The term ‘precedents’ in architecture refers to existing buildings, structures, and architectural projects that serve as key examples and inspiration for potential projects. Rather than developing projects in isolation, the approach of other architects and designers in similar contexts serves as a better starting point. However, following precedents is not synonymous with copying; it simply involves taking important design and technical cues that greatly inform the development of your design.

Following Precedence - Sheet1
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It is important to note that using and analysing precedents does not limit the distinctiveness of the architecture they contribute towards. Even prominent architecture projects that are continuously referenced are examples of this. Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall is arguably one of the most iconic pieces of architecture, effectively showcasing Gehry’s design style and expertise. This building, which adorns Los Angeles, not only builds upon Gehry’s own past work but is greatly informed by the concert halls that preceded it.

Adding perspective to these iconic architecture projects by ‘starchitects’ and the like further humanises them and their work, dismantling the presumptuous mystique of the profession.

As new architects and designers, there seems to be an innate tendency to want to start from scratch in an effort to produce something unique to us. However, architecture never develops and exists in a vacuum. Designers are always responding to some sort of context, whether physical or social, to ground their respective projects in their environment. An essential aspect of architecture that reinforces the need to avoid reinventing the wheel is the importance of context.

Architecture is Communal

Architecture is a multifaceted discipline that always converges with other disciplines, especially in the construction stages. Even when looking at the vernacular, there is a very communal nature to the process involving prospective owners, community members, and other builders. At the epicentre of all this is the architect, who dictates how seamless the collaboration is between stakeholders.

Even when it comes to architectural academia, this principle is ingrained into how future architects are educated. This communal nature is the reason the studios of architecture schools are left very open, promoting spontaneous interactions between students. A simple interaction, starting with one student briefly observing another’s work as they are walking by, can initiate an exchange of ideas and suggestions. This design against individualism is a more natural approach to promoting communal design and collaboration compared to compulsory group projects with predetermined members.

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Don’t Reinvent The Wheel

To produce high-quality designs, architects must remain constantly aware of contextual elements, as ignoring them can lead to unsustainable structures unfit for their environment. These elements include past successes of architects dealing with similar circumstances to the present project. It is in this context that architects find valuable lessons from the past that can guide their contemporary creations.

For instance, if we revisit the aforementioned Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry, which involved collaboration between Gehry and acoustic expert Yasuhisa Toyota, it becomes evident that the project was built on existing knowledge. Gehry and Toyota didn’t start entirely from scratch; they drew upon accumulated wisdom and experience in designing concert halls to create a groundbreaking yet acoustically exceptional space.

While the desire for uniqueness is a driving force in architecture, it should be tempered by an appreciation for context and a willingness to learn from the past. By doing so, architects can produce designs that not only stand as innovative works of art but also seamlessly fit into their surroundings, ultimately enriching the built environment for generations to come.

Precedence = Legacy

Following legacy can be seen in different aspects of our life and society; it is something that seems to come naturally to us as humans. As the fields of architecture and design continue to evolve, following precedence will continue to be a core principle in design. This allows every project to become embedded in a rich succession of architectural projects and precedents.

As architects and designers, we ultimately recognize that we don’t have to start from scratch to create a unique project. Building upon collective knowledge is an approach we should all follow, regardless of our affiliation with architecture and other art forms.

Architects enrich our built environment and foster a deeper sense of place and identity in the communities they serve. They harness the collective knowledge of their profession, drawing from the wellspring of human creativity and innovation. By honouring the wheel that has been tirelessly turned by generations of architects, they roll it forward into a future filled with beauty, functionality, and purpose. This approach ensures that the continuum of architectural excellence remains unbroken, offering inspiration and guidance to those who dare to create, innovate, and shape the world through the art of architecture.