Oh, you’re joining architecture school… That’s nice, you must be very good at drawing- and other stereotyped misconceptions were a definite question from aunties who couldn’t fathom why on earth one would join architecture. Couldn’t you just as easily take up precious engineering like the rest of the kids?
As doe-eyed and aspiring students, we believed these misconceptions to be true—until we actually joined architecture school and learned otherwise. While other courses encourage students to question what they think they know, architecture is arguably the only course that throughout five excruciating years, additionally trains its students how to think.
Colour theory, space studies, behavioral psychology, design processes, and studying history of architecture, while also applying these design fundamentals in studio projects, greatly shapes the thought processes of an individual. This article talks about ten such lessons that architecture school taught me, and now will be imprinted in my brain forever.
1. Design is a Process
The more we went through studio design projects year after year, it became imminently clear to us that design is a continuous process. Our professors would give us corrections and design changes to apparently make our design better. But what’s wrong with what I’ve done?! I didn’t get it then, but as a professional, I sure do get it now! There is no such thing as a perfect design. We just strive to get as close to perfection as possible.
2. Solid- Void Conundrum
In college, solid- void was the most sought-after concept for design class. It was the go-to concept, only a notch below biomimicry (Oh, the blunders we saw in biomimicry!). Only after we started urban planning/ design studies did I realize the insane amount of potential that the solid- void theory holds. I further learned that implied spaces are conceivably more important and interesting than chunky volumes and empty, dead voids. They have a unique identity and impart a fierce character to that space.
3. Biomimicry as a Concept Can Be a Disaster
A leaf in plan. A flower in elevation. A shell in section. These are a few of the concepts we bore witness to in the first two years at architecture school. I will only say that the external examinations of these concepts were particularly fun to witness. So, unless you’re confidently comfortable with using the concept of biomimicry in design, I would strongly advise you to stay away from it.
4. When in Doubt- Monochrome
Presentation of our projects was always challenging. It was overwhelming to decide on a color palette for the project panels. By the third year, I had learned to keep it simple. If I could not decide on a decent palette, monochrome with crisp line weights and toned-down hatches was always the next best option. It grants a certain elegance to the entire composition while conserving the simplicity that doesn’t come with the use of color.
5. Your Design is Only as Interesting as Your Sections
As interesting as designs seem in plan, making them interesting in sections is as important if not more, because the section is what a user of the space experiences directly. Sections in a built form can be made interesting by adding level differences, creating pockets of informal spaces, and also by playing with degrees of visibility.
6. Design Exams: Why?
In undergraduate college, we had design exams as a part of our curriculum, that stretched over two or three days of drafting, no less. Looking back, it always seemed more like a torture tactic rather than an exam. But I learned later that those exams were in fact, a lesson for us to manage time more than to test our skills in design.
7. Form, Space, and Order
Not only is this the name of the Holy Grail for architects written by Francis D.K Ching, but it is also a three-part lesson that is a benchmark of design perfection for aspiring architects. In practice, we need to constantly improvise according to the client’s never-ending requirements. However, I have learned that if these three criteria are substantially met, the design steadily comes closer to perfection than ever.
8. Area Programs and Flexibility
As architects, we must remember that any design must always consider the future. Flexibility is an important yet overlooked aspect of the design process.
9. Dealing with Mind-Blocks
As with any other profession that requires creativity to be at the forefront, it is natural to experience a mind- block and to temporarily run off ideas and inspiration. Of course, taking a break from it all is an obvious first step. However, the trick is to keep doing something with the design open at the back of your mind like a tab on your browser you can’t seem to close off. Sketching can be a great way to re-inspire yourself. It doesn’t matter if the sketches don’t materialize into your design; it’s just important to not completely shut yourself off from the design process and lose momentum.
This is by far the most valuable lesson that architecture school has taught me. Everything takes time before it can fall into place. Studying architecture is like baking bread: it requires very few ingredients (you know, like- set squares, pencils, blood, sweat), takes time, and needs an abundance of patience.