At a student panel today consisting of myself and two other seasoned architecture students to discuss the course, our experiences, and what to expect to the first years entering next week, a student asked the question "What is the best part of doing architecture?". I gave a short response in the same vein as the extended response I've been composing tonight for a few hours tonight.
There are no adequate words to describe it, but I'll give it an attempt. There is no better feeling than when you've finally completed your final studio project and you've signed it off to the studio coordinator on folio day. To put it allegorically, you want to teach a young child to ride a bicycle, but the bicycle has not been invented yet; and nor has the wheel. This is what a semester feels like in the mind of an architecture student.
To teach the young child how to ride a bicycle, you have to start at the very fundamentals of movement: the wheel. Ideas formulate within your mind, with each one being a passing flash before the next one takes over. Rapidly sketching out these brief moments assist in the process. A insignificant detail from a site visit. A passing comment from the client or a phrase from the brief. How many ways can a wheel exist? Eventually, you create an idea that has an inkling to roll, to pick up momentum, to create movement. Don't stop now. What's working correctly? Develop the elements that are strong, and trim away the ones that aren't. It's slowly rolling. Help it gain momentum. Sketch it out. Describe what you're thinking in drawing it. Communicate your idea in a simple manner. It's picking up speed. The moments of instability are less frequent. It's becoming alive. Keep going. Refine it. Shape it. Shave it down. Hollow it out. Strengthen it.
The wheel is born: the concept.
This does not mean that there's no advancement from here. Continue mulling it over. Work out the fallacies of the concept, and attempt to rectify them. Sometimes, the concept breaks apart at this stage; the wheel snaps. Start over. What went wrong in the last wheel? Learn from your mistakes, your journey, and use that knowledge to craft something stronger. Talk to your peers and your tutors, and seek their advice. What have they learned from their experiences? They can discover issues that you've overlooked. Take heed their words and integrate their wisdom in your process. With enough perseverance and determination - and time, which may or may not be of the essence - a wheel can be produced that will hold it's own. A strong concept with considerable foundations.
But it doesn't end here; after all, the young child has not been on their maiden voyage. Sketch design ensues. What will be the general form of the bicycle? What do we need to consider? Site visits. Client meetings. Precedent studies. Existing conditions consideration. Integration of the original concept. It begins with a line. A blotch. There's no high level of resolution! Start off with a single dot. Make another. Draw a line. Slowly develop that line. Form connections. Never let go of the original idea: the wheel. The concept. The reason why you're here. The reason why the young child's parents haven't invented the bicycle themselves, or went to a generic store to buy one off the shelf. The reason we exist as the creator and the constructor of emotional spaces and unique worlds. Or bicycles.
The next level emerges: design development. How will the chain mechanism work? Does it have gears? Where is the bell located? How will the bicycle turn? Are these design choices detracting from the original concept? If you feel that you're unintentionally letting this bicycle design become radically different, like a multi-stage liquid-fuelled orbital launch mechanism, then bring the perspective back to the original idea of the wheel and the concept. After all, you're looking to send this young child on a bicycle ride, not into geostationary orbit. Work out the basic principles of the bicycle. How will it move? We're slowly transitioning the idea of the abstract concept to the realm of realistic habitable space. It's incredibly easy to lose focus at this stage, but persevere with the most simple idea of the wheel and you should find your way.
Documentation. Creating a working drawing set for a builder or any authorities to reference to determine if your bicycle will be in working order and to base a construction upon. At this level, the highest resolution and the sharpest precision is required. If you have approached the previous stages with layers of review, consultation, high degrees of resolution and solving challenges that surface, this process will be smooth as possible. Issues will arise; we're human, after all. But the size and the frequency of these issues will be mitigated with proper refinement of the aforementioned design process stages. The bicycle design has been sent off to the manufacturers to construct. Issues will still present themselves, but with proper treatment can be resolved in a quick and easy manner. Work with the manufacturer. Ask them on progress. Keep yourself involved with every step and every process.
A few months down the way, a package is delivered to your front door. You know what it is - you've been waiting for this moment for a very long time. The sum of all your efforts over the months have been packaged neatly in a small crate. You lift the lid, and you pull out the bicycle. It's beautiful. A slight notion of riding this bicycle crosses your mind, but it doesn't feel right; it wasn't designed for you. In no way throughout the process did you consider yourself at the helm of the bicycle. It was all for this young child. Your client. Every single design choice was made with the client in mind, and each of those choices can be referenced back to the concept. It's time to deliver this bicycle to the young child.
When they open the door to see you there with a bicycle in hand, their reaction is non-duplicable. They jump with joy. They want to ride the bicycle straight away, but you're intrepid about the situation - a few test runs are needed. You both make your way out on to the empty suburban street. They put on their helmet, and say "I'm ready". You're ready. The basic principles are briefly explained. Push down on the pedals, to move the cog, to turn the chain connected to the back wheel, to gain momentum. The first few times, it's hard to understand. They veer into a hedge - totally expected. You're there to bring them back to course and explain the ideas behind it all. What things do. How they do it. Walk them through it. The more you explain, the more they understand.
After a few attempts, there's enough momentum for you to let go. There's a little wobble as they find their balance, but they're on their way. The thrill of riding this bicycle for the first time is amazing: the young child is screaming with excitement, brimming with joy - and you can't help but feel a little responsible for all of this. You began with the idea for the wheel, then based the principles of the bicycle on the concept of the wheel. Every design choice was influenced on that wheel, and with the emotion that the rider - the inhabitant - will feel as a result of experiencing your creation.
This is what you've been striving to create for thirteen weeks. It's kept you up at night. Forced you to delay social gatherings. Brought you down to the verge of breakdown and dragged you back up to the surface of reaffirmation of your abilities. The constant reviews, the continuing design challenges, the refinement of the concept. Sleepless nights. Constant thoughts of never being truly finished. All the sacrifices you've made in all aspects - self, others, design - have all culminated in this moment of letting it go. Transferring ownership of what was once "yours" to what is now "theirs". And you can't help but feel a little responsible for being a perpetrator to someone's daily life and routine; whether it's only for a short while, or for longer than you can ever hope to imagine. Nothing will ever replace this feeling, because the feeling of ecstasy is truly something beyond comprehension. And that moment?
That is, without doubt, the best part of what I do.
Note: I am aware there has not been an entry in THE INTERN Writing Series as promised. I'm currently in a period where I need to reaffirm my position in the series. It will eventually come. Thank you for your patience.