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7 Things I Learned in Architecture School

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context
—a chair in a room, a room in a house,
a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”

— Eliel Saarinen

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Things I learned in Architecture School

“The following lessons in design, drawing, creative process, and presentation first came to me as barely discernible glimmers through the fog of my own education,” writes Architect Matthew Frederick in the insightful book 101 Things Things I Learned in Architecture School. The series of books, which we’ve covered before, includes law school, business school, and engineering school. Like others in the series, the book on architecture offers many lessons in thinking and design that transcend one discipline.

Here are some ideas and nuggets of wisdom that stood out as I read the book.

  1. Be specific. “The more specific a design idea is, the greater its appeal is likely to be. Being nonspecific in an effort to appeal to everyone usually results in reaching no one. But drawing upon a specific observation, poignant statement, ironic point, witty reflection, intellectual connection, political argument, or idiosyncratic belief in creative work can help you create environments others will identify with in their own way.”
  2. Ideas can take away from or add to the essential idea. “When designing a stair, window, column, roof, lobby, elevator core, or any other aspect of a building, always consider how its design can express and reinforce the essential idea of the building.”
  3. Throw away your best loved ideas. “A good designer isn’t afraid to throw away a good idea.”
  4. The most important skill for a designer to develop. “Being process-oriented, not product-driven, is the most important and difficult skill for a designer to develop.”
  5. Think about how you think. “The most effective, most creative problem solvers engage in a process of meta-thinking, or “thinking about the thinking.” This means you’re aware of how you’re structuring your thoughts while you’re thinking. You want to test ideas, challenge yourself, see if you understand the other side of the argument, criticizing, and redirecting your thought process.
  6. Don’t make it too complex. “Create architectural richness through informed simplicity or an interaction of simples rather than through unnecessarily busy agglomerations.”
  7. Consistent and repeatable results come from a process. “True style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely—even accidentally—out of a holistic process.”