Tone of architectural discourse and learning
Typically I'm turned away by the bombastic, self-referential discourse of highbrow architecture circles (see what I did there?). Name-dropping vainglory and wordsmithery is tiring, but runs rampant. I have only found small cracks in the armor, which I'm posting excerpts of here.
First, from Christine Williamson's about me section on her Building Science Fight Club website. This was so refreshing to read the first time I read it (just a couple of months ago, even though I have been following her for a few years, and I've heard her say similar things before):
...[A]rchitects are supposed to be tastemakers; they’re supposed to be effortlessly cool, with clean, white desks, and MacBooks, and cashmere turtlenecks, and pocket sketchbooks filled with hand-drawn renderings of all the beautiful old buildings they saw on their last trip to Paris. Our profession cultivates an air of mystery and exclusivity.
And that’s probably pretty good for business. But it’s terrible for learning, and it’s terrible for teaching.
In teaching, my goal is not to intimidate but to demystify and to explain, and I don’t mind starting with my own résumé. I learned exactly the way everyone else does: one thing at a time.
People just like you helped me get through studio. Let me help you with this one little part of professional practice that you weren’t taught in school and can’t reasonably expect to learn on the job. Building science is hard, yes, but it’s not impossible, and you don’t have to be awesome at it - you just have to get the basics and to know when to ask for help.
You’ve got this.
Second, from a former professor, John Quale. This is from the preface of his book, Sustainable Affordable Prefab, documenting the work of the ecoMOD project he started:
Architects are skilled at sorting through the complex issues associated with any design project and navigating this synthetic process. Yet most Americans are not well informed about architecture. The principles at the core of architectural design are seldom discussed in the public realm or even in our schools. The kinds of discussions that design professionals have among themselves are mostly foreign to those outside the design community. In part this is because architects are not very good at explaining the underpinnings of the discipline to the general public - the standard language of architecture is opaque to many.
Yet the general public feels quite comfortable expressing opinions about buildings. An individual who would never pass judgment on an accountant's balance sheet or a lawyer's brief feels at home discussing the relative merits of the latest local public building or the design of his or her neighbor's McMansion. This is because architecture is a decidedly public profession. Buildings impact our daily lives - even when we don't personally occupy them. I believe Americans should put greater emphasis on design education to help ensure that the general public's opinions are informed by a deeper understanding of architecture - its history and its contemporary theories. In addition, architects should learn to get beyond the usual "archi-babble" and begin to speak with laypeople in ways they can understand. Perhaps most importantly, architects should ensure that their projects are tied to an essential public need - something more than just their design concepts and theoretical explorations. ...
One of my mentors, W. G. Clark, taught me that real creativity thrives within the context of challenging constraints. As architects, we must find a way to apply our visionary ideas in the real world, and we must use our skills and experiences to address challenges that directly impact society. Inconvenient constraints like budgets can be seen as opportunities for a creative design response, or for the creation of a process to clearly identify both first costs and potential long-term savings in operating costs.
We as designers must also take responsibility for our work. We must engage in performance assessments and post-occupancy evaluations to learn what works and what doesn't. We must use this feedback in future design processes. Evaluation should not be left only to engineers, who often assume a narrow responsibility for a building. Post-occupancy evaluation must be supported by those responsible for synthesizing relevant information - architects. Architectural educators have an important responsibility in this arena. We must create an academic culture where creativity, intellectual rigor, and humility all thrive. Rather than create the next generation of "starchitects," we should be focused on challenging our students to develop a productive design process that is based in both creative and critical thinking.