Ah, that familiar, new-year feeling. You wake up with a glint in your eye and hope in your heart looking forward to a fresh start and a prosperous year ahead! Then, you remember … you’re still an architect. Well, there’s nothing like a good new year’s resolution to focus the mind and stoke one’s motivation once more — here are a few for starters. Good luck, my fellow stalwarts. We can do this.
1. Sketch More
By now, it has become something of a clichéd rallying cry, but the assertion that “drawing isn’t dead” remains as true as ever. Computer renderings have their place — despite an awful lot of bad press in recent times — but for the fluid articulation of ideas and the communication of concepts to clients, nothing beats a good, old-fashioned sketch. Sharpen those pencils and make sure everyone in your studio has one, from director to intern.
Sol Duc Cabin by Olson Kundig Architects, Jefferson County, Wash., United States
2. Be True to Your Materials
With a plethora of new building technologies and composite materials now available, it can be tempting to mold homogenous, sculpted buildings that look like gargantuan 3D-printed models. However, some of the very best projects to emerge in recent months prove that the textured qualities and structural properties of raw materials — be they steel, timber, or stone — still produce timeless results, and this will remain the case in 2016 and beyond.
Left: Zaha Hadid Architects’ original proposal for the Tokyo National Stadium courtesy of Methanoia; right: Kengo Kuma’s replacement courtesy of the Japan Sport Council
3. Listen Carefully
… to everyone from city councils and mayors to local residents writing on your firm’s social media page. In a digital age when everyone’s voices can be heard, design is becoming increasingly democratic, and architects will retain their cultural relevance by taking all viewpoints into account. Last summer’s Tokyo Stadium debacle proved that opinions count no matter where they come from, and every firm will do well to keep its ear to the ground for major public projects in the coming year.
Tatiana Bilbao’s study model for modular affordable housing in Mexico
4. Be a Social Catalyst
Despite what some might say, an emphasis on socially conscious design surely was one of the greatest strengths of Chicago’s inaugural Architecture Biennial. Many exhibiting firms illustrated the potential for architects to have a hugely positive impact on the social and environmental challenges of today’s metropolises — from Tatiana Bilbao’s modular homes in Mexico City to the aqueous ingenuity of UrbanLab’s Filter Island for Chicago in the United States. Firms should look to get more involved in city-scale solutions like these in 2016.
A sketch from Slow Manifesto: Lebbeus Woods Blog courtesy of the Estate of Lebbeus Woods
5. Read More
With the working hours that architects tend to keep, it can prove difficult to keep your eyes open long enough for a bedtime read. However, if you can allocate only 10 minutes of quiet time to flick through a few pages at the end of each day, there is a host of fresh architectural literature out there to inspire you: for starters, check out Lebbeus Woods’ full repertoire of theoretical musings in Slow Manifesto, Phaidon’s book on Japanese houses, or Tom Kundig’s latest sketch-filled volume simply entitled Works.
“Late Entry to the Chicago Public Library Competition,” Design With Company, Chicago, 2015
6. Design With Humor
Architects have a reputation for being pretty serious, but a little humor can go a long way to providing an insightful commentary on the state of urban issues today. For evidence, just look to Design With Company, whose satirical exhibits at the Chicago Architecture Biennial provoked fascinating discussions about the role of politics within the built environment — and how architects might use their trade to rally against bureaucracy and corruption.
Marc Kushner’s TED Talk, March 2014
7. Talk More
The best architects let their designs do the talking and will undoubtedly continue to do so throughout 2016. However, there is also great value to be found in conversation, whether that is via a live stream on Facebook, a seminar at your nearest university, or even a TED Talk by the likes of Thomas Heatherwick, Bjarke Ingels, or Architizer’s own Marc Kushner. Architects can communicate their value and promote great design by telling stories, encouraging people to ask questions about the built environment that surrounds them. Sometimes — just sometimes — it’s good to talk.
Amagerforbrændingen Waste to Energy Plant by BIG, Copenhagen, Denmark
8. Break With Programmatic Convention
Cross-programming is nothing new, of course: Rem Koolhaas combined functions to activate social spaces in buildings such as the Seattle Library. However, with urban locations reaching critical new levels of density, the advantages of mixing typologies have never been clearer. Think: BIG’s power-plant-cum-ski-slope in Denmark or OPEN Architecture’s school/farm combination in China. As the population of cities continues to explode, it’s time to get radical with programming.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina by Snøhetta, Alexandria, Egypt
9. Enter a Competition … and Win
Many have lamented the value of open architectural competitions by citing the high entry rates for projects such as the Guggenheim Helsinki to question exactly how financially viable these contests are to firms. However, if your budget permits, I’m calling for a little optimism on this front: pioneering studios such as Snøhetta were effectively launched on the back of key competition victories, and there are sure to be many more commissions for major public projects up for grabs in the coming months. Remember: you’ve got to be in it to win it!
© Hendrik Terbeck
10. Travel More
With the wonderful world of Instagram at our fingertips, you could be forgiven for thinking that ample architectural inspiration can be found without ever leaving your home or studio. However, when it comes to subtle textures, atmospheric spaces, and beautiful details, there is no substitute for traveling to experience architecture in person. Cities like New York are full of hidden gems just waiting for you to cast your critical eye over in 2016. Whether it is a simple walk around the block or a plane ride to the other side of the world, travel more this year!