How to steal like an architect

This post is part 1 of an adaptation of How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me)this engaging and instructive essay by Austin Kleon, a Texan artist and writer best known for his Newspaper Blackout poetry. Kleon states that “when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.” What follows here is me talking to a previous version of myself, perhaps one 10 years younger, hopelessly naive and about to embark on a life in architecture.

1. Steal like an architect

Every architect gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” The honest architect answers, “I steal them”. With over a hundred billion people ever having lived, it is rare for an idea to be truly original – we all stand on the shoulders of giants. This is even more the case in the field of architecture, a practice both constrained and inspired by context, education and building technology. The trick in generating ideas then, is to combine old ideas in new ways.

1 + 1 = 3. Impossible, right?

Draw two parallel lines on a piece of paper. How many lines are there? There’s the first line and the second line, but there’s also a third line of negative space that runs between them. 1 + 1 = 3.

Not all old ideas were good ideas however. And even some that were, are no longer. Luckily, you get to pick which ideas to be inspired by, which books to read, films to watch, people to listen to and buildings to visit. To steal from the highly-addictive television show, Glee: we are a mashup of the influences we allow into our lives.

Your job is to collect ideas for your architecture from any and as many influences as you please. The more you let life in, the better your chance of stumbling onto something good. I carry an A4 unlined sketchbook with me wherever I go, together with a selection of good pens. I observe, I think, I draw, I create – my sketchbooks are a catalogue of ideas that have come to me from things glimpsed out of tram windows, dreamt of in lectures, overheard in restaurants, witnessed in buildings both designed and not.

Steal like an architect.

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