth-residents amongst other things, architecture schools should equip one with skills to thoughtfully present and successfully realize one’s ideas. Here are some important technical skills I learned in college that have helped me and will continue to aid me in my journey as an architect:
Design thinking is the process by which one approaches any design problem. This may sound obvious, but the process isn’t something ‘taught’ per se during the course. Rather, it is an intimate, non-linear process one learns by working on multiple design projects over the years. Learning, un-learning, and improvising are fundamental to it. One approach may not work for all. Each one of us needs to arrive at it by oneself.
- PRESENTING IDEAS: NARRATIVE, INFORMATIVE GRAPHICS AND SHEET COMPOSITIONS
The most thoughtful of ideas might not come across as such if they are not depicted, presented compellingly, and spoken about sensibly. This is one of the most important skills an architect needs to develop to not only attract attention to one’s design but also effectively communicate one’s thought process.
- 3D VISUALISATION
Students are encouraged to sketch out as well as prepare physical and digital models of their designs to better understand the spatial configuration, scale, built-open relationships, material finishes, etc. Ideas can be communicated faster and grasped easily through models, especially to an audience that may not understand the language of technical drawings. This makes reading the design more accessible by making it more tangible.
We had labs wherein we were taught the basics of many software that can be used to produce 2-D drawings (AutoCAD), create graphics and presentations (Adobe Photoshop, Corel Draw), create 3-D visualizations (SketchUp) and renders (V-Ray), and even perform different types of building analysis- structural, daylighting, ventilation, etc. We were also introduced to BIM software (Revit), which combines the functions of all previously listed software onto one comprehensive interface in addition to even greater insight and tools to make our designs better.
- WORKING DRAWINGS
These are the technical drawings that are required to execute a design. Prepared laboriously, these detailed drawings locate and explain exactly how the design elements come together when the project is being constructed.
The research process comprises collecting, analyzing, and creating/discovering information on a plethora of topics regarding a project and/or other areas of interest to be better-informed and innovative architects. Dissertations/seminars are mandatory requirements in the course that introduce students to the various ways of performing research as well as the technicalities involved in writing research papers – by researching one’s own.
- UNDERSTANDING BUILDING MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION
Although civil engineers do most of the heavy-lifting when it comes to the specifics of the structural composition of buildings, an understanding of the types and principles of behavior of structural systems and materials helps architects to make better-functioning, safe and innovative designs. So when a civil engineer asks us to put a beam through the center of the room because it is easier, we would know better.
These are some vital tools in an architect’s toolbox and a good command over them helps one become a more skilled architect. However, with the market constantly evolving and new, more sophisticated technologies emerging, architects must remain open and flexible in their approach and should not be afraid to pick up new skills if required, thereby paving (pun intended) a path of least resistance between them and their ideas.