Read This and You Too Could Be a Designer

By January 9, 2018Uncategorized

I've been meaning to get this one off my chest for years. I am an Architect and have been formally trained in design, so I know a thing or too about it. These are some of the best design lessons I have learned, to date. First:

Everyone is a designer.

It's common to hear people taking about designer goods; designer clothes, designer furniture, designer this and designer that. It seems to be a broadly held assumption that if you buy something made by a recognized designer that;

1. Its somehow better.
2. Its more expensive (for a full explanation of why, see point No. 1)

Wrapped up in this faulty logic is the notice that some things are designed and everything else, sort of, happens!

This is a load of codswallop.

Every single things made by human animals is designed. Everything. Even if the person concerned doesnt call it design, if they are making decisions based on choices, they are a designer. It's just a matter of how good they are at it.

Even if you are digging a hole in the ground, you have choices to make:

How deep should I dig?
Spade or shovel?
Should the ground be wet or dry?
Should the sides be sheer or sloped?

Even a hole in the ground is designed.

The second lesson is not to be precious about your own designs.

You are not your design!

If your friend shows you their latest painting, one they did themselves, and you do not like it, would you tell them? You should. Just because you do not like their painting it does not mean you do not like them, they are still your friend after all.

Who we are and what we make are not the same. If you become precious about your designs, then you wont listen to any criticism and good advice will pass you by. Designers who are precious, usually go with the first thing that pops into their head. That's not to say the first idea is no good, just that most of the time it needs refining. If you are precious about it you wont want to refine your ideas, because that is a tacit admission that they were imperfect to begin with. You are trapped. If you let go of your designs and admit that, occasionally, they can be rubbish and need improvement, then you will be free to produce good design.

I've been involved in some real horror story buildings in the last few years, some I just worked on, others I helped to design. But it does not matter, because of the next lesson.

In Architecture, it is not all about the Architect.

I feel like I could have stuck off for sharing this one, or at least lynched, but here goes anyway.

If your life's ambition is to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, all you need is a pen and some paper. Beyond that, talent and motivation. Just write. Its quite possible you could keep the whole thing hidden from everyone until its finished, then publish it and wait for the phone call from Stockholm. Your capital outlay could be less than £ 20.

Perhaps you want to paint something substantial, a painting to rival the Mona Lisa or Guernica. Off to the art supply store, £ 50 should get you some canvas, paint and a few descent brushes. Keep it all under wraps until the opening night exhibition at the Louvre. All you need is talent and motivation.

But what if you decide your life's work will be an Architectural masterpiece. Something that future generations, 1000 years from now, will want to preserve. A new Taj Mahal or Chartres. That's different, now you need land to build it on and large property transactions are public knowledge. You will need planning permission, because this baby will be BIG. Its going to cost money, lost of money and you will need the best craftsmen, and engineers to help you. In short there is no way you can claim this to be absolutely your own work. The best that most architects I know could manage alone is to design and build a new garden shed for themselves. It takes more than talent and motivation to make a great building.

When people talk about architecture, either buildings that really love or hate, they almost always invoke the Architect as being solely responsible. If its praise, many Architects indulge the conceit. If its damming, they tend to ignore it (if you take the lesson No. 2 to heart, you do not take anything to heart, so to speak) The crucical missing link here is the client.

As I've just shown, Its seldom possible for a Architect to be completely responsible for a building, whether its considered beautiful of hideous. Most of the time it comes down to money. The next time someone is going on about a building they love or hate and how they praise or blame the Architect, ask yourself; Did the Architect pay for the building?

Probably not, its more likely the client paid for it. If so, they may have had a significant say is how the building turned out.

There are two types of client that Architects dread.

Type 1: "here's an empty field and a blank cheque, I'll be back in one year and I expect to see … something … a house, yea, a nice house". These clients do not ever want to communicate or make decisions. Inevitably, if you take their money, what you design will not be what they had in mind.

Type 2: At the first meeting, "I want these tiles on my new bathroom and I've ordered a lovely carpet for the new sitting room, make sure it fits." These clients do not want an Architect, they do not want ideas, they want compliance with their every (detailed) instruction. They need a draftsperson, not a designer.

The best client falls in the middle, one who has ideas and is willing to consider yours. Its a partnership of equals and requires the Architect to be humble enough to admit they do not know everything, that is how truly great buildings are made.

Lesson number four.

Materials and Craftsmen.

A guy I went to uni with came back from a holiday in Poland once, having been to visit Auschwitz. Being an Architect, he had noticed that many of the original camp buildings were still still standing after 50 years and he made the, somewhat flippant, observation that despite being a terrible place, the brickwork was excellent!

This story illustrates a problem many people have with Architecture. They get hung up on workmanship.

The US military, not so well known for their diverse intellectual insights, never has an apt description for this situation. They are fond of saying that you cant win a war without an air force, but you cant win a war with an air force alone. Deep, I know, but what does it have to do with Architecture?

You cant make a great building without excellent materials and skilled trades people, but you cant make a great building with those things alone.

The brickmasons at Auschwitz must have been good at their trade, they may even have the best brickmasons who ever lived, but none of it matters because the place is a hell-hole. Individual trades and specialist professions (im thinking of engineers) are fixated on their specializations and they do not care for anything else. After all, you would not blame the structural engineer if the lights did not work. Only the Architect sees the big picture and is best placed to come up with a holistic design that makes best us of the all skilled people available.

The downside of this is that the brickie may be able to make the perfect wall, but an Architect can never make the perfect building. The final lesson:

All design is a compromise.

I love cars and I love driving. Suppose I wanted to buy a car that does everything I need it to do. It can reach 200mph, it returns 60+ MPG, it is ultra reliable and costs £ 10k from new. Did i also mention it looks gorgeous and comfortably seats six adults.

Impossible, I know.

Its the same with everything: Food, taste v's calories and fat. Clothes, cost versus wear and tear. Architecture is no different. There is a nice little diagram, an isosceles triangle that shows the problem. Time, Cost and Quality. If you demand one of the three, the other two must give. A good designer is a good decision maker.


Source by Niall Hedderman

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