Architects' Literacy & General Intellect

Dec 19 '13 10 Last Comment
Dec 19, 13 9:55 am

I know that architects write a lot of papers - papers that appear heavy, abstract and somewhat 'grandiloquent'. Architects are obviously very innovative, creative and radical designers who have the potential to catalyse social and political transformations on a large scale. The fundamental question comes to mind when I invest time to read architectural papers is as follows.

Given that many architectural papers are complex, abstract and somewhat grandiloquent, are these architects really intelligent ones, and generally avid readers?

It is important to ask the above question, in order to clear my confusion and prejudices towards architects in general, whilst studying in architecture at the moment. I would be happy and even surprised if the answer was yes. It would still make sense but disappointing if the answer was no. However, it is important for me, so that I could prioritise my times to read architectural papers, and to verify these papers in terms of credibility before perusal.

Thanks for your patience and willingness to answer the question.


there is no there
Dec 19, 13 10:13 am

Intelligence is often defined by literacy but many architects are dyslexic and have powerful mental object manipulation abilities and/or natural interpersonal strengths. Personally, I don't read much that doesn't appeal to me unless I have to. I say read what you are interested in and you won't have to prioritize.  

boy in a well
Dec 19, 13 10:49 am

I don't know that architects write a lot of papers.

i do know there are many not so innovative architects in the wide world

and i imagine its not so useful to make sweeping generalizations.

name names, son. examples, and we can isolate the species in question.

but, sure, generally its useful to read a lot to write.

such a weird question.

it took 15 posts in a thread about nude guys at the gym for koolhaas to come up.

perhaps not enough reading going on here these days. .  .

(wtf with the copy/paste picture link shit these days?)

Dec 19, 13 10:53 am

i think it might be generally safe to assume most other architects are just as intelligent and grandiloquent as you are.

as far as "catalyze social and political transformations on a large scale," that is not within the scope of this profession.  it is other people who do that, or perhaps lizard people.

being an avid reader is not enough.  you need to also set aside some time to actually think about what you're reading.  when you're finished thinking about what you've read, then try think through the issues from the other side.  practice empathy whenever possible.  good luck in your pursuit of this profession.

Dec 19, 13 11:02 am

It's a good topic you bring up. For me, I don't have the best reading comprehension. When I'm reading Derrida, Wrigley, or Frampton, I usually have to go over it two to three times before I understand the issue of the text.

Sometimes I wonder if these theoreticians write is such a complex manner to either sound smarter than they actually are and/or make the topic sound more complex and intricate than it actually is...of course this could be wrong too.

Dec 19, 13 12:01 pm

One of the starcitects (might've ben Gehry) recommended reading but not architecture books, read other things to learn how people live. 

I'd generally agree with that.  There is some decent architecture writing but it can be hard ot find in a landscape of archi-babble.  Start with what is presented in school and from there it's up to you to pursue your own line of inquiry.  If you find a book useful, check the references & keep digging. 

And don't sweat it if some of the arch theory writing feels too obtuse.  It's not for everyone and you'd probably be better off studying latin. 

there is no there
Dec 19, 13 12:17 pm

I agree handsum, you nailed it. I read a lot, but reading about architecture is kinda boring! I have always surmised that archinectors, especially those who read and write in the news, blogs and forums, are more interested in language and probably read and write more. 

Dec 19, 13 12:22 pm

I agree as well. I have only read a handful of architecture books outside my academic requirements. I enjoy reading rock star biographies...I recommend Scar Tissue and Life. It's interesting for me to see what I can learn from the artists.

Non Sequitur
Dec 19, 13 1:06 pm

Thecyclist, I read Scar Tissue while in 2nd year undergrad and it totally changed my perspective on architecture. One of the best books I've ever read.

Dec 19, 13 3:44 pm

i think it might be generally safe to assume most other architects are just as intelligent and grandiloquent as you are.

I don't agree here.  Some architects are intelligent and grandiloquent in their own sphere, spewing archispeak to demonstrate and defend that intelligence.  Some who were smart before they arrived at their university studies, or were invested in a broad education, are more intelligent than the average person, and maybe the average college educated person.  However, there are some very sharp minds in law and graduate business, whose verbal dexterity matches or exceeds that of architects - and can go beyond words like fabric, context, ethereal, tenuous, silhouette, vocabulary, circumscribe, etc.  I knew some architects in school whose writings contained glaring spelling mistakes.

Now, for being a redneck, I do pretty good.  I actually received higher scores on verbal on both the SAT and the first crack at the GRE than in quantitative.  And, when in the 5th grade, I thought a wretched nun wanted to see me because I was in trouble, but it was actually to tell me my standardized test scores, and that my verbal score was in the 97th percentile.

Still, as a redneck, I struggle with new words.  For one, I was mortified to learn during college that epitome was spelled epitome, when in high school I spelled it epitomy.  Furthermore, I was mortified within the last few years of being on archinect to learn that a word the likes of solipsistic even existed.  Mortified. 

Dec 21, 13 10:06 pm

Thanks for the comments.

Many of the comments provided are interesting.

It is often stated that language does shape human thoughts and outlook. At first, I thought it was rubbish, given that I was born a gifted artist with childhood, unqualified attempts at architectural drawings. I started drawing at the age of 4 years (the first drawing was a tiger, observed from an encyclopaedia), and made a first architectural drawing of a house somewhere in our neighbourhood at the age of 5 or 6 years - using a ruler, pencil and multiple A3 sheets of paper, and sticky-taped each of six papers into one large paper to draw this house in elevation. The house was a McMansion, and visuospatially gifted and having later scored in the top 1% in IQ tests on abstract/spatial reasoning at the age of 12 years, sometime at the age of 10 years, I learnt about architects and what they do. With parental support, encouragement and advice as well as teachers', I was destined to become an architect one day.

Add to the counterargument that language shapes human thoughts, ability and outlook, I was born with a severe deafness handicap, but managed to get through quite well at schools, and so on. From this point of view as a visuospatially gifted person, I don't see that language has any effect or impact on one's intelligence and also design aptitude. There were many cases and claims where people rely on language for communications but also captions accompanying pieces of art in order to decode, understand and appreciate the works of art. In fact, I am a sensitive person when it comes to appreciating works of art, and I never had the need of reading captions.

After all, a defining/distinguishing trait that sets many architects apart from the commoners is not the literacy or intelligence, as design aptitude is one of many different areas of intelligence. The only question that has concerned me recently is whether architects do as well read a lot as they do in drawings, creative hobbies and art. This question is one of intrigue and fascination but also inspiration for another reason: I was almost 'brainwashed' after reading first time in life a fact about how human brain works (at the age of 16 years) - that human brain is lateralised with the left brain dedicated to logical intelligence, and right brain, creative intelligence. This was somewhat a 'reality check' in many ways but also a disturbing fact that almost impeded my future intellectual development and lifelong learning values and habits. I was further disturbed when I heard from psychologists that it is atypical and rare for a human to use both sides of the brain at the same time. To date, I remain as confused as ever since, with many subsequent questions about our human nature and mind coming to the surface.

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