Back to Basics: Valuable Lessons from Architecture School

Architecture Dated:  Sept. 8, 2015
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Bachelor of Architecture in India is a five year degree course. These are the very elementary years which turn a normal boy into an architect. Sometimes basic things  taught at architecture schools tend to help in the profession very much. Here is a list of some very prominent points an architect must keep in his mind.

The beginning of architecture is from the imagination.
Good design solutions are not merely physically interesting but are driven by underlying ideas. An idea is a specific mental structure by which we organize, understand, and give meaning to external experiences and information. Without underlying ideas informing their buildings, architects are merely space planners. Space planning with decoration applied to “dress it up” is not architecture; architecture resides in the DNA of a building, in an embedded sensibility that infuses its whole.

Appeal of a design is based on specificity
Drawing upon a specific observation, touching statement, ironic point, witty reflection, intellectual connection, political argument, or idiosyncratic belief in a creative work can help you create environments others will identify with in their own way. Design a flight of stairs for the day a nervous bride descends them. Shape a window to frame a view of a specific tree on a perfect day in autumn. Make a balcony for the worst dictator in the world to dress down his subjects. Create a seating area for a group of surly teenagers to complain about their parents and teachers. Designing in idea-specific ways will not limit the ways in which people use and understand your buildings; it will give them license to bring their own interpretations and idiosyncrasies to them.

An architect knows something about everything. An engineer knows everything about one thing.
An architect is a generalist, not a specialist—the conductor of a symphony, not a virtuoso who plays every instrument perfectly. As a practitioner, an architect coordinates a team of professionals that include structural and mechanical engineers, interior designers, building-code consultants, landscape architects, specifications writers, contractors, and specialists from other disciplines. Typically, the interests of some team members will compete with the interests of others. An architect must know enough about each discipline to negotiate and synthesize competing demands while honouring the needs of the client and the integrity of the entire project.

Soft ideas, soft lines; hard ideas, hard lines
Fat markers, charcoal, pastels, crayons, paint, soft pencils, and other loose or soft implements are valuable tools for exploring conceptual ideas early in the design process, as by their nature they tend to encourage broad thinking and deny fine-grained decisions. Fine-point markers and sharp pencils become more useful as the design process moves closer to a more highly resolved plan. Value drawings can help express nuances and subtleties.
Hard-line drawings—drawings drafted to scale with a straightedge or computer program—are best for conveying information that is decisive, specific, and quantitative, such as final floor plans or detailed wall sections. They can be occasionally useful in schematic design, such as when you need to test out the dimensional workability of a design concept. When overused as a design tool, however, computer drafting programs can encourage the endless generation of options rather than foster a deepening understanding of the design problem you wish to solve.

Design studios are the place to improve and enhance
Design studio instructors, above all else, want their students to develop good process. If an instructor gives a good grade to what appears to you to be a poor project, it is probably because the student has demonstrated good process. Likewise, you may see an apparently good project receive a mediocre grade. Why?
Because a project doesn’t deserve a good grade if the process that led to it was sloppy, ill-structured, or the result of hit-and-miss good luck.

Those tedious first-year studio exercises in “spots and dots” and “lumps and bumps” really do have something to do with architecture.
Many beginning architecture students grow bored and impatient with the two- and three-dimensional design exercises commonly assigned in beginning design studios. And upper-level students, grateful to have survived beginning design, often fail to look back to their early design lessons to see how they can provide a foundation for solving complex architectural problems. If your instructor isn’t making clear the connection of 2D and 3D design to “real” architecture, ask for examples. Or ask an instructor in an upper level studio. A thorough grounding in the rudiments of 2D and 3D design will take you farthest in the long run through the complex field of architecture.

Colour theory provides a framework for understanding the behaviour and meaning of colours.
Colours may be associated with the seasons:
Winter: gray, white, ice blue, and similar colours
Autumn: gold, russet, olive, brownish purple, muted or muddy tones
Summer: primary or bright colours
Spring: pastel tones
Colours may be categorized as warm or cool. Cool colours tend to recede from the viewer—that is, they appear to be farther away, while warm colours advance.
Warm: reds, browns, yellows, yellow- or olive-greens
Cool: blues, greys, true- or blue-greens
A colour wheel, on which colours located opposite are complementary, may be used to organize colours. Using complements together—for example, blue with orange—can help create a balanced colour scheme.

The factors of knowledge 
Simplicity is the world view of the child or uninformed adult, fully engaged in his own experience and happily unaware of what lies beneath the surface of immediate reality.

Complexity characterizes the ordinary adult world view. It is characterized by an awareness of complex systems in nature and society but an inability to discern clarifying patterns and connections.

Informed Simplicity is an enlightened view of reality. It is founded upon an ability to discern or create clarifying patterns within complex mixtures. Pattern recognition is a crucial skill for an architect, who must create a highly ordered building amid many competing and frequently nebulous design considerations.

Beware of square!
Because a square is inherently non-dynamic, it doesn’t naturally suggest movement.
This can make it difficult to establish appropriate circulation pathways in a square floor plan. Further, interior rooms in square buildings can be far removed from natural light and air. Non-square shapes—rectangles, crescents, wedges, ells, and so on—more naturally accommodate patterns of movement, congregation, and habitation.

