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    What they want to hear

    By Stephanie
    Mar 25, '11 4:54 AM EST

    I learned an important lesson last semester, which ended so badly.

    I realised that my ideas were perfectly fine, and so was my execution of the project.

    What wasn't fine was the presentation of these ideas. I thought, mistakenly, that my instructors (who had seen the process and progress of my project from start to finish) would be able to 'read' the drawings/ideas I had in my posters, and interpret the project as a coherent whole.

    It never occured to me that design professionals could so easily lose track of a complex idea.

    My lesson for thesis is, then, that each idea must be broken down into digestible, visualized chunks.

    The other day, my thesis supervisor came by my desk. I was knee deep in the delicious 'Design, Evolution & Cities' by Stephen Marshall.

    She said...

    "I see you're writing again, when you should be drawing."

    That statement was extremely revealing in what design tutors expect of design students, namely,

    "If you aren't drawing, you aren't working."

    Contrary to popular belief, drawing is not a 'shortcut' to meaning, intention, thought, or feeling. It is simply one method of expressing such things, that presupposes a 'source' of meaning, intention, thought, or feeling that needs to be expressed.

    The sketchpad is not a direct link to design, something that can 'read your mind' (presuming you have something in your mind that needs to be read).

    Sketches may be made a-plenty, but are rather fruitless without some direction.

    When instructors tell students that they should be constantly drawing, what they mean is...

    "I have no ability to visualize your meanings, intentions, thoughts, or feelings, and need gratuitous visual aids before I can offer my not-so-professional opinion on them."

    Or... (more likely)

    "Words frighten me."

    And finally...

    "Architecture is about art, not academics. Don't try to mix disciplines--it is dangerous."

    I would venture a bet that all architecture schools put the emphasis on the expression of ideas.

    None of them, however, put emphasis on the generation of ideas.

    It is pure blind luck that there are ever any ideas generated at all, that somehow slip through the rigorous demand on visual representation over proper mental *stimulation*

    Those that make it through, though, are so well done they seem to 'prove' that the current emphasis on expression works, and that it is just a matter of forcing the rest of the students to work harder on their representation skills to get them to the same level.

    This ability to first generate ideas, and then express them effectively, is the basis of what is commonly known as 'talent.'

    The majority of people (i.e., instructors, professors, tutors, fellow students, etc.) only ever see the manifestation of the idea a la visuals that present it. They tend to write off such ability as 'innate' rather than 'developed.' The institution then continues to misplace their expectations and hope for the best.

    The saving grace of working hard to generate meaningful ideas is that, once generated, they lend themselves easily to representation. So one does not have to waste time and paper sketching thousands of 'evocative' little drawings, but can spend the majority of one's time on the rather more difficult task of ideation.

    The key to succeeding at architecture school, then, is learning to placate the unimaginative with visual aids.

    Or... aligning 'what you want to say' with 'what they want to hear.'

    It is one of life's luxuries when, at some crucial juncture, what you really want to say coincides with what someone else really wants to hear.

    I hope to make my thesis that juncture.

    It has taken 6+ years of post-secondary education...

    But I am finally learning to trust my own feeling for truth.

    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    but make allowance for their doubting too...


    --Rudyard Kipling



     
    • 8 Comments

    • I have no ability to visualize your meanings, intentions, thoughts, or feelings, and need gratuitous visual aids before I can offer my not-so-professional opinion on them.[/]

      wow. i don't think this attitude is going to serve you well for thesis, either.

      of [i]course
      the drawing matters, and by drawing i mean any visual representation tool you choose: diagramming, visual note-taking, collage, analytical drawings, etc.

      if you can explore through drawing AS you absorb your research and also as you begin to develop where you're going to go with the ideas, the ideas have more chance to stick because you've digested them and interpreted them for yourself, your faculty can understand how you're understanding your research, and these things will most definitely inform what you eventually design.

      it's not that the faculty aren't canny enough that they can't 'visualize' based on your discussion of ideas, i'd venture. it's that they've heard and seen past students' ideas result in 1) no result, 2) poor communication of the result, and/or 3) poor result that has very little to do with the ideas expressed. my heidegger is going to result in a different architecture than yours, as will my kwinter, allen, or riegl. you're right: they can't guess what you're going to do with this stuff, or whether you have the skills to translate words to an architectural artifact.

      their job isn't to wait and see and judge you at the end! it's to help you on the path to matching up ideas with an architectural proposition that the ideas deserve.

      if you won't show them anything, whether because you think the faculty are dim bulbs, you believe you have to let the ideas brew, or whatever, you're cheating yourself of the faculty's experience and the impact they can have on your learning.

