Look back in order to move forward

The process of writing How to steal like an architect last year, a series of 10 articles based on Austin Kleon’s How to steal like an artist, made me consider other lessons learned over the years. What further lessons would I teach my younger self, given the opportunity?

11. Look back in order to move forward

Self-reflection is a time-consuming activity easily left in the wake of the rigours of architectural practice, of deadlines and invoicing and cash-flow. Yet how can you design buildings without understanding your own works?

There is great discipline required in sitting down to examine a completed project, to sift through all its grand ideas and form making gestures, its fine details and even its administration to determine what happened and why. Most importantly, this process offers the possibility of discovering something worth holding onto, something worth repeating or developing for the next project.

An architect is not judged by any single project but by his whole opus: Santiago Calatrava is recognised for the evocativeness of his structure, Bjarke Ingels for his decisively cerebral interventions, Peter Stutchbury for his immaculately crafted detailing. Establish the discipline to reflect on your works, to create common threads and themes between them and your opus will benefit greatly.

Look back in order to move forward.

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