If you can’t explain your ideas to your grandmother in terms that she understands, you don’t know your subject well enough.
Some architects, instructors, and students use overly complex (and often meaningless!) language in an attempt to gain recognition and respect. You might have to let some of them get away with it, but don’t imitate them. Professionals who know their subject area well know how to communicate their knowledge to others in everyday language.

Most architectural forms can be classified as additive, subtractive, shaped, or abstract.
Additive Forms appear to have been assembled from individual pieces.
Subtractive Forms appear to have been carved or cut from a previously “whole” form.
Shaped or Molded Forms appear to have been formed from a plastic material through directly applied force.
Abstract Forms are of uncertain origin.

Traditional buildings have thick exterior walls. Modern buildings have thin walls.
Traditional architecture uses the exterior walls to support the weight of the building. The walls must be thick because they receive heavy loads from the floors, roof, and walls above them, which they then transfer to the earth. The exterior walls of the twelve-story Monadnock Building, for example, are six feet thick at the base.

Most modern buildings employ a frame of steel or concrete columns and beams to support structural loads and transfer the building’s weight to the earth. The exterior walls are attached to and supported by this frame, and therefore serve as a barrier against the weather only. Thus, the walls can be much thinner than those of traditional buildings, and—despite appearances—they usually do not rest on the ground. When brick or stone is used to clad a skyscraper, for example, the masonry walls are not piled up on the ground for forty stories, but are supported by the superstructure every story or two.

Always show structural columns on your floor plans - even very early in the design process.
Showing a structural system on your floor plans throughout the design process— even if nothing more than a few dots or blobs—will help you organize the program, encourage you to think of your creation as a real building, and help you control the eventual structural resolution. Indeed, an architect who doesn’t adequately consider structure may have an undesirable structural system imposed on the building by a structural engineer.

The placement and spacing of columns are usually regularized for visual unity and construction efficiency. Ordinary wood frame buildings typically have a column line or bearing wall every 10 to 18 feet; commercial-scale buildings of steel or concrete, every 25 to 50 feet. Structural systems for exhibit halls, arenas, and other such spaces can have spans of 90 feet or more.

Design in perspective!
Architects are expert at reading and interpreting orthographic (plan, section, and elevation) drawings, but even the best cannot understand everything about a building this way. Sketching accurate one- and two-point perspectives of your buildings and building interiors throughout the design process will allow you to test your expectations of how your building will look, work, and feel in actual experience and to visualize design opportunities not evident in two dimensional drawings.

Design with models!
Three-dimensional models—both material and electronic—can help you understand your project in new ways. The most useful model for designing is the building massing model—a quick material (clay, cardboard, foam, plastic, sheet metal, found objects, and so on) study by which you can easily compare and test design options under consideration.

Carefully crafted, highly detailed finish models are not useful as design tools, as their purpose is to document design decisions already made rather than help evaluate ideas under consideration.

Always place fire stairs at opposite ends of the buildings you design, even in the earliest stages of the design process.
It is easy to think that a designer has more glamorous concerns than fire stairs, but emergency egress has everything to do with the more general workings of a building.

If you don’t ingrain such safety considerations into your design process, you can expect to defend your disinterest before a judge and jury one day.

Make cool drawing titles for schematic design
Use a light-coloured marker with a big chisel point to form lowercase architectural letters; then trace around the resulting shapes with a thin black pen.

Suggest material qualities
Architectural drawings, whether hand- or computer-generated, will look cartoonish if you make bricks “Brick Red” and roofs “Asphalt Black.” Try using washed out or dulled-down colours that are more suggestive than literal. Likewise, don’t draw every brick in a brick wall, every shingle on a shingled roof, or every tile in a tile floor.
Selectively hint at material qualities

Careful anchor placement can generate an active building interior.
Anchors are program elements that inherently draw people to them. Department stores, for example, are located at opposite ends of a shopping mall because they draw many visitors. People walking between these large stores become window shoppers of the smaller stores in between. In this way, a seemingly inefficient relationship between the anchor stores fosters economic activity and interior street life.

Are there any anchor opportunities in your project? Try locating the entrance and locker rooms of a gymnasium at opposite ends of a recreation centre. Place the registration desk and elevators in a hotel a little farther apart than is most efficient.
Locate the access points for a parking garage and office lobby at a greater distance than might otherwise be considered ideal. In the spaces between, create interesting architectural experiences for your captive audience!

Roll your drawings for transport or storage with the image side facing out.
This will help them stay fl at when you lay them on a table or pin them to a wall for display.

The primary mechanisms by which the government regulates the design of buildings are zoning laws, building codes, and accessibility codes.
Zoning Codes are generally concerned with how a building relates to its surroundings.
They typically regulate use (residential, commercial, industrial, and so on), height, density, lot size, setbacks from property lines, and parking.

Building Codes are primarily concerned with how a building works in and of itself.
They regulate such features as building materials, floor area (larger for less flammable building materials), height (taller for less flammable materials), energy usage, fire protection systems, natural lighting, ventilation, and other such concerns.

Accessibility Codes provide for the use of buildings by persons with physical challenges. They regulate ramps, stairs, handrails, toilet facilities, signage, heights of countertops and switches, and other such features.

Just do something.
When a design problem is so overwhelming as to be nearly paralyzing, don’t wait for clarity to arrive before beginning to draw. Drawing is not simply a way of depicting a design solution; it is itself a way of learning about the problem you are trying to solve.

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