      "gratuitous visual aids"...? really?!
      Mar 25, 11 7:07 am  · 
       · 
      Stephanie

      Contrary to popular belief, drawing is not a 'shortcut' to meaning, intention, thought, or feeling. It is simply one method of expressing such things, that presupposes a 'source' of meaning, intention, thought, or feeling that needs to be expressed.

      The sketchpad is not a direct link to design, something that can 'read your mind' (presuming you have something in your mind that needs to be read).

      Sketches may be made a-plenty, but are rather fruitless without some direction.

      New emphasis on the important 'bits.'

      :)


      Mar 25, 11 7:14 am  · 
       · 

      yeah yeah, i read all of that. but writing isn't necessarily design.

      design is iterative. you're not going to spit out your best effort in one final graphic - it takes multiple exploratory efforts, refinements, edits, redirects, start-overs, etc. if your instructors aren't seeing this evolution, they know they're not seeing your project evolve to its full potential.

      sketches aren't fruitless just because you don't know the ultimate direction your project will take: they can help you find that direction. they can help you figure out how the words in your head can begin to be expressed in lines and objects and cityscapes/landscapes. if you haven't drawn it, you're guessing.

      i hope you'll read again what i wrote. don't miss out on what your faculty can offer: even if you don't believe in the drawings, they'll trigger responses from faculty and you can hear what they can offer. use them.

      Mar 25, 11 8:41 am  · 
       · 
      vado retro

      if you don't draw it its just talkitecture.

      Mar 25, 11 2:14 pm  · 
       · 
      l3wis
      The saving grace of working hard to generate meaningful ideas is that, once generated, they lend themselves easily to representation. So one does not have to waste time and paper sketching thousands of 'evocative' little drawings, but can spend the majority of one's time on the rather more difficult task of ideation.

      i think it is a balance stephanie. i always loathed my studios for the same reason, as oftentimes right from the get-go we would be pushed to produce drawings and diagrams for our project, with no foundational idea wholly set or developed.

      but as architects it is just a fact that our creative process is driven both intellectually AND manually
      Mar 25, 11 4:05 pm  · 
       · 
      Stephanie

      “of course the drawing matters, and by drawing i mean any visual representation tool you choose: diagramming, visual note-taking, collage, analytical drawings, etc.”

      Agreed. The reason I re-posted parts of my post was to point out that I am not arguing whether drawings matter. They are the mental currency of our trade. They matter a great deal.

      What I am arguing against is the emphasis on drawings as the sole generator of ideas. Drawings (and other visual aids) do not generate ideas.

      Visual aids are exemplary tools for building on, developing, and refining ideas.

      Wisely stated by jk3hl:

      “…as architects it is just a fact that our creative process is driven both intellectually AND manually”

      There is plenty of drive for students to develop their ‘manual’ creative processes.

      Not so much for developing their ‘intellectual’ ones.

      I believe there should be equal emphasis placed on methods for producing ideas, including techniques such as reading, writing, thinking, feeling, orating, processing, reflecting.

      “if you haven't drawn it, you're guessing.”

      Practicing ideation techniques leads to richer, more descriptive and precise drawings that will get to the heart of your intentions much faster then if left to chance.

      In other words, the ‘guesswork’ is taken out of the process at a much earlier stage.

      For those who cling to visualization as the sole means by which projects are made….

      [i.e., hoping dearly that with enough manual effort through visualization, an idea will ‘emerge']

      [I mean you, ‘vado retro’, who cleverly pointed out

      “if you don't draw it its just talkitecture.”]

      allow me to both agree and add to that:

      If you don’t think, it’s just bullshit.**

      **note: this works for all facets of life



      Mar 26, 11 3:00 am  · 
       · 
      mantaray

      What is an idea without the representation, illustration, communication of it?

      Without communicating your ideas, you are essentially asking your tutors to read your mind, and then calling them "unimaginative" when what they visualize in their own mind in response to your words is different than what you expected.

      Mar 28, 11 9:57 pm  · 
       · 
      Ms Beary

      I too was known in my studios NOT for fantastic representations, but for my ideas. My design process was grounded in a lot of writing and thinking, while my drawing and modeling was average. Some professors thought my stuff was brilliant, some didn't. Actually my senior year professor was intent on failing me until a well-regarded professor on my final jury couldn't stop talking about how awesome my project was (even though it was hardly a visual masterpiece.) I got one of the two A's given in that studio that semester, not what I expected after being told I was going to fail all semester! Professors are people, they aren't perfect, they have their own biases and shortcomings when it comes to design process and presentation and the way things should work. Some profs value ideas, some value presentation and it is your job to learn all you can from all of them. Your professor knows you will have a hard time being an architect if you can't produce pretty drawings.

      Mar 29, 11 3:51 pm  · 
       · 

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