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Cedar Sketch book

Demystifying Architecture and the Design Process

  • Back to the Basics (Putting Architectural Theory in Actual Practice)

    The built environment has the capacity to shape a people’s thinking, interactions and even culture. This is the kind of power that exists in an Architect’s hand. It is the power to create something from nothing and in the process solve societal problems. In light of this, I think the work that an Architect does must be seriously informed by not only set rules and guidelines (like council by-laws), but by centuries of documented research and experience in form of Architectural theory. Many people in history have written on theory of design and the design process including an Architect known as Salingaros.

    Salingaros describes architecture (or at least architecture that he terms “adaptive”) as a characteristic phenomenon of Emergence. Wikipedia describes emergence as the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Big words. My interpretation of this is that design is informed by small components interacting to form bigger ones and slowly evolving into a solution.
    He further states “It is generally acknowledged nowadays that Architectural theory has degenerated into a narrow point of view, neglecting architectural space and meaning.”
    He has a model that judges the success of Architecture by the quality of life in a building.

    This in my opinion is great foundation for any Architect working on a design solution. The Architect must understand and apply architectural space and meaning in his designs. This is however difficult without the proper backing of Architectural theory, thankfully taught in the school of Architecture.

    I find sometimes a slight disconnect between the theory of Architecture taught in school and the actual practice. Many of us Architects often after completing our course, get into the job market and begin working only to realize after a few years that you have been drafting and not designing like you were taught in school. You realize that the things that you were hard pressed to mention in your presentations in school hardly ever come up in conversation or even in presentation with colleagues or to a client.

    In my opinion, Architectural theory is what separates the Architect from a draughtsman, because Architecture is not about drawing walls and labeling the room but about the creation and manipulation of spaces guided by laid down principles of designing a livable environment. Without the foundation of Architectural theory informing your design, it may prove difficult to convince one that you are aware of what you are doing.

    I believe that this is why walking into some recently finished apartments today can leave a bad taste in your mouth asking yourself whether the apartment was actually designed by an Architect and if that Architect would be confident to admit the same. No ergonomics, no privacy gradient, little or no natural lighting, poor access etc. Some of the mistakes we see in these buildings are not a result of poor construction passé but start from poor design and I believe a lack of proper application of Architectural design theory.

    I am of the opinion that architecture is becoming more commercial by the day, and there is nothing wrong with that. But it is the responsibility of the Architect to retain the integrity of the profession. The evolving times should not in any way compromise the method of design and application of informed design.

    I submit that I didn’t pay much attention in the theory classes in campus, but I wish I did pay a little more attention than I did as it has led to some hard lessons in practice. Much as I pointed earlier that there is a disconnect between Architectural theory and practice, this shouldn’t be so.

    I often hear people mentioning to Architects, “Please do for me a quick design” and I’m normally tempted to react and tell them that there’s nothing like a quick design. Design takes time and evolves according to many different factors and that design is informed and not generated by my computer.

    It is the Architect’s responsibility to educate their client appropriately especially when they come with ridiculous expectations for the perceived end. The client should be able to understand what the Architect means when they say they are designing. Some, honestly think it’s a click away, clearly they don’t understand design. But they are not Architects, so they are allowed to think as such.

    The only way however this can be successfully achieved is by overlooking self and seeing the greater good, that is, to design the built environment fit for human habitation and this by extension will be achieved by applying the basic Architectural theory in the designs.

    The common problems we see in some designs today e.g. over crowding, lack of open spaces, insufficient parking, poor access to buildings (especially in emergencies), poor lighting and ventilation etc. will be addressed by us, the community of Architects. How else will these be solved if we do not apply the basic architectural principles propagated in the theory of Architecture?


  • Introduction

    Hi all, this is totally new to me. May be I'll start by introducing my self. My name is Kelvin Bwamu. I'm an Architect and Designer in Nairobi, Kenya. I have for a long time wanted to do this but have always thought it's not for me. That is until in my practice I discovered a need. The need to...


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To show the ideal Architectural design process from sketch work to the finished product with aim of educating people of the role of an Architect

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