“Jack of all trades and master of none!” – they call us, the architects.
But it is more like, being the jack of all trades is what makes us master the art of architectural design. This is because architecture is an amalgamation of various ‘pure’ disciplines in such a way that one becomes proficient in more than one or two or three skill sets to be an architect and one’s perceptions are constantly molded. It is this very aspect that makes our lives exciting, fun-filled, and work-filled, and however much it demands from us, it never gets dull. Welcome to the world of an architect!
First and foremost, we learn how to see things. We learn how to observe. We learn what to observe. We start observing people, nature, and man-made spaces from a different perspective. As Amy Krouse Rosenthal said, “Pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the info you need.” One comes across this quote, in the book The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker, which is a marvelous weave of exercises that awakens mindfulness within the reader amidst daily distractions. It is a must-read for any architect or designer because once you master the art of noticing, the design process becomes intuitive.
When we learn about architecture or practice as an architect, the environment we live in is viewed from a different lens. Spaces become emotions, spaces become a play of varying scales and spaces become experiences. Maybe they always were, but now it is consciously so. We feel the textures around us with our eyes as well as our hands, and analyze the materials used around us.
What’s more, we even observe and analyze how other people perceive these spaces. We understand the needs of the local communities in public spaces and also what tourists are looking for in the same spaces. This is because the design needs to incorporate the desires of all. We observe how man-made spaces interact with natural systems like water bodies, vegetation, soil, and air. We meticulously observe the existing architecture from huts to villas to skyscrapers. The art of noticing becomes an intentional habit.
As architects, we observe not only human-made architecture but also nature. Beehives and anthills become a source of inspiration. Patterns of nature are studied to knit together spaces on a site. Every other design field becomes a subset of architecture directly or indirectly — like crafting of furniture, interior décor and design, design of products, fabric styles and patterns, landscape design, services design, and so on.
At one point or the other, we cross paths with these disciplines. Thus, the thirst for exploring and traveling, and learning throughout our lives, become inherent in our profession.
Different modes of perception add new skillsets — sketching, drawing, photography, videography, research, writing, modelling, crafting, etc. One may not be great at all of these skills and will be better at certain skills than the others. Even so, an architect has had their hands at all of these. Expressing in different media brings out a design that was never imagined to be possible to start with.
Indulging in cross-disciplinary methods aids the path to get to the design of powerful spaces. We can scan lengths and breadths using our heads sometimes, as we experience the spaces. It’s a marriage between logical thinking and a creative approach that results in great architecture. So, let’s go ahead and keep sharpening our left and right brains!
A Questioning Mind
Things start to get interesting when we start questioning what we observe. For example, it is typical of an architect to walk into a restaurant or a bar and immediately embrace the good aspects and point out its flaws — a quick analysis. As Kenya Hara cleverly stated: “Creativity is to discover a question that has never been asked. If one brings up an idiosyncratic question, the answer he gives will necessarily be unique as well.” Thus, it is not surprising that great questions lead to great design.
For an architect, part of learning from the architecture around them is to ask: “Why is this space designed in this manner? Wouldn’t it be better if one had done this, instead?” It is our responsibility as architects, to not only learn from our own mistakes, but also the mistakes made by other architects.
Many a time, there is no right or wrong with the design. It is all about our perception, and this sometimes leads to intellectually stimulating debates with our peers from the community. Eventually, the design itself breaks you down with every project that you are a part of, allowing you to analyze yourself in the process as well. Working on a series of projects helps you discover your voice as an architect as you observe how you respond to the various challenges posed to you with every venture. It gives you an identity, a constantly updated identity, and sometimes we tend to niche down to an area of interest within architecture itself. In the process, how we perceive ourselves change.
So, do you know how to craft spaces beautifully? Do you know what serves the users? Do you know how to make technical drawings? Do you know the cement-sand-aggregate ratio to be used in the foundation? Do you know what color palette is to be used for the interiors? Do you know the watershed pattern in this region to tap water into your community center? Yes. To all.
We are a rare breed expected to know it all and we surprisingly know it all to a certain extent. Our work involves everything from reading to talking to engaging to drawing to building. We inquire and evaluate the world we see around us and we feel empowered as architects to bring about change in our own unique ways. In the end, we realize that how architecture changes our perspective, is based on how we perceive the world around us.
Walker, R. (2019). The art of noticing. London: Ebury Press.
Kelsey, M. (2018). 101 quotes about design and creativity. [online].
[Accessed 23 April 2021].