This post would have been published earlier but I spent the last few hours listening to ‘Let it Go’ on repeat. If you keep up with this blog you’d know I haven’t been faring too well this semester with my studio project. Yesterday I had studio with a desk crit and happy to report things are going much better now, largely because I am happy to let go of an idea, and it’s this topic I want to share my views on. It’s common for us architecture students to become too attached to an idea, like a child attached to their favourite toy, we don’t want it taken away and if it does we throw a tantrum. Okay maybe not the best comparison but it is kinda similar.
Sometimes we struggle to find an idea, like a kitten trying to find the ‘other kitten’ behind the mirror. We are often confused, upset and lash out at ourselves. See what I did there? Kittens usually try to attack themselves in the mirror…. This semester I have had moments of being that kitten, where I’ve had some little detail-like ideas but not a real conceptual idea. It can be frustrating sitting at your desk staring at your sketchbook or computer and there is nothing happening upstairs. So when an idea comes to us it’s exciting, and we want to hold on to it tight.
What I’m slowly learning is that not every idea is best suited for the project, whether it’s to do with scale, locality, program, etc. While it may be an amazing idea (in your mind) it doesn’t make it the right idea. This is where your tutor comes in handy as they give you an (somewhat) unbiased opinion, as they don’t hold the same attachment to the idea as you do. Your tutor, believe it or not, wants you to succeed and do well in their studio. Even though that times it doesn’t feel like it at times, they really do. When they’re trying to get you *cough* *cough* me *cough* *cough* to ditch an idea it’s probably because they don’t think it’s strong enough, or the right one for the project and want you to look for a more successful one.
When I thought I found a good idea, a box within a box, initially the scale was wrong and it lacked any substance. This came to light during my mid-sem crit. Still wanting to maintain this Minimalist box idea, I explored it at a different scale and thought it started working well. However while the scale was right, it still lacked any substance, or ‘edge’. It was a bunch of smaller boxes within a near-full site size perforated box. Speaking to my tutor yesterday she asked me, and I am paraphrasing, “How committed to this box idea are you?” It was then I realised perhaps I need to let go of this pure box in a box idea. We looked at the idea where perhaps the outer ‘box’ or skin isn’t a boundary-to-boundary box but it more so ‘shrink wraps’ around these smaller boxes. The wrapping can be manipulated to generate some interesting outdoor/indoor spaces and the building won’t appear as some giant rectangle (close to 70m wide by 150m long) from the exterior. By letting go of one idea we were able to evolve it into a much stronger idea with much more potential. Ditching an idea can lead to something better.
It isn’t always the big architectural gestural ideas that sometimes need letting go. Sometimes it’s the minor ideas that can be transplanted between design iterations. For example last semester from the very start I knew I wanted to use brick for my main material and I got quite attached to it. At the end of semester crits two comments were mention, one around the cost of using brick to the extent I proposed, and how I missed an opportunity to create a much stronger exterior through different materiality depending on the orientation. Had I let go of this idea of bricks at some stage my project could have been much better.
Letting go of an idea doesn’t mean ‘throw it in the trash and never speak of it again‘. While the idea may not be appropriate for your current project that doesn’t mean it won’t suit a future project. Architects such as Bjarke Ingels and Rem Koolhaas would often do dozens, or even a hundred, different options or iterations for a proposal. They (by they I mean interns) would even make a physical model for each iteration, but after the project they don’t throw the models out. What they have are dozens of ideas for future projects, and an example of this is the Casa de Musica by OMA (Rem Koolhaas). The ArchDaily article doesn’t explain this but “the abandoned and temporarily forgotten model of the private house came up to the office and re-entered the cycles of design. Lingering on the tables of the models for months, it was finally take with new assumptions, reshaped, refreshed and adjusted.”¹. See, re-using forgotten ideas isn’t so bad.
During the design process you may even get attached to a minor idea and as your design develops or changes you realise this idea won’t work. This semester I have been attached to the idea of providing an outdoor screen and plaza for larger-scale events, or more specifically when Federation Square is full my space can offer relief. I had this minor idea from the early stages (uh oh, bricks again!) but I had to let it go during my pure box in a box idea. However it has came back on the table with the shrink wrapping idea. Letting go of an idea doesn’t mean it is unsuitable for your design, it could mean it’s unsuitable at that time of the design process. Ideas can come and go, and come back again, but you (or more-so, myself) need to understand it may need to be let go again.
Being told to let go of an idea is hard, especially when you thought it was a great idea. However you *cough* *cough* me *cough* *cough* shouldn’t be getting so attached to the one idea. I’ll leave you with a re-appropriated quote by an amazing architect, “Sometimes things have to fall apart to make way for better things” – Ted Mosby.
P.S the main photo is me dramatically letting go of my design, like a bird in your palms and watching it fly up and away.
1. Made by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture: An Ethnography of Design, Albena Yaneva, page 86