Architectural Design Process

 “Creation is a Patient Search”  Le Corbusier 1960

Story– Anybody can design but it isn’t easy and you have to have a place to start. In my class at Dunwoody we start with a memory about something from our childhood. It can be a children’s book, a toy, an experience, a grandfather, a vacation, a hiding place etc. The goal is to find something that will inspire some kind of design and get the creative gears moving in student’s head. Everybody has to write their short story down on paper. It isn’t meant to be difficult to read or to write but it should be your personal experience. This way you will be invested in your project not mine as a teacher and I get to learn more about you as a student and as a person. The stories vary greatly and cross a broad spectrum of cultures and experiences. As we continue the design process the students realize that any inspiration can lead to a design and they also learn that getting up in front of an audience and jury can be daunting but if you speak from the heart the audience can’t help but relate in some way to your story.

Student story examples include pictures of their parents with their arms around each other, a toy truck, Legos, Minecraft, social interaction with their friends, cross country skiing, building a fort out of found scraps, swimming in a pool, doodling, sand castles, running through a sprinkler, marble collection, growing up on a farm, building wood trellis with a grandfather, grasshopper wings, sleeping out under the stars.

Example: This is a book that I really identified with as a child so I bought the book for my kids for Christmas and wrote a story about why I like Rufus the bat.

Rufus – The Bat Who Loved Colors by Tomi Ungerer

My Childhood Memory Story

Images– The next step is to find images of your childhood memory. Do you have any family photos to support your story. Personal photos are really cool to see and show the class. Whether you have childhood photos or not, I like to go to the computer and google images that support your story. If your memory is a fort, google cool forts and you will find all sorts of images that will amaze you and inspire you. Whatever your childhood memory, taking time to explore the internet and letting your images run from one thing to another is fun. Don’t worry about where you end up in your image search. Just have fun. Copy, paste or save images that appeal to you.

This is Rufus coloring his wing

Child’s drawing of a bat

Research– Any design process should involve research. The more the better. Finding images naturally leads into your research. You should be discovering a wide world of ideas when searching for images, it is your job now to find something interesting in your childhood memory and expand upon that. For instance, if your memory is grasshopper wings, find images of wings, then learn why the wings have a pattern. Why are the patterns  different on different parts of the wings? What does a grasshopper wing look like when it flaps? Does it bend? Can you find an image of that? Now is your time to learn something that didn’t know about your childhood memory. Remember, the memory is a strong one from your childhood but innocent. As a student you get the privilege to relive the memory and rediscover something new about your memory and maybe discover something about yourself in the process.

Example: I could research many different things at this point. From my written story it could be zoos, lions, running away from home, statues, storms or dark clouds. From the book the research could include coloring books for kids because Rufus colors his wings like kids color a book, colored mosaics or stained glass, taught skins that fly like a kite, watercolor because the book has beautiful watercolor drawings, bats (obviously) like how they see with sonar or where they sleep, is a bat wing actually black or does it have colors too, where do bats sleep or the author of the books and other children’s books. I’ll stick to researching things related to bats to make this easy.

A bat

A bat’s wing

A bat’s wing in flight

Photo of Painted Bat by Bob Cornes

Mosaic art installed at MK Nature Center in Boise | Idaho Fish and Game

A bat kite that you could color from Kinoko Kids

Bat Kite from the Drachen Foundation

Brainstorm– What I like to do next is have the students present their stories, images and research to the class as a whole. Pin up your material or make a board with your material organized on it. It is good practice to stand up in front of everyone and present something personal. You should have plenty to talk about because you are the expert. You may be humble and shy by the experience but this is good and people will relate to you in this way. We will also learn more about you as a person and a potential designer by what you like and how you see the world. The brainstorming session is for the whole class to participate and the goal is to be very supportive. Many students will relate or have their own memories regarding your story. It is easy to jump in when the class gets going. Usually a fun and a humorous conversation will likely ensue. Like improve comedians, we support the story that was started by the presenter and build upon it with suggestions on similar inspirations and ideas. Negativity is not allowed into this open discussion because this is someone’s personal story and it should be respected as such.

Example: Questions might come up about different skins that make flight possible. What does an airplane wing and a bat’s skin have in common? How does a bat’s wing allow flight. Does it capture air like the photo? Is it different than a bird’s wing? How are bat’s wings structured? Are they like a human’s bones? Why are the proportions of a bat wing different than a humans. How could Batman actually have wings that allowed him to glide better instead of relying on tricks? How big would Batman’s wings be and what would they be made out of? Maybe they would have to unfold because he wouldn’t be able to walk through a door. Do you see where this is going?

Different human skin types and colors

Bat proportions

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

Vitruvian Batman parody

Dumb Diagram– At the end of the presentation, I like to crystalize the memory into one single “dumb diagram”. This may seem difficult at first but after you do it a couple of times, it will be easy. The dumb diagram is a sketch that represents the essence of what we heard from you. It is kind of like playing charades but backwards. Say for instance your memory is about having a marble collection and the thing that you really remembered and liked while researching marbles were all of the different sparkling marbles. The essence of your story might be the beautiful colors sparkling inside a marble and the dumb diagram would simply be a marble with a colored ribbon inside it. Or, your memory is of photos of your parents with their arms around each other on the trips that they took around the world before you were born. The essence of your story might then be your parents as a couple. A dumb diagram for something like that could be something pressed into something else like a coupling. The dumb diagram is what you will always be able to refer to when you get stuck down the line with your design.

Example: In my case, the dumb diagram for my story and presentation could include one of the 4 diagrams below. Sketching and modeling the metaphor of the “dumb diagram” is the next step.

Dumb Diagrams

Reflect– At this time and throughout the process it is good to reflect on where you started and where you are going. You should not, and this is difficult for all students, be thinking about designing an actual building at this point. You are still designing in inspiration mode and searching for creativity. Most students find it difficult not to think ahead and have many preconceptions. Sometimes they have to get this out and that is fine. They are testing the strength of their story and research by doing this but they are not ready to design  a building yet. It is too early for that. You have to have patience and allow your right brain and creative side of yourself to continue to explore. It is difficult to do especially if you get stuck. That’s why we have plenty of pin ups for the students and continue to brainstorm.

Sketches and Models– It is important to begin to sketch and model at this point. For one, it gets your right brain involved and you will begin to see things that you hadn’t seen before. Many students try to go to the computer and begin to draw elaborate computer fantasies which can help get them to another place for sure, but drawing loose sketches and simple rip and tear models that take 5 minutes is much more interesting and will get you farther ahead. As my wife said, in architectural school we just “made shit.” You may not know what you are making but from the material that you produce the students and your instructor will find something that stands out as a direction for you to go in. Designers react favorable to cool visual things. More so than writers, who are verbal, we are visually excitable. Sometimes creating something beautiful is enough to get us going and get a good grade.

Presentation– The mid quarter design review usually involves a jury of professionals. Unlike the other brainstorming reviews, this will be a little more serious by nature. You will hate being reviewed by other architects and designers. You will feel humbled, confused, bewildered and defenseless. Good. If you don’t feel this way on your first review, consider yourself lucky but you will get caught in the crosshairs later in a different review. You will wonder why the jury liked a 30 second sketch but didn’t like the model that you spent 4 days on. If you can document your process and describe your memory well you will be in good shape no matter what they say. But, after a review like the midterm review, you may be told to go back to the drawing board and take another look at your dumb diagram. Developing this initial idea will lead to the strongest design but it isn’t easy and patience is a virtue. As with anything, if you go through the process of design enough times, you will figure it out and you as the student will become the teacher.

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