You’re a Wizard?

There seem to be a few popular stereotypes that follow an architect’s public image, while some see the creative as a reserved and distant god-like figure capable of creation from nothingness, others may see them as snooty know-it-alls dressed from head-to-toe in black. Whatever the perception, the consensus seems to be that most people see an architect as the only one who can take inspiration from anywhere to materialise a ‘feeling’ or ‘intuition’ into concrete plans; someone with the grandiosity of an artist and the premeditation of an engineer. 

When the creation of a building starts to be tied to the individual so deeply, it starts to look a lot like magic to someone outside, and maybe that is the point for an industry so dependent on authorial authenticity. But this mystic aura around architecture is also what makes learning architecture seem almost like a sorcerer’s apprenticeship, one that relies very heavily on you to already have the magic powers to channel this secret source of intuition. This impossible task remains a spiralling whirlwind of procrastination and self-doubt for most. Until one day, you’re expected to finally reach a moment of epiphany, a state of superior enlightenment when you become ‘The Architect’! 

While this analogy is a vast exaggeration, it intends only to draw attention to how much of ‘the self’ is tied to the profession. Putting into context the colonial influences on the way we study architecture, which involves characterising ‘styles’ and defining historical eras based on pioneering architects, we see how there is an aspiration created by the education to be a great architect and not to create great architecture.

“Anyone can be a Great Architect”

For any reputed architect with even a tiny bit of ego, this may be the most difficult statement to agree to, because it appears to negate the existence of something unique and special that every architect should possess to be great. Andrew Pressman, architect, professor and author of ‘Designing Architecture- The Elements of Process’, in his book argues that, while the necessity of a great architect’s instinct and epiphany may be debatable, the design process by and large, including all the ingredients necessary to achieve great design, ought to be absolutely learnable. That is, while anyone may or may not be a great architect, everyone who wants to be one should be taught how to make great architecture. Our architectural education might not make it possible to teach everyone to create compelling narratives like B.V Doshi or digital sculptural marvels like Zaha Hadid, we may not even learn in the short five years of architectural school, the exact recipe for designing a bank or a 17th-century sunroom, but the only skill we really need to be trained for, from architecture school is the ability to find a process for any project – A plan for a plan. 

The Skill of Process Development

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Laxton’s ingenious hydroelectric model of design learning_© How Designers Think, Bryan Lawson

In this quickly changing world, we can no longer be trained to excel at only a certain craft or design technology. Rather we must learn how to exploit new theories and tools to arrive at a set project goal. For this, learning to develop creative processes through design research methodologies is necessary. A good design project is one with a good design methodology. The truth is, most of the time a process/methodology is not set in stone, but is iterative by itself and continuously evolves. Some of the best studios we had were ones where nobody knew where they were going, but everybody somehow knew how to get there. So, even if you are actively winging it and have no clue what you’re doing, as long as you’re doing something, there is a process. Whether you choose to identify it, control it or diagram it, is up to you.

In most studios in architecture school, we are led to believe that a large part of this process is concept development, and the most common direction for concept generation is a powerful, direct analogy. The concrete shell vault of the Sydney Opera House is one such example, where Jorn Utzon drew inspiration for the form from the sailboats and waves surrounding it. But often, when a less experienced architect/student attempts a form-based concept, without a clear process of form development through tools like diagramming or modelling, it’s difficult to see it as anything more than a mere imitation. 

A concept can also be a strong theoretical framework, like Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture, that has elaborately hypothesised an ideal. Even for a largely analytical model like Corbusier‘s, the concept and design generated, whether consciously or not, are a reflection of the architect’s ideologies and the cultural and social climate at the time. To isolate the self from the process is never the goal, but to be conscious of its involvement and let it guide an amendable rationale is.

A Million Ways to Do it Right

When we start to find ways to be creative with the process and not the result, instead of seeing it as a checklist of chores like client study, site study and program study, we search for a story that weaves into our project goals, concepts and ideologies. From visual anthropological tools like material culture to software-driven methods like space syntax there are a million ways to do it right. 

To explore all the different design methodologies architects have adopted in their designs, like ‘a user-centred approach’ or ‘vertebrate architecture’ the book ‘How Designers Think’ by Bryan Lawson is a one-stop shop.

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How Designers Think – book cover_© Routledge

One such methodology that came to notice to someone like me who thinks in words before images, was one of an art gallery constructed through a writing exercise. 

The author describes the process as follows: 

“The architect presented a plan to the client: Both would spend a week writing an uninhibited, extravagant, richly imaginative description of the proposed gallery. They would then meet and discuss their writing. Surprisingly, each wrote a description of an uncannily similar design originally inspired by the designs of the Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The gallery was written into existence, a mutual weave of writing as much a part of its foundation as poured concrete.”

To conclude, there exists a process that will work for anyone’s specific set of skills, level of capability to create architecture or proficiency with design technology. And yet, throughout our architectural education, we try to mould ourselves into shoes that are too big for us, hoping we will finally fit in one day. Today more than ever with the rise of artificial intelligence, there is a necessity for our pedagogy to evolve and maybe divert from the known to create broader architectural aspirations. To equip another generation of architects with the skill to develop a problem-solving process, for a future with incalculable constraints and ever-changing deliverables.


Pressman, A. (2012) Designing architecture: The elements of process. Hoboken: Taylor & amp. 

Lawson, B. (2017) How designers think Bryan Lawson. London, UK: Routledge. 



Aleesha Antony is an architect and aspiring Indian writer and researcher, deeply intrigued by the narratives intertwined with her South Indian heritage and history. Her passion for writing was initially explored through research writing as part of college symposiums and dissertations. As a former art and design student, she continues to artfully articulate the interwoven concepts of architecture and philosophy more casually through her Substack Newsletter - The Loop.