Monday, 8 December 2014

Why Go to Architecture School?

Ideals and Ideas

Idealistic and artistic 'scientists' go to architecture school to develop the 'conceptual' way of thinking.

At the start, University is a unique environment that allows you to dream about new ideas (or concepts) and great sensory experiences full of drama and wit - without concerning yourself with the complex matrix of building science, law and accounting, known as building.

Reality and Materials

In the first year of school, you add an understanding of the movement of the sun, the wind and the rain: "the environment". Next you get to learn about construction methods, like, 'what is a clay brick really' and isn't concrete fluid, not to mention the inherent beauty of wood. You get to think about the importance of mathematics and structural systems and learn about the 'strength to weight ratio' of steel.

Tools and Rules

Like a carpenter's hammer or a brickies trowel, you start to use tools that range from mathematics to music. The logic of maths and the formal layering and rhythms of music are a good analogy for the process of design. For example, an underlying structure is like a steady bass line on which the other layers rest.

Along comes construction law and you start to realise that what you do can get pretty serious. That part of the course can only be described as intense.

City zoning plans inform you of a community's entrepreneurial expression of growth. Local government regulations represent good manners between neighbours and building codes are there to keep everyone healthy and safe.

Concept and Decision

As you begin to absorb these disciplines, Architecture School continues to insist that with any regular design presentation, there must always be a 'concept' or big idea to pull all the issues together into a unified whole. Conceptual thinking involves broadly and loosely considering the important parts of any problem and coming up with a unified artistic expression for the solution.
This is the joy of design.

During the six years of study, you slowly learn how to hold on to a precious 'concept' through the rigors of climate and the reality of commerce. Of course, a degree is only the beginning of a life of discovering and balancing 'the idea' hidden within a building site, client brief and architectural mind.


The picture above is an international design competition entry for a new city center site in Semiahmoo (which can be translated as 'Crescent Moon'), just south of Vancouver. The concept was called the 'Net of the Crescent Moon' and just like 'First Nations' fishing nets, it aimed to catch the interest and the commerce of the locals. The result was two floors of retail with residential apartments above. The second level of retail could be reached by climbing a grassy hill within the courtyard.

The opening in the building follows the path of the setting sun, so that the unique courtyard is always a great place to be. Once the concept was established, fitting penthouse style apartment plans in this organic plan shape was great fun. On a macro level, the curved plan surrounds a water feature which becomes a public skating rink in Winter.

Building an Architect

University gives you time and space. Once trained, inspired and hired, discovering a concept for a building project gives you an overall vision that helps you make decisions in a structured way further down the track. The result? Architecture.

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