Be open to the unexpected

be open to the unexpected

This is the 1st of twenty-one lessons for design students, gathered from the combined experience of being a student, and teaching students. I will published one lesson each weekday until they’re done.

1. Be open to the unexpected

Getting started on a design project is an intoxicating experience. You are excited and restless, both inspired and daunted by the blank pages waiting for you. You have heard from an array of studio leaders and chosen your preferred topic based on your interests and expertise. Ideas are already beginning to fill your head.

Whether you realise it or not, your design project has already begun. It began before you received your project brief, even before the start of semester. You are a designer, so you see the world as a canvass upon which to paint your architecture. This is a blessing, the source of any architect’s vision, but it is also a curse, binding you to an idea before you even know how it will be used.

Frank Lloyd Wright observed that it takes a good architect to formulate a strong idea, but a great architect to know when to throw it away.

Throwing away an idea is hard work, it requires courage. But it is crucial to resist the ideas that form too early, they will shape your project in ways you can’t control. Throw away preconceptions, agendas, fixed positions, or any picture whatsoever you have of the end game. Hold onto your openness as long as you can, and be prepared to let your project surprise you.

As a student, I had a great weakness for early ideas. I would sketch bits of building on the very first day of semester, and spend the following twelve weeks defending them. This is fine if you want to finish where you started, but it undermines the whole point of spending a semester developing a project. I see this happen regularly with my students, clinging to an idea for fear of falling backwards, even when they know it is crumbling around them.

What I realise now is that the first sheet of yellow trace you fill has almost no value. I say almost because it does have one important purpose: to lead you to the next sheet, and to the next and so on.

Image source

  1. Be open to the unexpected, author’s own image.

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