Architecture is slow

The 24th instalment in a series of lessons learned over the years. What do I know now that I didn’t then? What wisdom would I impart to my younger self, given the opportunity?

This lesson also formed part of a lecture given for the May Process forum, The Jump, exploring the challenges faced when setting up a practice. Process is a monthly information sharing series curated by the Victorian Young Architects and Graduates network.

24. Architecture is slow

litle turtle

In our university days, a project took precisely 12 weeks: no matter how resolved it was, come the end of semester we presented, were judged and moved on. In practice, 12 weeks is a blink of an eye. Hill House, our first project, took us six years to complete. Basser House and Farmer House took us three. Howard Street is an ongoing labour of love, five years old and counting. The musician has an enviable relationship with her art: design and feedback are simultaneous. Architecture is the opposite… slow.

The slowness of architecture has a few notable effects on architecture practice.

First, it is no coincidence that architects are considered young until at the very least we’re 40 (the digital maestros of Silicone Valley are considered ancient once they’re 30). It’s remarkable that the great Oscar Niemeyer continued working until his recent death at the age of 105, but maybe it was just because it took him so long to get started.

Second, it takes decades to explore, test, refine and perfect new ideas. A steel door handle detail we designed for Farmer House in July of 2012 is only now being fabricated. It may be many months until we use the idea on a subsequent project, and many years until we resolve it to a point that we feel sufficiently comfortable to use it with abandon.

Third, the growth of our practice matches the pace of our projects. We established Mihaly Slocombe in 2010 and are only now reaching the end of our first round of built projects. We have a graduate working with us part time now, which represents a 50% boost in personnel. We’re very busy, but in no need of further expansion at the moment. This is a glacial growth rate when we compare ourselves to a friend of ours who started a yoga studio not long after us – she is already in the process of opening her sixth outlet.

Fourth and perhaps obviously, architecture requires patience. The approach required to be a successful architect has a lot in common with long distance running. Every step must be considered in the context of dozens of kilometres, every ounce of exertion measured against the hours of running still to be done, every moment of pain acknowledged as advanced payment for the glory that awaits at the finishing line.

Architecture is slow.

Image source:

  1. Little turtle. Mr. Wallpaper, copyright Ines Martinez.

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