“What is more important, an idea or its execution?” That question was proposed on The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon, the theoretical physicist was in favour of execution whilst Leonard, a experimental physicist was all about the idea. It is an interesting question that is highly applicable to architecture, is the idea of the building more important than the built form? You can probably tell from the title of this post that I believe execution is more than important than the idea, and I want to share my views on this.
Before everyone jumps down my throat, ideas are important. Architecture relies on ideas, whether it’s an idea of a form or an idea about the shading system or an idea about the material and structure. Ideas are vital, and good ideas make for great architecture. Let’s assume for argumentative sake that the whole premise of this post is “yes good ideas are very important, but how you execute these ideas are more important.”
There’s three scenarios I want to use for this argument, a large scale architectural idea, a detail of the building and my own personal experience with executing ideas. Generally speaking I am a fan of Bjarke Ingels and quite impressed what he has (and doing) done for the architecture profession, and I do like a few of his buildings. When I see a concept for one of their buildings I’m excited to see how they achieved their form, but then I start to look past the idea and begin to wonder how will they execute this. The TEK building (above) was a competition entry won by BIG with the site being in Taiwan, with an idea that you can walk up to the roof from street level through an outdoor plaza. From what I can gather there are no lifts that go up to the roof, nor are there any ramps, which tells me only able-bodied, capably fit people can enjoy the views from the roof. If you are an elderly person, or have a broken leg, or disabled, well that’s unlucky. I’m not sure what the codes and regulations are in Taiwan but you couldn’t execute this idea here in Australia without ramps and/or lifts.
The TEK building was just a competition entry, so should they be expected to solve all the details? If your idea is as strong as BIG’s walkable plaza to a rooftop with no visible lift access, then yes. I see a few student projects where they have similar gestures, whether it’s a substantial cantilever, or a ramped/stepped form and they have little idea on how to actually execute the idea. To me, what good is an idea if you can’t build it? I actually dumped an idea for my latest studio because I couldn’t execute it while maintaining the purity of the idea. The idea was a series of stacked boxes, all with different floor heights, which meant either walking up and down several steps (some floors would have had a metre difference), which wouldn’t be to code because of accessibility, or put in ramps but even a 450mm step up required 6.3m of ramp. Did I overthink this for a student-based studio project? Perhaps but I didn’t even run the idea past the tutor because I felt I needed to have an understanding on how to execute it properly. There was no-way I could have presented this idea at final review, completely ignoring accessibility issues.
This idea of execution doesn’t mean it actually has to be physically built, but just solving all the problems that come with an initial idea. An idea is merely a thought, people don’t tend to think too much about an idea until they start to work out the details. It’s like having an idea for an app or a product, but what that ends up being you don’t really know at that stage.
What actually spurred me to write this was my inability to execute an idea which frustrated me beyond all-ends. A little context, for a subject we had to write a manifesto, which was basically 2,000 words on what our belief in architecture is. I have many beliefs but we were to keep it to one topic or theme, and mine was looking at simplicity and minimalism in 2016. For the final assessment we had to physically bring to life this manifesto which tied in with your ideas and beliefs, and because mine was about minimalism I wanted to keep it simple. The idea was to make a book with simple diagrams and the text, printed with white ink on black paper, and it would be housed in a simple white box. I had the idea, all I needed to do was execute it.
I made the box in SketchUp, got it laser-cut and bought supplies. I purchased plasterer’s top coat, sand-paper, paint and other tid-bits in order to conceal all the joints and turn the laser-cut MDF into a pure white box. Sounds simple right? I won’t bore you with the details but ultimately I couldn’t execute the idea. I forgot to account for the thickness of paint in the laser-cut which meant some parts were too tight of a fit and I didn’t have enough time to put more time in the top-coat and preparation of the joints. Here is a question for you, was the idea of this black book in a pure white box more important than the actual physical manifestation of it? Would you see it and think “Oh but what a good idea” or “Oh wish he could have executed this idea better“?
To me, I really love the challenge of problem-solving in architecture. Not everything can be solved, or at least solved in an acceptable manner, and this is where my belief on execution > idea comes from. Yes it’s great to have this idea of having a walkable outdoor plaza to the roof, but beyond the concept stage how will you actually pull this off once codes, regulations, structure and cost come into play? Yeah a white box for a black book is a ‘cool idea’ but what is important is how it is built and finished. There is architecture that remains only ideas, or ‘paper architecture’ as it is sometimes referred to, and it does have it’s place and to be able to test ideas and theories without the harsh realities of the real world is vital to advance architecture and engineering. However, ideas are easy to come by, how you execute these ideas, whether it’s a large gesture for the form or a small detail, that is where it becomes architecture.
What do you think is more important, the idea or the execution?
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